September 30, 2021

80th Anniversary of Harrow School Speech

Winston Churchill delivered one of his most famous speeches of the Second World War eighty years ago this month on 29 October 1941. He made his remarks not in the House of Commons or on the BBC but in the familiar surroundings of his old school, Harrow. In addressing the students, Churchill contrasted the war situation as it then stood with what had been the case during his last visit ten months before at the height of the Blitz. From this Churchill reached a three-word conclusion that has inspired generations ever since. Here follows the key passage:

You cannot tell from appearances how things will go. Sometimes imagination makes things out far worse than they are; yet without imagination not much can be done. Those people who are imaginative see many more dangers than perhaps exist, certainly many more than will happen; but then they must also pray to be given that extra courage to carry this far-reaching imagination.

But for everyone, surely, what we have gone through in this period—I am addressing myself to the School—surely from this period of ten months this is the lesson: never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force: never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy. We stood all alone a year ago and to many countries it seemed our account was closed, we were finished. All this tradition of ours, our songs, our School history, this part of the history of our country, were gone and finished and liquidated.

Very different is the mood today. Britain, other nations thought, had drawn a sponge across her slate. But instead our country stood in the gap. There was no flinching and no thought of giving in; and by what seemed almost a miracle to those outside these islands, though we ourselves never doubted it, we now find ourselves in a position where I say that we can be sure that we have only to persevere to conquer.

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