By the Rev. Dr. Ed Hird
When England was facing an impossible future in 1941, Winston Churchill emerged as the dynamic visionary leader who gave the English people the courage to see their way through to victory.
Churchill has been described as the greatest statesman of the past 100 years. Others have called him the last truly great man of the western world. As Commentator Peter Graves notes, “His record of wartime heroism and peacetime leadership may never be equalled …” Churchill was born into the privileged world of British aristocracy. His father, Lord Randolph Churchill was the youngest son of the Duke of Malborough. His mother Jenny Jerome was the vivacious daughter of an American financier.
Churchill was a rising star in the Conservative Party at just age 26. He landed in hot water however for supporting free trade, at a time when the Conservatives were in a protectionist mood. Churchill then switched to the Liberal Party, becoming one of the youngest cabinet ministers ever. As president of the Board of Trade, he introduced many social reforms. Notably he eliminated sweat labour, set up labour exchanges for the unemployed, and brought in a nationwide minum wage, along with compulsory meal breaks at work. Many people don’t realize that the British owe their traditional tea breaks to Churchill!
Churchill was blamed for a disastrous WWI military expedition to the Dardanelles in Turkey, which cost the British many lives and ships. Cold-shouldered by his colleagues, he decided to fight on the Western Front. His frontline heroism earned him a reputation as a real man’s man. Churchill was then brought back into the Liberal Cabinet, until in 1924 he changed parties a second time. He returned to the Conservatives, becoming Chancellor of the Exchequer. But once again Churchill fell out of favour, and spent the next 10 years out of political office. Peter Graves commented that Churchill led a life of spectacular victories and spectacular failures.
Even in serious setbacks, however, Churchill had an amazing ability to find something encouraging. While lecturing in the States, he looked the wrong way and was run over by a New York taxicab. Instead of feeling sorry for himself, be made $5,000, while in hospital, by writing an article about what it is like to be run over by a car. A most prolific writer, Churchill once humorously commented: “I’ve written very many books. I think that by the time I was 25 years old, I’d written as many books as Moses.” His six-volume series on the 2nd World war earned him the Nobel Prize of Literature.
Written off as a has-been and a warmonger, Churchill was largely ignored as he warned England of Hitler’s aggressive military intentions. Yet as Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement policy collapsed, a nationwide campaign emerged to bring Churchill back.
On the day Chamberlain appointed him as the First Lord of the Admiralty, Churchill said: “We are fighting to save the whole world from the pestilence of Nazi tyranny.” In six months with Churchill, there were five years worth of change. He cut through all the red tape and doubled the production of aircraft needed to defend Britain.
On becoming Prime Minister, Churchill uttered those immortal words: “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat .You ask what is our policy. I will say: it is to wage war by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us to wage war against a monstrous tyranny never surpassed in the darkened, lamentable catalogue of human crime …”
Churchill had an amazing gift of being able to reinspire and reinvigorate people who were close to giving up. The people of England trusted him because be didn’t hide the painful truth from them. He never gave them the impression that defeating Hitler would be quick and easy. Instead, Churchill said clearly that the English people had before them “many, many long months of struggle and of suffering.” For Churchill, the British people were a tough, robust people who would rather face an ugly truth than a beautiful deception.
His finest hour, said Martin Gilbert, was the leadership Churchill gave to Britain when it was most isolated, most threatened and most weak. Churchill’s strong dislike of bullying, unfairness and victimization helped to fuel his ironclad opposition to tyranny Peter Graves commented that if ever a man was matched to a moment, then such a man was Winston Churchill in 1940.
All around, Europe had been overrun by the Nazi warmachine, and only England still resisted. Bombarded night after night in fierce air raid attacks, Churchill the Leader ignited his country with new hope that they really had a future.
As the late Phyllis Beck, former Seniors Columnist for the Deep Cove Crier, once put it, “Churchill swayed us tremendously into believing that we were doing the right thing … that every person was needed by his country.”
May the perseverance of Winston Churchill be an inspiration to each of us in our daily struggles to do the right thing.
The Rev. Dr. Ed Hird, Rector
BSW, MDiv, DMin
-author of the award-winning book Battle for the Soul of Canada
-previously published in the Deep Cove Crier
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