Winston Churchill Biography – The Life of Sir Winston Churchill

 Winston Churchill, cigar in mouth, gives his famous 'V' for victory sign during a visit to Bradford, 4 December 1942.
Winston Churchill ‘V’ for Victory, December 1942.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill is one of the greatest Prime Ministers in British History. He led the country during World War 2 and is remembered for his staunch defense of Europe’s Liberal Democracy against the onslaught of fascism from Germany in the form of Hitler and his Nazi ideals. He is a wartime hero, a soldier, a brilliant politician, a Nobel Prize for Literature winner, and curiously enough, an artist. He is remembered less fondly in the 3rd world for his support of Britain’s imperialist ideals and racist attitudes towards Britain’s colonial subjects. Specifically, his role in the famine in Bengal in 1943. But to judge him solely on those acts would be unfair to his legacy; the world is not necessarily the ideal one we envision with our rose-tinted glasses. Winston Churchill was, and will remain, one of the greatest British Politicians for his role and preserving United Kingdom’s integrity and strength in challenging times. While the German war machine during World War 2 defeated most countries it came into contact with, Churchill was instrumental in rallying all of Britain together against a familiar foe and keeping morale high. His fiery speeches are some of the greatest in history. With many iconic moments, from his speech on never surrendering to his famous declaration after the victory at El Alamein on how the victory marked a change in the tides of war, where Germany was finally on the backfoot. 

“Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” 

Winston Churchill, 1942

Early Life

Winston Churchill as a 7 year old boy in Dublin, Ireland
Winston Churchill age 7, 1881.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Winston Churchill was born in November 1874 at his family’s ancestral home, Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire. He is a direct descendant of the First Duke of Marlborough, John Churchill. Although descended from one of the noble houses of England, Churchill, and his father were not in the direct line of succession. They did not inherit the title or the property that the Marlborough lineage entailed. Also, very interestingly, Winston Churchill was half-American. His mother, Jennie Jerome, was born in New York and married Churchill’s father, Lord Randolph Churchill, after arriving in England. Lord Randolph Churchill was a representative of the Conservative Party and had been elected a Member of the Parliament. Throughout the 1880s, his parents were estranged and did not care much about the future politician. He was primarily taken care of by his nanny Elizabeth Everest. He described her as his “…dearest and most intimate friend during the whole 20 years I had Lived… I shall never know such a friend again.” Churchill began boarding at seven at St. George’s School in Berkshire, then transferred to Brunswick School in Hove, and finally graduated from the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst on his third attempt in 1894. By February 1985, Churchill joined the 4th Queen’s Own Hussars as 2nd Lieutenant. 

Military Experiences and Journalism

Winston Churchill in the military uniform of a hussar in 1895, at the age of 21.
Winston Churchill in military uniform, 1895.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Winston Churchill’s first military experience came in Cuba in the autumn of 1895, where he was joined by his friend Reggie Barnes to observe the war of independence. Churchill sent reports of the conflict to the Daily Graphic in London. After Cuba, Churchill was sent to Bangalore in 1896, where he stayed in India for nearly 19 months—joining expeditions to Hyderabad and Swat. India is also where his love for literature started, immersing himself in texts by Plato, Edward Gibbon, Charles Darwin, H.G. Wells, and many others. While in India, he wrote his first book, “The Story of the Malakand Field Force” an account of his experiences in the expeditions led by the British against the Mohmand Rebels in Swat in India. He wrote his only work of fiction, “Savrola”, while also in India. 

After his exploits in India, Winston Churchill joined the 21st Lancers led by General Kitchener in Sudan, initially working as a journalist for The Morning Post. After this campaign, he worked on “The River War” an account of Britain’s conquest of Sudan under General Kitchener. 

The Second Boer War and Winston Churchill’s Entry into Politics

a studio portrait of Churchill in tropical uniform with pith helmet, spurs and sword before a backdrop depicting the pyramids
Winston Churchill, 1898.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Before the Second Boer War in 1899 started in South Africa, Winston Churchill anticipated its outbreak and sailed to South Africa as a journalist for The Morning Post. In October, he was caught among the military shelling by the Boer troops and was taken as a Prisoner of War in Pretoria. In December, he escaped South Africa, catapulting Churchill to fame. This miraculous escape and growing popularity in the United Kingdom helped him get into politics at 25 when he was elected as a Conservative MP for Oldham in 1901. He also published “Ian Hamilton’s March” the same year, a book detailing his experiences in South Africa, including his miraculous escape.

26-year-old Winston Churchill on a lecture tour of the United States.
Winston Churchill, 1900.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

During his initial years in the parliament, while elected as a Conservative, Winston Churchill’s stance on most issues did not align with the Conservative Party. By 1904, he had crossed the floor and joined the Liberal Party in the House of Commons instead. As a liberal, he was the President of the Board of Trade between 1908 and 1910. The Home Secretary between 1910 and 1911, the First Lord of the Admiralty (Political Head of the British Royal Navy) until 1915. He then served as the Minister of Munitions from 1917 to 1919 and as the Secretary of State for War and Air from 1919 to 1921. Then as the Secretary of State for the Colonies between 1921 and 1922. He then rejoined the Conservative Party, where he would stay for the rest of his career in politics. His first post back as a member of the Conservative Party was the Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1924 to 1929. 

Churchill on budget day with his wife Clementine and children Sarah and Randolph
Winston Churchill as Chancellor of Exchequer on Budget Day, 1929.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Winston Churchill was renowned as a politician before the war for a few notable things. His social reforms included higher taxations for the higher classes leading to allegations of him betraying his class. He had introduced substantial reforms to the prison system, including the introduction of libraries and entertainment for prisoners and the separation of criminals from political prisoners, guaranteeing the latter more freedoms and less ill-treatment. He also believed in the Irish’s rights to self-rule under the British center’s strict control rather than as an independent state. He was also viewed as an opponent of the Suffrage Movement, although he supported giving women the right to vote only if most of the male electorate supported it too. He was also responsible for reverting Britain to the Gold Standard in 1925, reducing the state pension age from 75 to 65, introducing widow’s pensions, reducing military expenditure, and imposing taxes on luxury items. Lastly, he called for the introduction of a legally binding minimum wage. 

Winston Churchill’s Warnings about Germany and World War 2

The Roaring Lion, Winston Churchill 1941
Winston Churchill, 1941.
Credit: Yousuf Karsh // CC BY 2.0

After the 1929 election, the Conservative party was defeated by the Labour Party. Until 1939, Winston Churchill would not be in the cabinet, and this period he would describe as the “wilderness” years. These are the years that Churchill would spend focusing on his writing and his painting hobby. He also spent time publishing different works, such as his autobiography and a biography of his ancestor John Churchill the first Duke of Marlborough. He then grew famous again and came into the public eye for his many writings about the growing threat of Germany. Most of the British Public and the Government were not willing to take his warnings seriously, given the relative peace of the 1930s. Still, following the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia at the hands of the German Nazi forces in 1939, there was an increasing clamor amongst the public to bring Winston Churchill back as he had foreseen and predicted the rise of Germany. 

Churchill in 1944
Winston Churchill, 1944.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

On 3 September 1939, Britain declared war on Germany, and Winston Churchill was reappointed as the First Lord of the Admiralty. By May 1940, he was appointed the leader of the Conservative Party and given the position of Prime Minister during the war effort. Here is where Churchill would gain most of his reputation as a ruthless military tactician and a war hero for the British Empire. He gave several iconic speeches during the war, such as his “we shall fight on the beaches” also known as the “finest hour” speech to the House of Commons. This speech is remembered as one of the most influential speeches of the 20th century. He also gave his iconic “blood, toil, tears, and sweat speech” during the war. Winston Churchill was a committed leader, and despite failures in Singapore, losing Burma, and overseeing the worst famine in Bengal, where millions of people died, Churchill vowed to fight on. His resolve and unwavering belief in the eventual defeat of the Germans were awe-inspiring. He remained Prime Minister until the end of the war. He contested the election in 1945 but lost despite winning the war. He became leader of the Opposition until 1950. He was re-elected as Prime Minister in 1951, but he was already 77 by the time his term started. His health gradually declined until he resigned in 1955. He eventually passed away on 12 January 1965 at the age of 90. 


Yalta Conference 1945: Churchill, Roosevelt, Stalin. This Kodak Kodachrome photograph was not colorized.
(L-R Seated) Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Joseph Stalin, 1945.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Winston Churchill is largely remembered as one of the most influential politicians of the 20th century. He is recognized for his outstanding role in guiding the United Kingdom during the turbulent years of the Second World War. He is remembered as a Fiery orator, a skilled tactician, an extraordinary journalist, and one of Britain’s greatest prime ministers. A television series by the BBC in 2002 conducted a poll to rank the 100 Greatest Britons in British history. The show recognized Churchill as the greatest Briton, ranking higher than famous figures like Oliver Cromwell, Charles Darwin, William Shakespeare, Sir Isaac Newton, and even Queen Elizabeth I. He has been the subject of many films, notably The King’s Speech and most recently Darkest Hour, where the actor Gary Oldman was awarded the Academy Award for Best Actor.


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