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Winston Churchill

  b. 1874; d. 1965 | English politician

At The Bottom

His family offered him little support -- he longed for his parents' approval but never received it...

Winston Churchill, the 20-year-old son of a distinguished English family, opened the letter he’d just received from a father he barely knew.  In it, Lord Randolph Churchill, the 7th Duke of Marlborough, expressed grave disappointment in his eldest child, who was up to that point a complete “wash-out.”  A failure at school in most subjects, Churchill was likewise an inept sportsman, detesting cricket and football with as much energy as he hated math and classical languages.  His family offered him little support — he longed for his parents’ approval but never received it — and they shook their heads when young Winston flunked his army officer’s examination twice before passing with the lowest possible marks.  His father was dying, and both he and Winston were sure the young man’s life would come to nothing.

At The Top

It is the victory of the cause of freedom in every land.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill appeared before a massive crowd on the balcony of the Ministry of Health building on May 8, 1945.  Germany had just surrendered to the allied forces led by England, the United States and the Soviet Union.  Churchill spoke to the nation, informing them in one of his most memorable speeches that, “This is your victory! It is the victory of the cause of freedom in every land. In all our long history we have never seen a greater day than this. Everyone, man or woman, has done their best. Everyone has tried. Neither the long years, nor the dangers, nor the fierce attacks of the enemy, have in any way weakened the independent resolve of the British nation.”  When Churchill declared “This is your victory,” many in the crowd interrupted him, shouting back, “No!  It is yours!”

The Comeback

Churchill never wavered from his convictions.

With his father’s death, Churchill realized that he was now “the master of my fortunes.” The rest of his life would bear out that crucial insight.  By the time he was 25, Churchill had become a lieutenant and participated in five military campaigns in Cuba, India, the Sudan, Pakistan, and South Africa.  As a war correspondent during the Boer War, he’d been captured and spent his 25th birthday in a South African prison before plotting an escape that made him a national hero.  Elected to Parliament for the first time in 1900, Churchill had a career that was filled with many ups and downs. During World War I, for instance, he planned the disastrous invasion of Gallipoli; during the 1920s, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, he made numerous policy mistakes that helped lead his Conservative Party to defeat in 1929.  But even during his most difficult political phase — his “Wilderness Years” during the 1930s, when he found himself isolated and ignored within his own party — Churchill never wavered from his convictions.  During those years, he continued to speak out on issues he regarded as vital, even though it seemed that no one else was listening. .  .  From the early 1930s onward, Churchill had warned about the dangers posed by the Nazi party in Germany, and he urged his country to prepare itself for possible war.  When war did eventually come, Churchill’s warnings seemed prophetic, and he was quickly brought back into the government as First Lord of the Admiralty.  In 1940, he ascended to the office of Prime Minister, and under Churchill’s leadership, England defended itself — virtually alone — from German aggression in 1940-1941 before the US and USSR entered the war.  Churchill was best known during the war for his soaring and inspiring speeches, especially the three he delivered in May and June of 1940, when he urged the English people to remain steadfast even as German forces swallowed up much of Europe.   If necessary, he declared, “We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be.  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.”

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