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Winston Churchill was born on November 30, 1874, at Blenheim Palace, the famous palace near Oxford that was built by the nation for John Churchill, the first duke of Marlborough. Blenheim meant a lot to Winston Churchill. It was there that he became engaged to his wife, Clementine Ogilvy Hozier. He later wrote his historical masterpiece, The Life and Times of John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough. With English on his father’s side and American on his mother’s, Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill expressed the national qualities of both his parents. His name proves the richness of his historic background: Winston, after the Royalist family, who the Churchill’s married before the English Civil War; Leonard, after his remarkable grandfather, Leonard Jerome of New York; Spencer, the married name of a daughter of the first duke of Marlborough, from who the family descended; Churchill, the family name of the first duke, which his descendants maintained after the Battle of Waterloo. All these strands come together in a career that had no resemblance in British history for richness, length, and achievement. Churchill took a leading part in laying the foundations of the welfare state in Britain, in preparing the Royal Navy for World War I, and in settling the political boundaries in the Middle East after the war. In World War II he began as the leader of the United British Nation and Commonwealth to resist the German domination of Europe, as an inspirer of the resistance among free people, and as a prime architect of victory. In this, and in the struggle against communism later, he made himself an essential link between the British and American people, for he saw that the best defense for the free world was for the English-speaking people to come together. (Down 133).
Strongly historically minded, he also had predictive foresight: British-American unity was the message of his last great book, A History of the English-speaking Peoples. He was a combination of a soldier, writer, artist, and statesman. He was not so good as a party politician. He stands out not only as a great man of action, but as a writer of it too. He was a genius; as a man he was charming, happy, and enthusiastic. As for personal faults, he was bound to be a great egoist; so strong a personality was likely to be overbearing.
He was something of a gambler, always too willing to take risks. In his earlier career, people thought him of unbalanced judgment partly from the very excess of his energies and gifts. That is the worst that can be said of him
We know all there is to know about him; there was no disguise. His father, Lord Randolph Churchill, was a younger son of the seventh duke of Marlborough. His mother was Jennie Jerome; and as her mother, Clara Hall, was one-quarter Iroquois, Sir Winston had an Indian strain in him. Lord Randolph, a brilliant Conservative leader who had been chancellor of the exchequer in his 30’s, died when he was only 46, after ruining his career. His son wrote that one could not grow up in that household without realizing that there had been a disaster in the background. It was an early spur to him to try to make up for his gifted father’s failure, not only in politics and in writing, but on the turf.
Young Winston, though the grandson of a duke, had to make his own way in the world, earning his living by his mouth and his pen. In this he had the leadership of his mother, who was always courageous and fearless. Rejoining his regiment, he was sent to serve in India. Here, besides his addiction to polo, he went on seriously with his
education, which in his case was mostly self-education. His mother sent him boxes of books, and Churchill absorbed the whole of Gibbon and Macaulay, and a lot of Darwin.
The influence of these authors is noticed through all his writings and in his way of looking at things. The influence of Darwin is distinct in his philosophy of life: that all life is a struggle, the chances of survival favor the fittest, chance is a great element in the game, and the game is to be played with courage, and every moment is to be enjoyed to the full. This philosophy served him well throughout his long life.
In 1897 he served in the Indian army against the uneasy tribesmen of the North-West Frontier, and the next year his first book surfaced, The Story of the Malakand Field Force. He entertained himself by writing a novel, Savrola, which curiously anticipates later developments in history, war, and in his own mind. On the outbreak of the South African War in 1899, he went out as war correspondent for the London Morning Post. Within a month of his arrival, he was captured when acting more as a soldier than as a journalist, by the Boer officer Louis Botha, who became the first prime minister of the Union of South Africa, and a trusted friend.
After being taken to prison camp in Pretoria, Churchill made a dramatic escape and traveled back to the fighting front in Natal. His escape made him world-famous overnight. He described his experiences in a couple of journalistic books and made a first lecture tour in the United States. The proceeds from the tour enabled him to enter Parliament.
On Jan. 23, 1901, Churchill became member of Parliament for Oldham as a Conservative, but he had returned from South Africa sympathetic to the Boer cause, and
his army experiences had made him extremely critical of its command and administration, which he proceeded to attack all along. The tariff proposals of Joseph Chamberlain completed his alienation from the Conservative party, and in 1904 Churchill left the party to join the Liberals. In consequence, he was loathed by the Conservatives for years, and was unpopular with army authorities.
In 1906, he published the official biography, Lord Randolph, a first-class example of his lifelong talent in journalism. In this year, 1908, he married and “lived happily ever after.” During his marriage to Clementine Hozier, they had a son, Randolph, and three daughters, Diana, Sarah, and Mary. He took up painting as a hobby and a comfort, and he remained devoted to it for the rest of his life. His accomplishment in art should not be underestimated.
In 1916, he went back to the army, thoughtfully volunteering for active service on the western front, where he commanded the sixth Royal Scots Fusiliers. But his energy and ability could not be used, and Prime Minister Lloyd George called him back to become minister of munitions. Having lost his seat in Parliament in the 1922 elections, Churchill lived in the political wilderness for the next two years. After various attempts to form an anti-socialist group, he went back to the Conservative party in time to become chancellor of the exchequer in Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin’s.
He was not happy in this office not at ease with economic affairs. During the whole of this disastrous period of 1929-1939, Churchill was out of office. During these years of political frustration he wrote his major works: Marlborough, the first draft of A History of the English-speaking Peoples, a vivid and characteristic autobiography, My
Early Life, a revealing and expressive book, Thoughts and Adventures, and a volume of brilliant portrait sketches, Great Contemporaries. He also began to collect his speeches and newspaper articles warning the country of the rage to come.
On May 10, 1940, Churchill was called to supreme power and responsibility by an unpredictable rebellion of the best elements in all parties. He, almost alone of the nation’s political leaders, had had no part in the disaster of the 1930’s, and he really was chosen by the will of the nation. For the next five years, he held supreme command, as prime minister and minister of defense, in the nation’s war effort. At this point his life and career became one with Britain’s story and its survival. At first, until 1941, Britain fought alone. Churchill’s task was to inspire resistance at all costs, to organize the defense of the island, and to make it the elevation for a final return to the continent of Europe, whose liberation from Nazi tyranny he never doubted. He breathed a new spirit into the government and a new purpose into the nation. Upon becoming prime minister he told the Commons: “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat: You ask, what is our policy? I will say: It is to wage war, by sea, land, and air, with all our might. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: Victory.”
Meanwhile he made himself the spokesman for these purposes among all free people, as he made Britain a home for all the faithful remains of the continental governments. These included the Free French, for Churchill had himself picked out Charles De Gaulle as “the man of destiny.” But Churchill’s personal relationship with President Franklin D. Roosevelt was Britain’s lifeline. Britain had lost most of its army equipment in the fall of France and during the evacuation of the British Expeditionary
Force from Dunkirk in June. Roosevelt rushed across the Atlantic with a supply of weapons that made a beginning.
On Oct. 26, 1951, at the age of 77, he again became prime minister, as well as minister of defense. As the Conservatives held a very small majority and Britain faced very difficult economic circumstances, only the old man’s willpower enabled his government to survive. He held on to see the young Queen Elizabeth II crowned at Westminster in June 1953, attending as a Knight of the Garter, an honor he had received a few weeks earlier. In 1953, also, he received the Nobel Prize in Literature. On April 5, 1955, in his 80th year, he resigned as prime minister, but he continued to sit in Commons until July 1964. Churchill’s later years were relatively calm.
In 1958 the Royal Academy devoted its galleries to a retrospective one-man show of his work. On April 9, 1963, he received, by special act of the U.S. Congress, the unique honor of being made an honorary American citizen. When he died in London on Jan. 24, 1965, at the age of 90, he was acclaimed as a citizen of the world, and on January 30 he was given the funeral of a hero. He was buried at Bladon, in the little churchyard near Blenheim Palace, his birthplace.
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