April 30, 2022

The Day Churchill Became Prime Minister

May marks the twin anniversaries of the day Winston Churchill became Prime Minister in 1940 and the day in 1945 that the war in Europe ended. As to the first of these, on 10 May 1940, the BBC interrupted regular broadcasting to announce that “His Majesty the King has sent for Mr. Winston Churchill and asked him to form a government.” The news came on the very day that the armies of Germany burst across Western Europe. Churchill later recalled what followed that day and how things finally ended.

I was taken immediately to the King. His Majesty received me most graciously and bade me sit down. He looked at me searching and quizzically for some moments, and then said, “I suppose you don’t know why I have sent for you?” Adopting his mood, I replied, “Sir, I simply couldn’t imagine why.” He laughed and said, “I want to ask you to form a Government.” I said I would certainly do so.

Thus, then, on the night of the 10th of May, at the outset of this mighty battle, I acquired the chief power in the State, which henceforth I wielded in ever-growing measure for five years and three months of world war, at the end of which time, all our enemies having surrendered unconditionally or being about to do so, I was immediately dismissed by the British electorate from all further conduct of their affairs.

At last I had the authority to give directions over the whole scene. I felt as though I was walking with destiny, and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial.

Edinburgh Castle

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