January 24th saw the anniversary of the death of one of Britain’s most famous statesman, Winston Churchill. He is best known for his leadership of this country through the days of the second world war, but also led in his younger years a varied, eventful and sometimes dangerous life.
Born on November 30th 1874, Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill was the son of Lord Randolph Churchill and Jeanette Jerome, a New York socialite. He was also the grandson of the 7th Duke of Marlborough, John Spencer-Churchill.
A rebellious child, Churchill was sent to Harrow boarding school near London in 1888, in the hope that discipline would settle him into his studies. This proved to be not entirely successful. Not a natural academic, it later took Churchill three attempts to pass the exam for the British Royal Military College so he could enter the forces. Once in the British Army, he joined the Fourth Hussars in 1895 (pictured above in his uniform); serving in the Indian northwest frontier and the Sudan. While in the Army, he wrote military reports for newspapers The Pioneer and The Daily Telegraph, and wrote two books on his experiences, The Story of the Malakand Field Force (1898) and The River War (1899).
After leaving the Army in 1899, Churchill became a war correspondent for the conservative newspaper, Morning Post. It was a hazardous job, and while reporting on the Boer War, he was taken prisoner by the Boers while on a scouting expedition. However, he managed to escape, and travelled 300 miles to Mozambique, before getting back to Britain.
Churchill’s political career began in 1900. He became an MP in the Conservative Party for Oldham. Unconvinced that the Conservative Party was committed to social justice, though, he switched sides to the Liberal Party in 1904.
Although Churchill achieved many things during his political career, it is for his war time work that he will always be remembered most. But this should include what he did before World War Two. From 1919 to 1922, Churchill served as Minister of War and Air and Colonial Secretary under Prime Minister David Lloyd George. As time went on, though, fractures in the Liberal Party led to Churchill rejoining the Conservative Party.
By 1938, as Germany began controlling parts of Europe, Churchill had become a critic of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement toward the Nazis. He would ultimately be proved right and on September 3rd, 1939, Britain declared war on Germany. Churchill was appointed First Lord of the Admiralty and a member of the war cabinet. By April 1940, he was chairman of the Military Coordinating Committee. Then, on May 10, King George VI appointed Churchill Prime minister and Minister of Defense.
Churchill formed a coalition cabinet of leaders from the Labour, Liberal and Conservative parties, and began cultivating a relationship with U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt. By March 1941, he had secured vital U.S. aid to bring supplies into the UK. After the United States entered World War II, in December 1941, Churchill was confident that the Allies would eventually win the war, and again, he would eventually be correct.
After the war, Churchill proposed plans for social reforms in Britain, but he was defeated in the general election in July 1945. He was not finished with politics yet, however, and in 1951 he returned to government as Prime Minister.
In 1953, at the age of 78, Churchill was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II. Sadly, later that year he suffered a series of strokes at his office and retired as prime minister two years later. He remained in Parliament until the general election of 1964, when he retired fully.
On January 15th, 1965, Churchill suffered a severe stroke. He died at his London home, at age 90, later that year.
Dr Kathryn Bates is a graduate of archaeology and history. She has excavated across the world as an archaeologist, and tutored medieval history at Leicester University. She joined the administrative team at Oxford Open Learning twelve years ago. Alongside her distance learning work, Dr Bates is a bestselling novelist, and an itinerant creative writing tutor for primary school children.