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100 Years Ago

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Feature Article on Winston Churchill. Topic: WAR & PEOPLE
Written by David Lodge in March, 1997


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I was born, at the earliest of ages, in a palace, on November 30, 1874, in the county of Oxfordshire, England. I knew nothing about my parents, and was unable to communicate with them since I had not yet learned to speak the English language. Cradled in my mother’s arms, I was helplessly dependent on these two people for all that I needed. Although I was only a few moments old, squinting at them, my senses seemed to tell me that my birth was an enigma of contradictions; having been born in England on Saint Andrew’s Day, the patron saint of Scotland, to a mother, I believe, of foreign extraction. A woman who had chosen to forsake all others to wed my English father, the youngest son of the seventh duke of Marlborough. And, in addition to all that, I was a commoner. Would I be growing up in a foreign country?

As my mother moved, my head rolled to the side, giving me the opportunity to scrutinize my father with his very English disposition. At that moment, viewing his noble, proud, loving features, concerns for the legitimacy of my birthright subsided. I experienced a feeling of stability and security, a sense that our family was staunchly British, and that this moment in time belonged to an age of magnificence for Britain and her Empire. This England of Shakespeare, this jeweled domain, was perched on the threshold of discoveries and inventions that would propel us all, and particularly my generation, into the modern world of the 20th century.

Repatriated by my father’s silent assurances, I envisioned myself as the equipotential Englishman standing proud and tall. "God save the Queen," I mused with a smug feeling that was shattered almost as soon as it began, for hearing my mother’s voice, I clearly understood she was a product of England’s former American colonies. Although mater, [mother] Jennie, was the maternal granddaughter of the American millionaire, Leonard Jerome, it appeared, at the time, that this Yankee connection would be an insurmountable disadvantage to my dreams of being accepted by England’s aristocratic nobles, high society and the upper levels of government. My fears were not unfounded, in that the war with the colonies was only 100 years ago, and bitterness about the whole nasty affair was still prevalent in sophisticated circles.

I would, however, be proven wrong. My cousins, the American people, whom I would grow to love dearly, were destined, at some future time and place, to provide the means to support my redoubtable quest to rescue my beloved England from the edges of its greatest peril. In later years, men and women would say, that at my birth, I was ordained by God to lead this great crusade against the forces of evil.

How will I rise above the expectations of those who believe in me? Will I be a great general like Wellington, a politician and statesman like William Pitt, an adventurer and poet like Sir Philip Sidney or an author who speaks to the minds of men? No, I shall be an author.

My vision predicts a proliferation of book credits, a novel Savrola (1899), the only one I would write, joined by a library of tomes on real-life action beginning with my first book, The History of the Malakand Field Force (1898). Others would be The River War (1899), London to Ladysmith, Ian Hamilton’s March (1900), Lord Randolph Churchill (1906), My African Journal (1908) and The People’s Rights (1909). After World War I, four volumes of The World in Crisis (1923), Thoughts and Adventures (1932), Great Contemporaries (1937), and While England Slept (1938). After World War II, Painting as a Pastime, the first volume of six on The Second World War (1948), and two of four volumes on History of the English-Speaking Peoples (1956). It’s quite clear, I shall be a writer; and my efforts will bring the bestowment on me in 1956 of the creme de la creme of awards, the Nobel Prize for literature, and plaudits from around the world.

But, for now, I was barely a few minutes old and this omniscient quality of mine would not endure its ultimate challenge until I was sixty five years old. As I asked myself, was I born to fulfill a mission, my mother proudly announced my name, "You shall be Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill, but those who love you will affectionately call you Winnie." Her soft and loving voice transcended all my thoughts, leaving me, once again, at the beginning of my life.

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Winston Churchill’s father, Randolph Henry
Winston Churchill’s mother,
Jennie Jerome

I raced through my childhood with a gusto and excitement that elicited praise from my friends and moans of discontent from my parents, who, incidentally, saw very little of me in those formative years and even less when they enrolled me in an educational institution. Most of my early days at Harrow, an exclusive private boarding school, were marred by failed examinations in all the academic subjects necessary to succeed in life. My father, mother and schoolmasters despaired over my rowdy manner, lack of discipline and the colloquial slang I seemed to prefer over the Queen’s English. In my father’s opinion, the only saving grace, was my compelling aptitude for history, geography and English composition. "With those traits," father bellowed, "it’s the army for you my boy."

And so I entered Sandhurst, the Royal Military Academy, determined to put my love of history to good use and to finally garner my father’s pride. It is 1895, and I will soon be graduating from the academy. I have succumbed to failure twice on final examinations, but now with the help of a tutor I feel convinced that I will pass. Indeed I did, culminating my military schooling days with an ultimate ranking of eighth in a class of 150. The Churchills were proud once again, but my heart was heavy and saddened at the loss of my father on January 24 of that year, followed by the death of my beloved nanny. My perceptive, intuitive mind did not know, at the time, that father’s death on January 24, 1895, would be followed by my own death seventy years hence on January 24, 1965.

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From 1896 to 1899, I experienced my first battlefield action, served as a war correspondent for the Daily Telegraph covering the fighting in Cuba, and reported on the fighting during the South African Boer War where I was captured by the enemy. After my daring escape from a Pretoria compound, a 25 pound bounty was offered for my apprehension. Also, during this same time period I served with my regiment in India. Father would have been proud of me. It was now time, however, to resign my commission and endeavor to emulate my father’s illustrious career in politics, and to redeem the good name he had tarnished during his later years.

The year was 1900. The city was Oldham in northwestern England and a daring, dashing young Churchill was standing for election to the Parliament as a candidate on the Conservative party ticket. On January 22, 1901, Queen Victoria died after reigning for sixty three years. Her mourning attire, which she wore almost continually from the death of her devoted husband, Prince Albert, in 1861, to the day of her very own death, was now being worn by her loving subjects. "The Queen is dead, long live King Edward VII". A little over three weeks later, I made my maiden speech on the floor of that hollowed of all places, the cradle of British democracy, the Houses of Parliament.

Brash and bold, I bolted the conservatives to join the Liberal Party in 1904; securing my position with a 1906 election win in the North West Manchester district. That same year saw my first appointment to an upper level position, serving as Under Secretary of State for Colonies. As an Empire enthusiast and proponent, I determined that the Empire would not suffer the fate of Rome. For the next few years, I won some elections and lost some. I also served as President of the Board of Trade, and Home Secretary.

It was 1908 and I was in love. My sweetheart, Clementine Hozier said, "Yes, I’ll marry you ‘till death do us part." On September 23, those precious and memorable vows were spoken; thus began a journey in love and partnership that would end only in my death. During the following summer of 1909, society toff’s were asking, "Did you see the announcement in The Times? Winnie and Clementine have a lovely daughter, Diana, born July 11."

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In 1908, Winston posed with his fiancée, Clementine

With the rumblings of war in Europe, I proudly accepted the grand position of First Lord of the Admiralty. It was 1911 and time to revitalize Britain’s Royal Navy. At that moment, I was far removed from my army graduation as a junior officer, but the skills I learned at the academy held me in good stead. Another joyous moment occurred during 1911, when on May 28 my only son Randolph was born, securing the passage and future of my father’s famous Christian name and surname.

It was 1914 and the world was at war. I mobilized the Royal Navy, taking sea action against the enemy throughout the European theatre. Unfortunately, in 1915, after suffering extensive losses at Gallipoli and suffering a tumultuous negative reaction in Britain, I was forced to resign my post. It was also during 1914 that Clementine produced another child, our lovely daughter Sarah. "This proliferation of children must surely end soon." We loved our children, and more were coming, and unknown to us, terrible tragedy. Marigold Francis was born on November 15, 1918, and died August 23, 1921. It is possible to utter, "I have too many children," but when one tumbles out of the nest, the emptiness and despair at such a loss is immeasurable, and remains a part of you for the rest of your days. On September 15, 1922, God blessed us with our final child, a beautiful daughter, Mary.

During World War I, and after losing my Admiralty position, I joined the army’s fight in France; returning to England in 1916 to resume my political career. 1917 saw my appointment to Minister of Munitions, followed by Secretary of State for War and Air.

After the war, in 1921, my darling mother died leaving me distraught and bewildered. She, along with Clementine, had been my devoted supporters. But, life goes on, and I was appointed Colonial Secretary in 1921, followed by Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1924. With relative peace in Europe prevailing, my political career became somewhat undistinguished. I again won some elections and I lost some, but for the most part, my life as a politician and statesman appeared to be over, or, as my premonitions perceived, dormant.

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Churchill relaxes with his son Randolph and daughter, Diane

From the late twenties to the mid thirties I spent most of my time writing, although in 1929 I became the Rector of Edinburgh University and Chancellor of Bristol University. It was during these years that I watched with so much dismay and concern at the ranting and raving of the Hitlerites in Germany, that in 1935 I began writing articles for Strand magazine warning of the dangers that lay ahead. I opposed rearmament of Germany as early as 1932 and I warned the world of the consequences. My speeches, during the times I served as an elected official in Parliament, about Hitler and his cronies, fell on death ears. The evil was not there to be seen. The war to end all wars was not yet a distant memory in the minds of the British, but a devastating event that took place only two decades earlier. "Peace in our time," was the rallying cry of those who would concede nations to suppression under the nazi boot.

It was September 3, 1939, and all my prophecies and predictions of the last decade were now a reality the nation could not ignore. Today the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland declared war, once again, on Germany. I am sixty four years old. It is 6 am and I have just reported for duty, for the second time, as First Lord of the Admiralty. That same day, a signal was flashed to the men at sea, "Winston is back." It was Sunday, and the prayers and hopes of a proud people echoed throughout the country churches and great cathedrals of a land that only wanted for itself and the world, peace in our time.

Although declarations of war had formulized the intent of nations, the army of Britain and France faced the German Wehrmacht for eight months without incident. It was not my intent to lose this time to the enemy, so I ordered the British navy to go on the offensive, attacking the nazis wherever they were to be found. My greatest victory at that time, was the trapping on the Argentine coast of the German pocket battleship, Graf Spree. As the hours, weeks and months ticked by, the world awoke on May 10, 1940, to cries of horror as German Panzer divisions squashed Belgium and Holland in their race to subjugate France. Before going to bed that night, I wrote in my diary, "I acquired the chief power in the state…" I was now Prime Minister, and in full control of the destiny of this land.

Within forty days the British Army had suffered a disaster in France, ending at Dunkirk, where 338,000 men were trapped with their backs to the English Channel. When only a miracle could save them, I ordered and asked that all able bodied men and their boats, from ships of significance down to mere motor boats, cross the English Channel and save the cream of England’s youth from the clutches of the nazi villain. The armada began and ended with every man rescued and vowing to fight again. With the full might of the German army set to invade this tiny isle, I stood up in Parliament and with the spirits of England’s heroes at my side, I told the nation, "The Battle of France is over...The Battle for Britain is about to begin...Let us therefore brace ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’"

In 1940 and 1941 Britain and her Empire stood alone. In June 1940, I warned the nation, "The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned upon us." A few weeks later, the Luftwaffe began its constant bombing of our airfields and then to crush the will of the people, our cities. The Royal Air Force, the youngest of men - of which I shall say, "Never was so much owed by so many to so few," were undaunted in their task to repulse the enemy and to regain supremacy of the air. With an unbelievable sacrifice of men, still only boys with an unfulfilled aspiration for manhood, they achieved their goal. Hitler had been repulsed and the main forces of his armies moved toward Russia and the east.

Our will was now stronger than ever. My American cousins would soon fulfill their destiny in the defense of liberty and freedom. In the meantime, as my country stood alone, President Roosevelt was very sympathetic to our plight, shipping arms, munitions and supplies to bolster our defenses. I was like the audacious pickpockets of the 19th century, constantly in Roosevelt’s back pockets, taking whatever I could find, while the president blithely turned away. In early 1941, Franklin, in order to encourage British endurance, sent me this message. It was from a Longfellow poem. "Sail on, O ship of state! hanging breathlessly on the fate." And then he wrote, "This verse applies to your people as it does to us." I shared his message of support with the British people and I then reversed the message, applying this same essence of support to the American people. I was to later write, "these splendid lines were an inspiration," and to say, "I have some other lines which are less well know but seem apt and appropriate to our fortunes tonight, and I believe they will be judged wherever the English language is spoken." I read two stanzas from a poem by Clough, ending with the last line, "But Westward, look, the land is bright."

And so it was on December 7, 1941, that Churchill’s and Britain’s American cousins stood side-by-side in the battle against an enemy that represented all that was evil and contrary to the principles of liberty, freedom and the pursuit of happiness.

It is now May 8, 1945, and the war is over. I was already beginning to formulate my belief that our next great foe would be communism. To lead this charge against a new enemy for democracy, I must first win, in the elections, my seat in Parliament. No politician ever ran on a sounder record of service and dedication to his country and its people, and yet, I lost in a landslide.

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I continued, after the war had ended, to warn of the communist menace, and in a speech at Fulton, Missouri, entitled ‘The Sinews of Peace’, I told of an Iron Curtain descending over Eastern Europe that would have a negative affect on our lives for years to come.

During these post-war years, I returned to the pleasures of my life, painting and, yes, brick building. In 1947, two of my paintings were accepted by the Royal Academy, a very distinct honor. 1951 saw my return, once again, to politics, accepting the position as prime minister. This was followed by a return visit to America to confer with President Truman. I was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II, and presented honors from nations throughout the world. In 1955, I resigned from the government, prepared to serve my local constituents and to enjoy semi-retirement. In 1963, I announced my intent not to stand for re-election and to end my long and distinguished career in politics.

I hoped father was proud of me. Also, in 1963 President Kennedy and the American nation bestowed upon me the greatest gift they could give, honorary American citizenship. I was the first foreigner to be so honored. My American mother had brought her son home.

It was January 24 and I was laying in bed in the ninth day of a coma after suffering a stroke. My dear wife, Clementine, our family and the world have been keeping a vigil at my bedside. I looked up at the clock and the second finger was racing toward the 8 a.m. hour. As all three clock fingers met, a feeling of benign contentment swept over me. The frailty and pain were gone and those around me were weeping. Clementine, my dear, dear wife, lover and partner for so many years looked pale and weak with eyes swollen and red from the thousands of tear drops shed. How I loved her and my family as their tears bade me farewell. My life with them and my long and illustrious political career were ended. I hoped again that my father was pleased. I could hear Big Ben tolling the 8 a.m. hour, and St. Paul’s Cathedral ringing out the invitation to church attendees with its inimitable reminder that today was Sunday. But I knew, as in past state funerals, the bells of St. Paul’s were tolling on this day to mourn a lost son. It was my turn to be that lost son.

sinewsofpeacelogo.gif (6165 bytes)I laid in state in the great Westminster Hall, just a few feet from the House of Commons where my speeches had echoed in those proud chambers, and through the magic of radio spread around the world. I had told them, "I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat," and they accepted. Over 300,000 people, braving the cold and blustery weather of an English January, filed through the hall with somber eyes and a silence broken only by those whose weeping elicited sounds of sadness. My state funeral was fit for a king, for I was surrounded by all aspects of the military; many of whom had served England faithfully during those dreadful war years. My casket, shrouded with the flag I had served under, was affixed to a gun carriage normally reserved for royalty. Conveyed through the streets of London, and mourned by thousands along the route, the procession and I wound our way to St. Paul’s Cathedral. That gallant of places. That inspiration to men, women and children who viewed it through the terrible bombing of London. Each day it stood above the fire, smoke and destruction, an instrument of God, defying the devil to strike it down. And so it reigned, majestic and dignified through the dark days of World War II. It now contained my body and dignitaries from around the world. Queen Elizabeth II and her family were there, breaking a centuries old tradition that royalty not attend a commoner’s funeral. Some have said that the British people achieved greatness, during my watch, to an extent that will remain unmatched. I am the most recent of a long line of men who have inspired this nation to greatness. Their many names are etched in the annals of British history..

As I was laid to rest in the English soil of a small country church close to my family’s ancestral home, Blenheim Palace, I thought about my long line of ancestors whose blood had run though my veins. The Villiars (Duke of Buckingham), the Spencers (Earl of Sunderland), the Sidneys (Sir William Sidney grandfather of Sir Phillip Sidney for whom, I am told, a small town in Ohio has been named) and John Churchill (1st Duke of Marlborough.

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I thought of the many honors, from around the world, that had been laid at my feet. My second homeland, America, God bless her, had given me its highest honor, honorary citizenship, along with the United States Distinguished Service Award. The individual states of West Virginia, Tennessee, Hawaii, New Hampshire, Nebraska, North Carolina and Maryland had also awarded me honorary citizenship and claimed me as a native son. I also reflected on those who said that my mother was one sixteenth Iroquois, and that I was one thirty-second American Indian. "I am proud of what I am, and proud of what I have become."

As the rich soil of England and the tears of her sons and daughters fall upon my humble remains, I bid you farewell, and close my eyes to this life, to open them again when I reach that better place.


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