Winston Churchill, born on Nov. 30, 1874, at Blenheim Palace, the famous palacenear Oxford built by the nation for John Churchill, 1st duke of Marlborough, thegreat soldier. Blenheim, named after Marlborough’s grandest victory (1704),meant much to Winston Churchill. In the grounds there he became engaged to hisfuture wife, Clementine Ogilvy Hozier (b.
1885). He later wrote his historicalmasterpiece, The Life and Times of John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, with thearchives of Blenheim behind him. English on his father’s side, American on hismother’s, Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill embodied and expressed thedouble vitality and the national qualities of both peoples. His names testify tothe richness of his historic inheritance: Winston, after the Royalist familywith whom the Churchills married before the English Civil War; Leonard, afterhis remarkable grandfather, Leonard Jerome of New York; Spencer, the marriedname of a daughter of the 1st duke of Marlborough, from whom the familydescended; Churchill, the family name of the 1st duke, which his descendentsresumed after the Battle of Waterloo. All these strands come together in acareer that had no parallel in British history for richness, range, length, andachievement. Churchill took a leading part in laying the foundations of thewelfare state in Britain, in preparing the Royal Navy for World War I, and insettling the political boundaries in the Middle East after the war. In WORLD WARII emerged as the leader of the united British nation and Commonwealth to resistthe German domination of Europe, as an inspirer of the resistance among freepeoples, and as a prime architect of victory.
In this, and in the struggleagainst communism afterward, he made himself an indispensable link between theBritish and American peoples, for he foresaw that the best defense for the freeworld was the coming together of the English-speaking peoples. Profoundlyhistorically minded, he also had prophetic foresight: British-American unity wasthe message of his last great book, A History of the English-Speaking Peoples.He was a combination of soldier, writer, artist, and statesman.
He was not sogood as a mere party politician. Like Julius Caesar, he stands out not only as agreat man of action, but as a writer of it too. He had genius; as a man he wascharming, gay, ebullient, endearing. As for personal defects, such a man wasbound to be a great egoist; if that is a defect. So strong a personality was aptto be overbearing.
He was something of a gambler, always too willing to takerisks. In his earlier career, people thought him of unbalanced judgment partlyfrom the very excess of his energies and gifts. That is the worst that can besaid of him. With no other great man is the familiar legend more true to thefacts. We know all there is to know about him; there was no disguise.
Hisfather, Lord Randolph Churchill, was a younger son of the 7th duke ofMarlborough. His mother was Jennie Jerome; and as her mother, Clara Hall, wasone-quarter Iroquois, Sir Winston had an Indian strain in him. Lord Randolph, abrilliant Conservative leader who had been chancellor of the exchequer in his30’s, died when only 46, after ruining his career. His son wrote that one couldnot grow up in that household without realizing that there had been a disasterin the background. It was an early spur to him to try to make up for his giftedfather’s failure, not only in politics and in writing, but on the turf.
YoungWinston, though the grandson of a duke, had to make his own way in the world,earning his living by his tongue and his pen. In this he had the comradeship ofhis mother, who was always courageous and undaunted. Rejoining his regiment, hewas sent to serve in India. Here, besides his addiction to polo, he went onseriously with his education, which in his case was very much self-education.His mother sent out to him boxes of books, and Churchill absorbed the whole ofGibbon and Macaulay, and much of Darwin.
The influence of the historians is tobe observed all through his writings and in his way of looking at things. Theinfluence of Darwin is not less observable in his philosophy of life: that alllife is a struggle, the chances of survival favor the fittest, chance is a greatelement in the game, the game is to be played with courage, and every moment isto be enjoyed to the full. This philosophy served him well throughout his longlife.
In 1897 he served in the Indian army in the Malakand expedition againstthe restless tribesmen of the North-West Frontier, and the next year appearedhis first book, The Story of the Malakand Field Force. He entertained himself bywriting a novel, Savrola (1900), which curiously anticipates later developmentsin history, war, and in his own mind. On the outbreak of the South African Warin 1899, he went out as war correspondent for the London Morning Post. Within amonth of his arrival, he was captured when acting more as a soldier than as ajournalist, by the Boer officer Louis Botha (who subsequently became the firstprime minister of the Union of South Africa and a trusted friend).
Taken toprison camp in Pretoria, Churchill made a dramatic escape and traveled viaPortuguese East Africa back to the fighting front in Natal. His escape made himworld-famous overnight. He described his experiences in a couple of journalisticbooks and made a first lecture tour in the United States. The proceeds from thetour enabled him to enter Parliament (M. P.’s were not paid in those days). OnJan.
23, 1901, Churchill became member of Parliament for Oldham (Lancashire) asa Conservative. But he had returned from South Africa sympathetic to the Boercause, and his army experiences had made him extremely critical of its commandand administration, which he proceeded to attack all along the line. The tariffproposals of Joseph Chamberlain completed his alienation from the Conservativeparty, and in 1904 Churchill left the party to join the Liberals. In consequencehe was for years execrated by the Conservatives, and was unpopular with armyauthorities. In 1906, he published the authoritative biography, Lord RandolphChurchill (2 vols.
), and in 1908, My African Journey, a first-class example ofhis lifelong flair for journalism. In this year, 1908, he married and, in hisown words, “lived happily ever afterwards.” By his marriage toClementine Hozier there were one son (Randolph) and four daughters (Diana,Sarah, Mary, and one who died in infancy). He took up painting as a hobby and aconsolation, and he remained devoted to it for the rest of his life. Hisaccomplishment in the art should not be underestimated.
In 1916 he went back tothe army, gallantly volunteering for active service on the western front, wherehe commanded the 6th Royal Scots Fusiliers. But his energy and ability could notbe dispensed with, and Prime Minister Lloyd George called him back to becomeminister of munitions. Having lost his seat in Parliament in the 1922 elections,Churchill lived in the political wilderness for the next two years. He was ableto go forward with his memoirs, The World Crisis (5 vols.
, 1923-1929), a largecanvas. After various attempts to form a central, antisocialist grouping, hewent back to the Conservative party in time to become chancellor of theexchequer in Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin’s government (1924-1929). He wasleast happy in this office and ill at ease with economic affairs. During thewhole of this disastrous period of 1929-1939, Churchill was out of office.During these years of political frustration he wrote his major works:Marlborough (4 vols., 1933-1938); the first draft of A History of theEnglish-Speaking Peoples (4 vols., 1956-1958); a vivid and characteristicautobiography, My Early Life (1930); a revealing and suggestive book, Thoughtsand Adventures (1932); and a volume of brilliant, if generous, portraitsketches, Great Contemporaries (1937).
He also began to collect his speeches andnewspaper articles warning the country of the wrath to come. On May 10, 1940, inthe midst of this cataract of disasters, Churchill was called to supreme powerand responsibility by a spontaneous revolt of the best elements in all parties.He, almost alone of the nation’s political leaders, had had no part in thedisaster of the 1930’s, and he really was chosen by the will of the nation. Forthe next five years, perhaps the most heroic period in Britain’s history, heheld supreme command, as prime minister and minister of defense, in the nation’swar effort.
At this point his life and career became one with Britain’s storyand its survival. At first, until 1941, Britain fought on alone. Churchill’stask was to inspire resistance at all costs, to organize the defense of theisland, and to make it the bastion for an eventual return to the continent ofEurope, whose liberation from Nazi tyranny he never doubted. He breathed a newspirit into the government and a new resolve into the nation. Upon becomingprime minister he told the Commons: “I have nothing to offer but blood,toil, tears, and sweat: You ask, what is our policy? I will say: It is to wagewar, by sea, land, and air, with all our might. You ask, what is our aim? I cananswer in one word: Victory.” Meanwhile he made himself the spokesman forthese purposes among all free peoples, as he made Britain a home for all thefaithful remnants of the continental governments.
These included the FreeFrench, for Churchill had himself picked out Charles DE GAULLE as “the manof destiny.” But Churchill’s personal relationship with President FranklinD. Roosevelt was Britain’s lifeline. Britain had lost most of her army equipmentin the fall of France and during the evacuation of the British ExpeditionaryForce from Dunkirk in June. Roosevelt rushed across the Atlantic a supply ofweapons that made a beginning. On Oct. 26, 1951, at the age of 77, he againbecame prime minister, as well as minister of defense.
As the Conservatives helda very small majority and Britain faced very difficult economic circumstances,only the old man’s willpower enabled his government to survive. He held on tosee the young Queen Elizabeth II crowned at Westminster in June 1953, himselfattending as a Knight of the Garter, an honor he had received a few weeksearlier. In 1953, also, he received the Nobel Prize in literature. On April 5,1955, in his 80th year, he resigned as prime minister, but he continued to sitin Commons until July 1964. Churchill’s later years were relatively tranquil. In1958 the Royal Academy devoted its galleries to a retrospective one-man show ofhis work. On April 9, 1963, he received, by special act of the U.
S. Congress,the unprecedented honor of being made an honorary American citizen. When he diedin London on Jan. 24, 1965, at the age of 90, he was acclaimed as a citizen ofthe world, and on January 30 he was given the funeral of a hero. He was buriedat Bladon, in the little churchyard near Blenheim Palace, his birthplace.