As one of the key architects of the Allied victory in World War II, Winston Churchill is widely regarded as one of the most important political leaders of the 20th century. Join Active Minds as we examine Churchill’s life before becoming prime minister of England, his years in the job, and his lasting impact on his country and the world.
Key Lecture Points
- Winston Churchill was born in 1874 to Lord Randolph Churchill, a well-known Conservative politician and Jennie Jerome, a beautiful and lively American, the daughter of a New York businessman. Born into power and privilege, Churchill would have opportunities to advance himself. At the same time, his parents were not readily present during his childhood.
- Instead of university, he attended the British Royal Military College-Sandhurst where he thrived. After graduation, he joined the Fourth Hussars, a cavalry regiment, in 1895. He served in India and saw action in the Sudan, participating in the last cavalry charge of the British Army. After leaving the army in 1899, he went to South Africa to cover the Boer War as a war correspondent. He was captured by the Boers. After 3 weeks in a prisoner of war camp, he made a daring escape. As a supplement to his modest income (which did not meet his taste for living), Churchill wrote extensively of his various exploits in the latter days of the vast and varied British Empire.
- Churchill’s public life had its ups and its downs. First elected to Parliament in 1900 he rose quickly. By 1911, he was named First Lord of the Admiralty. During WWI, he ordered the disastrous Gallipoli campaign which killed 46,000 Allied troops. He resigned soon thereafter. After returning to government, in 1921 Churchill became Colonial Secretary, convening the Cairo Conference which redrew the map of the Middle East in the aftermath of WWI .
- In 1924 Churchill became Chancellor of the Exchequer. He returned Britain to the gold standard, creating national economic problems. His party was voted out of office in 1929 and he began a decade out of government which he referred to as the “wilderness years.”
- As Europe again descended into war Churchill was named Prime Minister in 1940. With most of Europe under its control, Germany launched its air power against Britain in preparation for an invasion. Churchill’s leadership during this perilous time (including his defiant oratory) inspired the British to stem the tide of Nazism. With the help of the US (via a personal friendship with Franklin Roosevelt), the Allies were able to defeat Hitler’s Germany.
- Although Churchill led his country during WWII from the brink of defeat to eventual victory, he was defeated in the July 1945 general election and forced into minority party status.
- During this period, he wrote and traveled extensively, hailed as a hero of the War. In 1946 while visiting the US, Churchill made his famous “Iron Curtain” speech at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri in which he warned about Soviet expansionism.
- In 1951 Churchill returned as Prime Minister. In 1953 he suffered a series of strokes. Although he recovered, it was apparent he was slowing down mentally and physically. He retired as Prime Minister in 1955. Winston Churchill died at the age of 90 on January 24.
- What were the major forces that shaped Winston Churchill’s life?
- Describe 3 key events in Churchill’s life and the importance of each.
- Churchill is considered one of the greatest leaders of the 20th century. What characteristics made him such an admired leader?
- What other great leaders do you admire? Why? How do they compare to Churchill?
More to Explore
Books for Further Reading
- Read, Simon. Winston Churchill: Adventures of a Young War Correspondent. Da Capo Press, 2015. 328 pages. The author tells the story of Churchill as a war correspondent in Cuba, India, the Sudan and South Africa from 1895 to 1900, at time when the British Empire was at its height. The author shows that it was during this time that Churchill developed his celebrated command of language and formed his geopolitical opinions, shaping the great leader he would become. The book is based on Churchill’s private papers and articles he wrote at the time.
Click here to order
- Lough, David. No More Champagne: Churchill and His Money. Picador USA, 2015. 544 pages. The author describes Churchill’s chronic shortage of money and his lavish lifestyle instilled into him by his upbringing and expected of him because of his public position.
Click here to order
- Humes, James C., Churchill: The Prophetic Statesman. Regnery History, 2015. 300 pages. The author discusses how Churchill’s ability to understand the far reaching effects of geopolitics and their future implications made him a great leader.
Click here to order