Childhood & Early Life
Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill was born on 30 November 1874 in Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England, into an aristocratic family. His father, Lord Randolph Churchill, was a prominent politician while his mother, Lady Randolph Churchill (née Jennie Jerome), was the daughter of an American millionaire.
Growing up, he did not have a close relationship with either of his parents and was primarily raised by nannies. He was especially close to his nanny, Elizabeth Ann Everest, who he considered his friend and confidante.
He was a rebellious young boy who detested formal education. In April 1888, he was sent to Harrow School, a boarding school near London. He did poorly there though he developed a love for English language.
After leaving Harrow in 1893, he applied to attend the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. He failed in his initial attempts to pass the test but eventually got selected. He graduated in December 1894 and was commissioned as a cornet (second lieutenant) in the 4th Queen's Own Hussars in .
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During the Cuban War of Independence, he travelled to Cuba; he had obtained a commission to write about the conflict from the ‘Daily Graphic’ as a war-time correspondent. He returned to England when he learned that his nanny Elizabeth Ann Everest was dying.
In 1896, he was transferred to British India where he worked as both soldier and journalist on the North-West Frontier in 1897. His journalistic works became very popular during this period and helped to establish him as a successful writer.
In 1897, Churchill fought against a Pashtun tribe in Malakand—now in Pakistan—under the leadership of General Jeffery. After the victory of the British Army he wrote an account of the fight, which was published in 1900 as ‘The Story of the Malakand Field Force’ for which he received £600.
Transferred to Egypt in 1898, he served in Sudan under the command of General Herbert Kitchener. There he participated in the Battle of Omdurman before returning to Britain. Churchill resigned from the British Army in May 1899.
The Second Boer War between Britain and the Boer Republics broke out in 1899 and Churchill obtained a commission as war correspondent for ‘The Morning Post’. He went to South Africa for the assignment where he was captured and taken prisoner by the Boers. He made a dramatic escape and returned successfully to Britain. He wrote about his experiences in the book ‘London to Ladysmith’ (1900).
He then ventured into politics and became a Member of Parliament for Oldham in 1900. Initially a member of the Conservative Party, he moved to the Liberal Party in 1904. Eventually he was appointed to the prime minister's cabinet as president of the Board of Trade.
He soon established himself as a successful politician and was appointed First Lord of the Admiralty in 1911. In this position he emphasized on modernization of British Navy and set up the Royal Navy Air Service. He favored using airplanes in combat and even took flying lessons himself to understand its military potential.
The World War I was going on during this time and in 1917 he was appointed minister of munitions for overseeing the production of tanks, airplanes and munitions. After the war he served as minister of war and air and colonial secretary from 1919 to 1922.
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He eventually rejoined the Conservative Party and was made the Chancellor of the Exchequer. In this position he returned Britain to the Gold Standard. This decision proved to be disastrous and resulted in widespread unemployment that led to the General Strike of 1926. Later on Churchill regarded this as a huge mistake.
In the 1929 general election, the conservative government was defeated and Churchill became estranged from the party’s leadership. He did not accomplish much in the political arena in the ensuing years and focused on his writings instead, becoming one of the best paid writers of his time.
After remaining in isolation for a few years, he returned to prominence in 1939 when Britain declared war on Germany following the outbreak of the World War II. He was once again made First Lord of the Admiralty, a post he had held years ago during the World War I. Thus he became a member of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's small War Cabinet.
Before long he became the chairman of the Military Coordinating Committee. In April 1940, Germany invaded and occupied Norway, in the wake of which Chamberlain resigned. Winston Churchill, aged 65 at that time, succeeded Chamberlain as the prime minister under these highly trying circumstances.
As the prime minister he refused to sign a peace treaty with Nazi Germany and motivated the British Empire through his powerful speeches to keep resistance alive. A highly skilled orator, he made one of his iconic speeches in June 1940, warning that "the Battle of Britain" was about to begin.
During the war he created and took up the additional position of Minister of Defence, and put the industrialist and newspaper baron Lord Beaverbrook, in charge of aircraft production. Due to this, Britain was able to quickly increase its aircraft production, strengthening its position in the war.
Churchill maintained good relations with the U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt thereby securing a regular supply of food, arms and oil in Britain. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Churchill fully supported the U.S in its counter attack on Germany and Japan. When the U.S. entered the war in December 1941, Churchill became more confident of a victory for the allied forces.
In the ensuing months he collaborated closely with Roosevelt, and Soviet Union leader Joseph Stalin to forge an Allied war strategy. The destructive World War II finally moved towards an end in 1945. Surprisingly though, Churchill was defeated in the general election in July 1945 despite all his war time achievements.
Although shocked by his defeat, he accepted the role of leader of the parliamentary opposition and remained active in world politics. He held this position for six years and during his tenure he gave his Iron Curtain speech about the USSR and the creation of the Eastern Bloc in March 1946.
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Following the general election of October 1951, Winston Churchill became the prime minister once again. During this tenure he also held the office of Minister of Defence from October 1951 to March 1952.
Even though he was in his seventies now, he retained his passion for politics and introduced various reforms such as the Mines and Quarries Act of 1954 and the Housing Repairs and Rent Act of 1955. During this period tax allowances were raised and national assistance benefits were increased.
During the 1950s his health began to deteriorate and he was finding himself unable to perform his duties. Thus he reluctantly resigned as the prime minister in 1955.
Winston Churchill first became the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during a period of political chaos when the World War II was going on. With his years of military and political experience, he helped inspire British resistance in the nation’s struggle and led active opposition against Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler. As the Prime Minister he is credited to have led Britain to victory over the seemingly undefeatable Nazi Germany.
A prominent writer, he wrote ‘The Second World War’, a history of the period from the end of the World War I to July 1945. He worked with a team of assistants on this seminal work which played a major role in earning him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953. The book was a major commercial success in both Britain and the U.S.
Personal Life & Legacy
He married Clementine Hozier in 1908. Their marriage was a happy one, marked by mutual love and respect. Five children were born to them, of which one died as a child.
Winston Churchill lived a long life. He suffered from ill health during his later years. He suffered his first major stroke in 1953, at age of 78 which left him unable to speak and walk properly. He suffered another major stroke on 15 January 1965 and died nine days later on on 24 January 1965.
His funeral was the largest state funeral in world history up to that time. Representatives from 112 nations attended the event and he was mourned by millions across the globe who watched the funeral on television.
In 1963, U.S. President John F. Kennedy proclaimed him an Honorary Citizen of the United States, making him the first person to be made so.