Churchill’s ‘We shall fight on the beaches’ speech on 4 June 1940 is a eulogy to the British war effort that has been immortalised in popular memory of the Second World War. As a newly appointed Prime Minister, Churchill’s first month in office was defined by the Dunkirk evacuation. Over 300,000 Allied soldiers were evacuated in a sensational rescue mission. The success was down to a combination of German errors and the brilliant execution of the evacuation plan. However, the fact remained that, with France now fallen, Britain had become an attractive target for German invasion.
In this speech, Churchill’s aim was to counter the jubilant public reaction provoked by the evacuation from Dunkirk, and bring the discussion back to reality. As Churchill famously warns in the speech, “We must be very careful not to assign to this deliverance the attributes of a victory. Wars are not won by evacuations.”
The circumstances required Churchill to balance two delicate points in his speech: the danger of an impending Nazi invasion, and the need to rally public support for the war effort. In the aftermath of the evacuation, despite intense relief for the return of British soldiers, Mass Observation reported profoundly low morale in many British regions.
Churchill’s complex use of language has been dissected thoroughly in the years since the speech was made. Through repetition, intricate sentence structure and metaphor, this famous speech has retained its impact through to the present day.
Allegedly, in the immediate aftermath of his speech, Churchill turned and whispered to a colleague: “And we’ll fight them with the butt ends of broken beer bottles because that’s bloody well all we’ve got!”