On January 24, 1965, Britain’s greatest war-time leader Winston Churchill breathed his last in London.
Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill was born on October 26, 1951, into aristocracy. He came from the line of the Dukes of Marlborough, a part of the Spencer family. Lord Randolph Churchill, Winston’s father, was a popular politician and the Chancellor of the Exchequer while his mother was a famous American heiress, Jennie Jerome. Winston Churchill was educated at Harrow and the Royal Military College at Sandhurst, and acquired a love for military service very early in his childhood. His relationship with his parents was distant.
Following his graduation from the Royal Military College in December 1894, Churchill was commissioned as a Cornet in the 4th Queen’s Own Hussars. Churchill was posted in the Indian northwest frontier and in the Sudan. After his brush with action at the Battle of Omdurman, and in India, and Cuba, he also started to report military affairs for two newspapers – The Pioneer and the Daily Telegraph. Two books evolved out of his experiences in action-struck areas and he published The Story of the Malakand Field Force in 1898 and The River War in 1899. In 1899, Churchill quit his services with the army and started to report from war areas for the Morning Post. In the course of reporting for the Boer War in South Africa, he was taken hostage by the Boers. He escaped his captors and traveled almost 300 miles in Mozambique to reach the safety of Portuguese territory. The news of his escape made Churchill a hero back home and he soon penned his experiences in the book London to Ladysmith in 1900.
In 1900, Churchill embarked on a political career and became the Conservative Party Member of Parliament for Oldham town in Manchester. His views, however, remained fiercely independent. In 1904 the Conservative Party supported protective tariffs. Convinced that the party’s ideals were unsuited to social justice and equality, Churchill joined the Liberals in 1904. In 1905, the Liberals won the elections and came to power. Churchill took over as the undersecretary at the Colonial Office. In 1908 he joined the Liberal Cabinet as President of the Board of Trade and in the same year he married Clementine Ogilvy Hozier. The couple went on to have five children during their marriage. By 1910 Churchill had succeeded as the Home Secretary of the United Kingdom and helped the newly appointed Chancellor Lloyd George in implementing many reforms required to create the British welfare state.
Churchill also served as the First Lord of the Admiralty between 1911 and 1915. He helped modernize the British Navy and converted it from a coal-powered fleet to an oil-powered fleet. He set up the Royal Navy Air Service and acquired many military aircraft. Churchill resigned since he felt responsible for proposing the disastrous Battle of Gallipoli/Dardanelles Campaign. He then rejoined the British Army and led the Royal Scots Fusiliers in France. In 1917, Churchill returned with an appointment as Minister of Munitions for the end years of World War I. Between 1919 and 1922, with David Lloyd George becoming Prime Minister, Churchill was appointed the Minister of War and Air and Colonial Secretary. In 1922, with the collapse of the Liberal Party, Churchill was forced to contest polls as an Independent member. Soon he rejoined the Conservative Party and was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer by Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin. Churchill’s stringent line of action against labor unions and strikes made him unpopular with many.
The decade following found Great Britain faced with the infamous Abdication Crisis caused by King Edward VIII’s abdication to marry twice-divorced American socialite Wallis Simpson. Churchill’s tacit support of Edward VIII further lowered his favor with the masses. His opposition to the India Bill, granting India self-governance in the face of a raging independence struggle, also earned him much criticism. Churchill was very vocal of Britain’s need to rearm and anticipated war with Nazi Germany, a threat that most Prime Ministers chose to ignore. In September 1939, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, recognized the wisdom of his suggestions and appointed him First Lord of the Admiralty and Member of the War Cabinet. In May 1940, Churchill replaced Chamberlain as Prime Minister.
Churchill was one of the greatest wartime leaders of Britain. Within a couple of days of his appointment Churchill was faced with German occupation of France, leaving Britain to stand up to the threat. Cutting across partisan divides, he set up a coalition cabinet with key leaders to manage important portfolios. Churchill’s speeches were iconic and were a source of great inspiration. In his first speech as Prime Minister, he said “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat”. They coaxed the House of Commons to support Churchill’s wartime decisions and inspired the troops to fight valiantly. Despite an overwhelming wave of Nazi dominance, Churchill kept up a policy of sustained resistance. Alliance-formation was his strength and he succeeded in uniting both the United States and the Soviet Union in the crusade against Hitler. His close relationship with Franklin D Roosevelt was accentuated in the Lend Lease Act and later with the entry of the US, Allied victory seemed certain. Churchill traveled greatly to forge a cohesive military strategy with Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin to secure a victory in World War II. Following the war, he played an important role in drawing up European boundaries and launching the United Nations.
Perceiving Churchill as a wartime leader only, the British masses were reluctant to support the social reforms he proposed as war came to an end. Following his defeat in the general election of July 1945, Churchill spent the next six years as the leader of the Opposition Party. In March 1946, Churchill warned of Soviet dominance in his famous “Iron Curtain” speech. In 1951, Churchill returned as the Minister of Defense and in October 1951 became Prime Minister once more. In 1953, Churchill was accorded knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II. Despite Britain’s struggle to maintain its colonial regime, Churchill proved very successful in a series of domestic reforms that he implemented. Churchill’s health started to fail since 1941 and in 1953, a series of strokes led to his retirement in 1955. He remained active in his public life till January 1965. On January 24, 1965, Churchill died in his Kent and Hyde Park Gate residence in London. He was accorded state honors and a week’s mourning was declared.
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