Home     Mission    Building    Staff    Events    Get Involved    Store    Education     Resources     Media Room     Contact    

Winston Churchill


Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill (30 November 1874 24 January 1965) was a British statesman, army officer, and writer. He was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1940 to 1945, when he led Britain to victory in the Second World War, and again from 1951 to 1955. Churchill represented five constituencies during his career as a Member of Parliament (MP). Ideologically an economic liberal and imperialist, for most of his career he was a member of the Conservative Party, which he led from 1940 to 1955, but from 1904 to 1924 was instead a member of the Liberal Party.

Widely considered one of the 20th century's most significant figures, Churchill remains popular in the UK and Western world, where he is seen as a victorious wartime leader who played an important role in defending Europe's liberal democracy from the spread of fascism. Also praised as a social reformer and writer, among his many awards was the Nobel Prize in Literature. Conversely, his imperialist views and comments on race, as well as his sanctioning of human rights abuses in the suppression of anti-imperialist movements seeking independence from the British Empire, have generated considerable controversy.

On a holiday to Bournemouth in January 1893, Churchill fell and was knocked unconscious for three days. In March he took a job at a cram school in Lexham Gardens, South Kensington, before holidaying in Switzerland and Italy that summer. After two unsuccessful attempts to gain admittance to the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, he succeeded on his third attempt. There, he was accepted as a cadet in the cavalry, starting his education in September 1893. In August 1894 he and his brother holidayed in Belgium, and he spent free time in London, joining protests at the closing of the Empire Theatre, which he had frequented. His Sandhurst education lasted for 15 months; he graduated in December 1894. Shortly after Churchill finished at Sandhurst, in January 1895, his father died; this led Churchill to adopt the belief that members of his family inevitably died young.

Seeking a parliamentary career, Churchill pursued political contacts and gave addresses at three Conservative Party meetings. At this point he courted Pamela Plowden; although a relationship did not ensue, they remained lifelong friends. In December he returned to India for three months, largely to indulge his love of the game polo. While in Calcutta, he stayed in the home of Viceroy George Nathaniel Curzon. On the journey home, he spent two weeks in Cairo, where he was introduced to the Khedive Abbas II, before arriving in England in April. He refocused his attention on politics, addressing further Conservative meetings and networking at events such as a Rothschild's dinner party. He was selected as one of the two Conservative parliamentary candidates at the June 1899 by-election in Oldham, Lancashire. Although the Oldham seats had previously been held by the Conservatives, the election was a narrow Liberal victory.

In the new government, Churchill became Under-Secretary of State for the Colonial Office, a position that he had requested. He worked beneath the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Victor Bruce, 9th Earl of Elgin, and took Edward Marsh as his secretary; the latter remained Churchill's secretary for 25 years. In this junior ministerial position, Churchill was first tasked with helping to draft a constitution for the Transvaal. In 1906, he helped oversee the granting of a government to the Orange Free State. In dealing with southern Africa, he sought to ensure equality between the British and Boer. He also announced a gradual phasing out of the use of Chinese indentured labourers in South Africa; he and the government decided that a sudden ban would cause too much upset in the colony and might damage the economy. He expressed concerns about the relations between European settlers and the black African population; after Zulu launched the Bambatha Rebellion in Natal, he complained of Europeans' "disgusting butchery of the natives".

One of the major domestic issues in Britain was that of women's suffrage. By this point, Churchill supported giving women the vote, although would only back a bill to that effect if it had majority support from the (male) electorate. His proposed solution was a referendum on the issue, but this found no favour with Asquith and women's suffrage remained unresolved until 1918. Many Suffragettes took Churchill for a committed opponent of women's suffrage, and targeted his meetings for protest. In November 1910, the suffragist Hugh Franklin attacked Churchill with a whip; Franklin was arrested and imprisoned for six weeks. It was these militant suffragettes who were the primary beneficiaries of Churchill's relaxed rules for those categorised as 'political' prisoners.

In September, Churchill took over full responsibility for Britain's aerial defence, making several visits to France to oversee the war effort. While in Britain, he spoke at all-party recruiting rallies in London and Liverpool, and his wife gave birth to their third child, Sarah. In October he visited Antwerp to observe Belgian defences against the besieging Germans; he promised Belgian Prime Minister Charles de Broqueville that Britain would provide reinforcements for the city. The German assault continued, and shortly after Churchill left the city he agreed to a British retreat, allowing the Germans to take Antwerp; many in the press criticised Churchill for this. Churchill maintained that his actions prolonged the resistance, thus enabling the Allies to secure Calais and Dunkirk.

Missouri Civil War Museum