Winston Churchill – The British Bulldog
Many Britons today believed that it was the able and courageous leadership of Winston Churchill as a Prime Minister, which made Britain escape an embarrassing defeat by the Germans, and be among the winners of World War II. This tiny nation stood up to the tyranny of Hitler, and did not back down from the war. Churchill was a maverick leader, with a method somewhere in his madness. He was also an officer in the British Army, a historian, a writer, an artist and the only British prime minister to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Jokingly called the Bulldog of Britain, he was just as ferocious and focused. His speeches inspired and moved a nation, won him friends internationally and put an end to a tyrannical future. “History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it.“
Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill was born into a privileged life of British aristocracy. His father, Lord Randolph Churchill was the son of the seventh Duke of Marlborough and a prominent figure in the political scene. His mother Jennie Jerome, was a socialite daughter of an American financier. He was born two months premature at his then house, the Blenheim Palace (seat of Duke of Marlborough) on the 30th of November 1874, when his mother slipped while attending a shooting party. She was rushed back to the palace, a rough and bumpy pony ride brought on labour pains two months before they were due. His brother John Strange Spencer-Churchill was born six years after Winston and the young family was now complete.
Winston Churchill spent his early years in Dublin, where his father worked as a private secretary to the Viceroy. He was looked after by a devoted and loving nanny called Mrs. Everest, whom he lovingly called ‘Woomany’ and ‘Old Woom’. At the age of seven, he was sent to a boarding school, as was common among wealthy and prominent families of the time. It was during this impressionable period of Churchill’s life that he most missed his mother and would write regularly to her, begging her to visit him at the boarding school or to at least write to him. At age 13 he was sent to Harrow School, where he enthusiastically joined the Harrow Rifles Corps. He did not exhibit particular brilliance when it came to his academics but managed to get himself a seat in the Royal Military College in Sandhurst to train as a soldier.
After college, Churchill went to India and Sudan as a soldier, which he called the University of his life. He was commissioned in the 4th Hussar’s in 1895, and at age 23, published his first book, “The Story of Malakand Field Force” describing his experience of the war. He earned some extra money to sustain his luxurious life style by writing news paper articles and war reports, which got him to South Africa to report the Boer war in 1899 after a brief stint in Sudan. He got a taste of the guerrilla warfare of the Boers, when an armoured train he was travelling in was derailed and he was taken hostage although he was a war correspondent and not a soldier. He managed to escape, presumably under the disguise of a woman and decided to use this experience profitably by writing about his adventures.
Churchill married Clementine Hozier in 1908 who was equal in every discussion and every debate, thus not just a trophy wife. They shared a great deal of affection, and she supported him when he was right and also corrected and reprimanded him when his behaviour became too overbearing or cranky. They had five children; Diana, Randolph, Sarah, Marigold and Mary; but unfortunately Marigold passed away at the tender age of 3 in 1921.
Entry into Politics
Churchill’s popularity as a writer made his entry into politics a lot smoother when he decided to join the Conservative party. He represented Oldham, Lancashire in the 1900 general election and barely getting himself into parliament. He was not too supportive of the work of the Conservatives or the Tories, and deemed them to be incompetent and regressive. He hated their idea of taxing foreign goods in Britain and proposed free trade to help the economy. Disappointed thoroughly, he soon joined the Liberal party. When the Liberals came to power in 1905, he was appointed by Henry Campbell-Bannerman as the Under Secretary of State of the British colonies. This was his first ministerial post and he was soon promoted to the President of the Board of Trade. He introduced a number of trade reforms which benefited the labour force and leveled the playing field between the employer and the employee. He rallied for decent work shifts, with mandatory breaks for meals, improved working environment, a decent minimum wage and set up unemployment exchanges.
His hard work and charisma got him a promotion to the Home secretary in 1910, during which time he had to face a fair share of political unrest and confusion. The Rhonda Valley coal miners’ strike for better working conditions and wages seemed to bring out the high handed rich boy in Churchill, when he ordered troops to enter Wales. He wrote in his newspaper, The British Gazette that the trade unions would take over the country and had to be crushed mercilessly. Soon after, the Siege of Sidney, a gun battle between rival gangs and the ever curious Churchill wanted in on the excitement, when he was photographed peering from a street corner, recklessly endangering his life. He was thought to be involved in ordering troops to take action against the mob and this unwelcome intrusion was well criticized. In 1919 he was appointed Secretary of State for war, and found himself trying to control the Irish Republican Army. He resorted to force and cruelty to bring the Irish into check and coerced them into signing the Anglo Irish treaty.
Involvement in the world wars
WORLD WAR I: Winston Churchill was appointed as the First Lord of the Admiralty in 1911, just in time for the First World War. He loved being in charge of the navy and prepared and modernized the British war ships for battle after seeing the growing strength of Germany. He led the British attack on Turkey (an ally of the Germans) through a narrow passageway called Dardanelles. After six Allied ships were bombed, attack was called off as the Turks were alert and prepared for such an assault. Churchill’s enthusiasm and reputation were never the same after his failure at what could have been a successful Naval attack.
WORLD WAR II: In 1933, while Hitler was steadily rearming Germany, Churchill did not want to compromise the military force of Britain and was responsible for the preparedness of Britain for war. The country was led by Chamberlain, who believed in appeasing the Germans and avoid war at all costs. Churchill thought this was preposterous and said “An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it would eat him last”. After the Munich treaty was broken by Germany in March 1939, Britain and France declared war against Germany in September and Churchill was immediately appointed the First Lord of the Admiralty to prepare for the German forces. Chamberlain was soon removed from office after his fiasco with the Norwegian occupation and replaced with Churchill, to lead Britain through the war. Churchill lost no time in uniting the entire nation with his moving and inspiring speeches. Even as Germany regularly bombed and terrorized Europe, Churchill was in no mood to pacify the Germans and did not back down from what he believed in, withstanding and countering air raids and blitzkrieg attacks. He foresaw the importance of having the USA on his side and strategized with President Roosevelt of the USA to take down Germany and Japan. He struck a deal with Roosevelt to send Britain arms and ammunition to fight the Germans, on a pay later basis although America chose to remain neutral to the problems of Europe. Churchill’s search for victory was not without controversy, when Churchill was found responsible for one of the bombing of Dresden, Germany housing refugees and wounded German soldiers in February 1945.
Hitler tried to take over Britain by taking over the English skies. The fate of Britain lay in the hands of young, nervous RAF pilots. Churchill encouraged and motivated them with the now famous war cry “There is a time to live and a time to die”. He put out all the squadrons to fight the Germans, with no reserve fighter pilots. “Never in the field of human kind was so much owed by so many to so few.” he said of the brave efforts of the pilots. When London was bombed by the German pilots, Churchill moved his office underground but continued strategising without fear, hearing the explosions above ground.
“We shall defend our island, whatever the cost maybe, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender.”
On the 7th of December 1941, America was rudely awoken by the Japanese with the bombing of Pearl harbour. This unleashed the fury of the United States of America against the Japanese, resulting in the Atomic bombs being offloaded on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing- after they have tried everything else.” America was now in on the war and Churchill was thrilled with the support of the America military forces. During his talks with America, Churchill collapsed due to a heart attack and warned his doctor not to tell him to rest. He could not let a heart attack get in the way of his destiny!
He was under immense pressure as the German war ships were demolishing British merchant ships in the Atlantic and over North Africa. The precarious position of the British was emphasized by the rapid collapse of British colonies in Asia and Australia, particularly the surrender of Singapore to Japan. His every action as the Prime minister was highly criticized and most of his countrymen were unhappy with their leader.
“If you’re going through hell, keep going.”
The tide turned with the Allies taking over German occupied Europe, starting with Normandy. Germany ultimately crumbled and the Allied forces had won the war. An ecstatic Churchill announced to the gathering in Whitehall, London, “This is your victory” to which the people shouted back “No, it is yours!”
A pragmatic leader during war, he was voted out of office once peace was established and was to head the Opposition. In 1951, he was appointed the Minister of Defence and a few months later found himself serving a third term as Prime minister. He suffered a series of strokes and his health deteriorated. After a long adventurous life, Churchill died at the age of 90 at his London home on January 24th 1965. He was laid to rest at St. Martin’s Church, Bladon in the family plot.
Churchill embodied the British fighting spirit, and surrender was not on his agenda. He was a leader who was connected with his people, and led from the front. He left a legacy of pride and courage, and absolutely refused to give up. He had been misunderstood, misquoted and mistaken by his countrymen who wrote him off as an old eccentric but Britain owes its national pride and triumph to this stubborn old man they called a ‘Bulldog’.
“We are all worms. I believe I am a glow worm.”