(Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill; Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, 1874 – London, 1965) British politician especially remembered for his tenure as Prime Minister (1940-45) during World War II: with his “blood, sweat and tears” motto, managed to raise the morale of the troops and the civilian population and sustain the nation until the allied victory.
Throughout his brilliant career, Winston Churchill was successively the most popular and the most criticized man in England, and sometimes both at the same time. Considered the last of the great statesmen, he will always be remembered for his rare ability to predict future events, which at times became a heavy burden for his countrymen.
For years, Churchill was something like the voice of his country’s conscience, a voice that stirred spirits and infused them with great doses of energy and courage. His multifaceted genius, in addition to leading him to conquer immortality in the world of politics, made him stand out as a historian, biographer, orator, war correspondent and cognac drinker, and on a more modest level as a painter, bricklayer, novelist, aviator. , polo player, soldier and cavalry owner.
Winston Churchill was born on November 30, 1874 at Blenheim Palace, then owned by his grandfather, the 7th Duke of Marlborough. His father was Lord Randolph Churchill and his mother a dazzlingly beautiful young American named Jennie Jerome. There is no doubt that in her early years she knew happiness, for in her autobiography she tenderly evokes the days spent under the protective shadow of her mother, who, in addition to being beautiful, was cultured, intelligent and sensitive.
Perhaps for this reason, being interned by his father in an expensive Ascot school, the boy reacted with rebellion; being away from home was unbearable, and Winston protested against anything that was studying. He was frequently punished and his grades were always among the worst. When he entered the famous Harrow school in 1888, the future prime minister was included in the class of the most retarded pupils. One of his teachers would say of him: “He was not an easy boy to handle. It is true that his intelligence was brilliant, but he only studied when he wanted and with teachers who deserved his approval.”
Churchill failed the entrance exams for Sandhurst Military Academy twice in a row. However, once he entered the institution, a radical change took place in him. His proverbial stubbornness, his resolve and his indomitable spirit did not leave him, but the habit of capriciously disagreeing with everything began to disappear. He worked hard, was applied and serious in class and very soon he stood out among the students of his level.
Shortly after he joined the Fourth Hussars, a cavalry regiment reputed to be one of the best in the army. He was, in 1895, in the war in Cuba, and fought in India (1898) and the Sudan (1899); On the battlefields he learned everything about the art of war that he had not found in books, especially practical questions of strategy that would later serve him in dealing with England’s enemies.
From journalism to politics
However, military life soon tired him. He resigned from it to devote himself to politics and joined the Conservative Party in 1898, standing for election a year later. Narrowly missing the MP, Churchill went to South Africa as the Morning Post’s correspondent in the Boer War.
There he was taken prisoner and transferred to Pretoria, but he managed to escape and returned to London as a popular hero: for the first time, his name appeared on the front pages of the newspapers, since he had traveled more than four hundred kilometers in his flight, facing endless of dangers with extraordinary cold blood. It is not surprising, then, that he got a seat as a conservative representative of Oldham in the House of Commons (1900) and that, just turned twenty-six, he could start a dazzling political career.
In Parliament, his speeches and good humor soon became famous. But his independent spirit, unwilling to submit to party disciplines, earned him important enemies in the chamber, even among his own co-religionists. It is not surprising that he changed parties several times and that his interventions, both expected and feared by all, always aroused tremendous controversy.
At odds with the party on the South African question, Churchill went over to the Liberals in 1904, and in 1906, at the age of thirty-one, he achieved his first government post in the cabinet of Henry Campbell-Bannerman, who appointed him Under Secretary of State. Colonies; from that position he defended the granting of autonomy to the Boers. He was then Minister of Commerce (1908-1910) and of the Interior (1910-1911) in the government of Herbert Henry Asquith, who would be Prime Minister between 1908 and 1916.
The First World War
Churchill foresaw with extraordinary accuracy the events that triggered the First World War and the course that the conflict followed in its first stage. His prophecies, considered crazy by the military, became reality and surprised everyone by the clairvoyance with which they had been formulated.
In 1911, three years before the conflagration broke out, Prime Minister Asquith appointed him Lord of the Admiralty; Churchill immediately embarked on a profound reorganization of his country’s military. He first set out to make the British navy the first in the world, switching from coal to oil as the fuel of the fleet and ordering the installation in all units of large-caliber guns. Then he launched the creation of an aerial weapon and, finally, determined to counteract the fearsome German power, he promoted the construction of the first “land battleships”, making the tank begin to be considered essential as a weapon of war.
Faced with the failure of the Battle of the Dardanelles (1915), he was forced to resign; he rejoined the army and fought on the western front as a major and lieutenant colonel. In 1916, in the middle of the war, the government of Herbert Henry Asquith fell, who was replaced by David Lloyd George; the new Prime Minister called Churchill back into his cabinet, first as Minister for Armaments (1917) and then for the War and Air portfolio (1918).
After the First World War, Winston Churchill suffered the consequences of the postwar reaction, and for a time he was relegated to a secondary role within the political scene. In 1924 he reconciled with the conservatives and a year later he was put in charge of the Ministry of Finance in the government of Stanley Baldwin. It was a time of economic decline, unrest, labor unrest and massive strike action, and the dogged conservatism he displayed did not satisfy even his own colleagues. In a word, the whole world was tired of him and his popularity dropped to heights unimaginable years before.
Retirement between two wars
Between 1929 and 1939, Winston Churchill voluntarily withdrew from politics, devoting himself mainly to writing and painting under the pseudonym Charles Morin. “If this man were a painter by trade,” Picasso once said, “he could earn a very good living.”
Churchill remained in Parliament, but during these years he had virtually no influence. He regained prominence when, observing the growing threat posed by Adolf Hitler, he proclaimed the urgent need for England to rearm and waged a lone struggle against the emerging fascism. On repeated occasions, both on camera and in his newspaper articles, he vigorously denounced the Nazi danger to a nation that, once again, seemed afflicted with a blindness that could end in tragedy.