Annotated typescript first draft of ‘Finest Hour’ speech and broadcast, 18 June 1940. Here you can see the marked-up typescript of the first draft of one of Churchill’s most famous speeches, with the most iconic phrase at the bottom of the page: ‘this was their finest hour’. © Churchill Archives Centre
Churchill is perhaps now best remembered for his powerful speeches and broadcasts, particularly those delivered during the Second World War – ‘a series of speeches that rank with the greatest in British history’ (Simon Jenkins, in A Short History of Britain, 2011). He used his great skill with the written word, and his dedication to rehearsing its delivery, to influence a national and an international audience. His speeches were carefully crafted both to raise morale at home and to act as political and diplomatic weapons abroad, sending messages of defiance to the enemy and calls to arms to allies. Learn more about Churchill’s development as a speaker, in an exhibition showcasing relevant documents from the Churchill Archives, here. And this review of the exhibition in the New York Times here.
‘I was very glad that Mr Attlee described my speeches in the war as expressing the will not only of Parliament but of the whole nation. Their will was resolute and remorseless and, as it proved, unconquerable. It fell to me to express it, and if I found the right words you must remember that I have always earned my living by my pen and by my tongue. It was a nation and race dwelling all round the globe that had the lion heart. I had the luck to be called upon to give the roar.’
Churchill, Westminster Hall, London, 30 November 1954
When Churchill sailed to India with his regiment, the Queen’s Hussars, in 1896, polo – and winning regimental polo cups – seemed to be the only action he was likely to see. Eager to make his mark, he took matters into his own hands and persuaded the Daily Telegraph to take him on as a war correspondent. In 1897, he travelled to the North West frontier of India and Pakistan to join the Malakand Field Force fighting against the Afghan tribes in 1897, under the command of Sir Bindon Blood. It took him a total of five uncomfortable weeks (by ship and by train), with the promise of nothing more than a role as ‘correspondent’, to get to the front.
‘Here was a place where real things were going on. Here was a scene of vital action. Here was a place where anything might happen. Here was a place where something would certainly happen. Here I might leave my bones.’
Churchill, My Early Life
Churchill knew that the fastest way to political advancement lay in active service – ‘the glittering gateway to distinction’. He bemoaned the fact that the world was growing so ‘sensible and pacific’. There weren’t any battles close to home – as yet – so he had to look further afield to find action. For the moment, though, there was action to be found on a far-distant island – Cuba – and, through his mother’s contacts, Churchill managed to wangle a commission as a war correspondent for the Daily Graphic. Off he went, spirits high, to see some action. In late 1895, he and a friend Reginald Barnes were given leave to travel to Cuba, to observe the military campaign by the Spanish government troops against Cuban guerrilla rebels. Churchill spent some of his twenty-first birthday under fire when the column he was travelling with was attacked. Despite only being in Cuba for sixteen days, he was recommended for the Spanish Cross of the Order of Military Merit.
‘Luckily … there were Zulus and Afghans, also the Dervishes in the Soudan. Some of these might, if they were well-disposed, ’put up a show’ some day.’
Churchill, My Early Life
In fact, Churchill was more than ready for retirement. Only a year after his resignation, days before his eighty-second birthday, he finally admitted that he was not the man he was; he could not be Prime Minister now. Only a week after his last cabinet meeting, he and Clemmie went on holiday to Syracuse.
I am not the man I was. I could not be Prime Minister now.
Churchill to Lord Moran, 26 November 1956 (cited in Langworth Churchill: In His Own Words)
Even though he was not the man he was, and despite his failing health, Churchill began his ‘retirement’ with some of his old vigour and energy. For an elderly man, he was remarkably resilient and determined. He embarked on holidays, painting tours and new writing projects.
Read More >
Shortly after his return from Fulton, Churchill began to write his war memoirs. With a team of researchers working on his behalf, and a very ordered (if somewhat laborious) approach to drafting and editing, he soon had the first volume finished. appeared in six volumes between 1948 and 1954.
Churchill never claimed the memoirs were ‘history’; they were rather a contribution to history. Although their very breadth and coverage gave the impression that they were a definitive account, there were omissions, of course. was Churchill’s interpretation of the events, the work of a man seeking to place his role in the war – and in history. The books sold well, with a combined first printing of over 800,000 copies.
Read More >
Much of the 1930s was devoted to travel and writing. Some of the former was for pleasure; Churchill had always relished travelling and enjoyed his time away from Britain. He spent many months on the continent – at expensive hotels, at the chateaux of friends and acquaintances, always with his easel and paints at hand.
Churchill used these long periods abroad, in the sunshine and among those who respected him, to recharge his batteries and restore his energy. His favourite holiday destination was the French Riviera, where he enjoyed the hospitality of wealthy American hostesses like Maxine Elliott and Consuelo Balsan, all of whom had genuine affection for Churchill and played host to him in their villas, providing him with much-needed relaxation.
Read More >
By his twenty-fifth birthday, in November 1899, Churchill had published two books based on his newspaper assignments (The Story of the Malakand Field Force and The River War), had a novel appearing in serial form (Savrola, in Macmillan’s Magazine between May and December 1899) and had become the highest paid journalist in the world. By the end of 1900, with Savrola, his first (and only) novel, London to Ladysmith and Ian Hamilton’s March all publishing in that year, his total of published books was five.
Read More >
The American novelist was, in fact, famous earlier and much better known that his British counterpart; his novel Richard Carvel (1899) sold around two million copies. Later novels, The Crisis (1901) and The Crossing (1904) were also very popular. The two are still occasionally confused, mostly by sellers of second-hand books (having ‘Churchill’ as the author of books with similar titles – The Crisis and The World Crisis – doesn’t help).
Interestingly, both Churchills shared a lot in common; both had political careers, both were noted amateur painters, both attended military colleges and served (during the same period) as officers in the armed forces (the American Churchill was in the navy).
Read More >
I have consistently urged my friends to abstain from reading it.
Churchill, My Early Life, writing about his only novel Savrola
Read More >
Finest Hour 171, Winter 2016
The River War: Churchill’s Firsthand Account of the Charge at Omdurman
Lines printed in bold italics appeared in the first edition of The River War but not in later editions.
As the 21st Lancers left the ridge, the fire of the Arab riflemen on the hill ceased. We advanced at a walk in mass for about 300 yards. The scattered parties of Dervishes fell back and melted away, and only one straggling line of men in dark blue waited motionless a quarter of a mile to the left front. They were scarcely a hundred strong. I marvelled at their temerity. The regiment formed into line of squadron columns, and continued at a walk until within 300 yards of this small body of Dervishes. I wondered what possessed them. Perhaps they wanted to surrender. The firing behind the ridges had stopped. There was complete silence, intensified by the recent tumult. Far beyond the thin blue row of Dervishes the fugitives were visible streaming into Omdurman. And should these few devoted men impede a regiment? Yet it were wiser to examine their position from the other flank before slipping a squadron at them. The heads of the squadron wheeled slowly to the left, and the Lancers, breaking into a trot, began to cross the Dervish front in column of troops. Thereupon and with one accord the blue-clad men dropped on their knees, and there burst out a loud, crackling fire of musketry. It was hardly possible to miss such a target at such a range. Horses and men fell at once. The only course was Read More >