Churchill’s first public speech was an impromptu one, when – in his last term at Sandhurst and on a visit to the Empire Theatre in Leicester Square – he called for makeshift barriers between the sexes, erected to prevent prostitutes from mingling with theatre-goers in the bar, to be pulled down (an unlikely cause for a nineteen-year-old young man): ‘Ladies of the Empire, I stand for Liberty!’
‘He is a remarkable fellow – perhaps the finest orator in America, with a gigantic C. J. [Charles James] Fox head – & a mind that has influenced my thought in more than one important direction.’
Churchill, writing about Bourke Cockran in a letter to Clementine, 30 May 1909, in Soames, Speaking for Themselves
Although he always regarded his first political speech as one he gave at a picnic of the Primrose League (a Conservative organisation) in July 1897 (aged twenty two and still a serving officer on leave from his regiment in India), his true maiden speech in the House of Commons was on 18 February 1901.
By the time Churchill was facing another World War, in 1939, he understood more readily that while risks had to be taken, a balance needed to be struck between caution and ‘over-daring’. As Prime Minister during WWII, he walked the narrow road between the ‘precipices’ on either side; he needed nerves of steel to keep Britain and the Allies on the path to victory.
‘Winston Churchill has emerged from the first five weeks of the war as the most inspiring figure in Great Britain … He has been condemned as a Russophobe and a Teutophobe, as an irresponsible genius, but even his old critics now seem to agree that he will make a great wartime leader.’
James Reston, New York Times, 8 October 1939
Nigel Hall, Director of the Churchill 21st Century Leadership Programme, introduces a panel discussion dedicated to the qualities leaders must have within the world of Business and Finance, plus the challenges they face.
Chair for the event was Andrew Hill, Management Editor at the Financial Times, and the panelists in discussion at the event were Mark Goyder, Founder & CEO of Tomorrow’s Company, a think-tank that inspires and enables business to be a force for good in society; Chris Hirst, CEO of Havas Europe; Helen Brand, CEO of ACCA; Harriet Green, General Manager of IBM’s Watson Internet of Things and Commerce & Education; and Oliver Rees, Innovation Product Lead at Decoded and Churchill Next Generation leader.
1 December 2015: The Legatum Institute was pleased to host the Churchill 21st Century Leadership Programme and King’s Think Tank for a debate with the Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee, Commander of Joint Forces Command, and foreign policy and media experts, in which the key foreign, security, and political challenges of our time were discussed.
London, 13th October 2015: The Churchill 21st Century Leadership Programme concludes at the iconic Churchill War Rooms with the launch of 16 reports and a panel debate. The panel is introduced by Nigel Hall, Project Director, and chaired by Times columnist Rachel Sylvester.
Chamberlain had resigned on 10 May 1940, the day that German forces attacked British and French ground forces and the day the ‘phoney war’ ended. With the only other contender, Lord Halifax, ruling himself out, Churchill’s appointment was inevitable and his time in the wilderness was over.
In the evening of 10 May, Churchill went to see King George VI at Buckingham Palace and became Prime Minister and Minister of Defence. He was under no illusions about the enormity of the task that lay ahead.
Churchill, as both Prime Minister and Minister of Defence, was in a powerful position, with full oversight of both the armed forces (all three of them; the Army, the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force) and the government of the country. He was also the only cabinet minister who had held high office during the previous war, and was widely hailed as the necessary war leader. But he did not yet have the full confidence or leadership of his own conservative party, and there were many in government who were worried that he might prove rash and dangerous in his actions. He needed to prove himself.
Back in August 1941, and the signature of the Atlantic Charter, Roosevelt hadn’t been ready or able to enter the war. But the situation changed dramatically on 7 December 1941.
Churchill was at Chequers (the Prime Minister’s official country residence) with the American Ambassador and Averell Harriman when news of the Japanese attack on the American fleet at Pearl Harbor came on the radio. Churchill immediately called the President to confirm the news and then on 8 December, Britain declared war on Japan.
The partial involvement of the US and the Pearl Harbor attack led Hitler to declare war on the US three days later. Did Churchill (and Roosevelt) know of the impending Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor? Find out.
A more unexpected ally had already been found in the form of the Soviet Union: an uncomfortable ally, certainly, but Churchill couldn’t afford to be choosy and realized the necessity of the relationship. When Hitler invaded Russia on 22 June 1941, Germany had unwittingly played into the hands of the Allies. Churchill seized on the advantage. And so the ‘grand alliance’ – of ‘The Big Three’ – was established.
Churchill felt strongly that Britain had a key role to play in world politics; it was ‘the only country in the world which had an important interest in all ‘three great circles among the free nations and democracies’ (the Commonwealth, the English-speaking world and Europe). He believed he could help Britain play its role in all three and this was one of the main reasons why he refused to retire. He continued to exert his influence and express his views about the need for a new approach to diplomacy in the face of post-war reality.
I am now going to say something that will astonish you. The first step in the recreation of the European family must be the partnership between France and Germany.
Churchill, 19 September 1946, ‘The Tragedy of Europe’
Churchill’s speech at Fulton in 1946 was followed by a similarly important speech on the state of Europe later that year. Churchill’s power, influence and prestige internationally meant that his speeches were taken seriously and widely reported, and he became regarded as a leading figure in the European movement. But he wasn’t, as some have said, a committed ‘European’; he always felt that Britain should not be subsumed within a federal Europe. He always remained a British nationalist. His speeches must also be seen in the context of the time.
In November 1945, Churchill was invited to give one of a series of annual lectures at Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri. The letter of invitation was annotated by President Truman who offered to introduce Churchill, and therefore guaranteed a high profile event.
From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent.
Churchill, 5 March 1946
Churchill’s speech, given on 5 March 1946, was to prove enormously influential. Originally entitled ‘The Sinews of Peace’, it became better known as the ‘Iron Curtain’ speech because of his use of a phrase now in common use. This was Churchill’s first public declaration of the Cold War, in which he warned the western world about the ‘iron curtain’ that was descending over Europe, drawn down by the Russians, and called for greater Anglo-US cooperation, in what he called a ‘special relationship’, in the battle against Soviet expansionism. Click here to see Churchill give this speech in the presence of US President Harry S. Truman.
The summer of 1940 was, as Churchill called it, Britain’s ‘finest hour’. It was also his. When the German armies conquered France, Britain found itself in the line of attack. With German U-boats patrolling the seas and soon to have bases on the Atlantic, and German bombers marshalling on the coast of France, Britain faced its first serious threat of invasion since 1805.
I felt as if I were walking with Destiny, and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial.
Churchill, The Second World War
Many found it difficult to see how Britain could avoid being defeated. Victory seemed impossible. But Churchill was passionately opposed to negotiating with Hitler. The War Cabinet did consider a compromise peace – or at least the offer of mediation, by Italy, between Germany and the allies – but Churchill argued strongly against this. He was convinced that Hitler would renege on any promises or agreement, just as he had done back in 1938.
After failing to defeat the RAF in the Battle of Britain, the Luftwaffe turned to night bombing raids against London and other British cities. The ‘Blitz’, as it became known, aimed to disrupt production and break morale. London was the main target and suffered the heaviest bombing but, by the end of the war, there was hardly a large city or town in Britain that had not come under attack.
As the winter wore on, the air raids became heavier. But the repeated heavy raids would not crush the morale of the British people. The ‘Blitz’ spirit kept them going. And Churchill played his part in keeping up morale. He made sure he was frequently in the public eye, constantly travelling around the country, visiting ammunition factories, shipyards, the troops.
Despite Churchill’s visits to Paris to stiffen French resolve, his attempts proved futile as the German blitzkrieg shattered the French resistance and drove the British Expeditionary Force back to the Channel ports. A pause in the German attacks between 27 May and 4 June allowed the evacuation of over three hundred thousand British and French troops from the beaches at Dunkirk – turning what was in reality a colossal military disaster into what came to be seen as a success; the saving of lives by the ‘little ships’ (fishing boats, pleasure craft, lifeboats) that ferried men to the destroyers waiting offshore.
For more on Dunkirk, and a collection of personal accounts from some of those who took part in the mass evacuation, see the BBC’s Archives.
We must be careful not to assign to this deliverance the attributes of a victory. Wars are not won by evacuations.
Churchill, speech of 4 June 1940
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The International Churchill Society (ICS), founded in 1968 shortly after Churchill's death, is the world’s preeminent member organisation dedicated to preserving the historic legacy of Sir Winston Churchill.
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