May 8, 2022

Winston Churchill delivered his famous ‘Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat’ speech to the British House of Commons on 13 May 1940. It was his first speech to Parliament as Prime Minister. It was not recorded at the time, though was recorded by him for commercial release after the war. The address took 6 minutes and finished at 3pm.

Churchill had become Prime Minister just 3 days earlier on 10 May 1940; the very day that Hitler launched his invasion of France and the Low Countries. This meant that it was delivered at a moment of extreme international tension. Churchill was still trying to put together a coalition government (a government of all the main political parties) and needed to convey national unity  in a moment of crisis.

World War Two in Europe had started eight months earlier when Nazi Germany invaded Poland, triggering a declaration of war from Britain and France. There had been fighting at sea and more recently in Norway, where the British had been defeated by the Germans, but May 1940 marked a serious escalation. Within weeks France would fall and Britain would face direct attack from the German Luftwaffe (air force). The United States was not yet in the conflict and would not be until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, some 18 months later. The Soviet Union was still allied to Nazi Germany and would be until Hitler’s invasion of Russia in June 1941.

Churchill had to rally the British Parliament and public whilst also sending out a clear signal to the United States, France and the rest of the World that Britain could and would fight. His words are cleverly chosen; designed to face a harsh reality but also to inspire a defiant response.

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