A Complete Biography of Winston Churchill and his Life

Biography of Winston Churchill and his Life
Last updated:

Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill was a British politician, military officer and writer who served as Prime Minister of Great Britain for two terms (1940-1945 and 1951-1955). After becoming prime minister in 1940, Churchill helped lead a successful allied strategy with the United States and the Soviet Union during World War II to defeat the Axis powers and create postwar peace.

LIFE AND FAMILY

Churchill was born on November 30, 1874, at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, England.

From an early age, young Churchill displayed the traits of his father, Lord Randolph Churchill, a British statesman from an aristocratic English family, and his mother, Jeanette “Jennie” Jerome, a wealthy, independent-minded New Yorker.

Churchill grew up in Dublin, Ireland, where his father worked with his grandfather, the 7th Duke of Marlborough, John Spencer-Churchill.

Churchill proved to be an autarkic and rebellious student; After poor results in his first two schools, in April 1888 he began attending Harrow School, a boarding school near London. Within weeks of his enrollment, he joined the Harrow Rifle Corps, setting him up for a military career.

Initially, the army didn’t seem like a good fit for Churchill; It took him three attempts to pass the British Royal Military College exam. However, once there, he did well, graduating 20th out of 130 students in his class.

Until that moment, his relationship with his parents was distant, although he adored them. While at school, Churchill wrote emotional letters to his mother, begging her to come to see him, but she rarely visited him.

His father died when he was 21, and Churchill was said to know him more for his reputation than for the close relationship they might have shared.

MILITARY CAREER

Churchill enjoyed a brief but eventful career in the British Army at the height of British military power. He joined the Hussars of the Fourth Queen in

1895 and served on the northwestern border of India and Sudan, where he participated in the Battle of Omdurman in 1898.

While in the army, he wrote military reports for the Pioneer Mail and the Daily Telegraph, and two books on his experiences, The Story of the Malakand Field Force (1898) and The River War (1899).

In 1899, Churchill left the army and worked as a war correspondent for the Morning Post , a conservative newspaper. While reporting on the Boer War in South Africa, the Boers took him prisoner during a scouting expedition.

When he managed to escape, he traveled almost 300 miles to Portuguese territory in Mozambique, and his feat made headlines. Upon his return to Britain, he wrote about his experiences in the book London to Ladysmith via Pretoria (1900).

PARLIAMENT AND CABINET

In 1900, Churchill became a Member of the British Parliament from the Conservative Party of Oldham, a city of Manchester. Following in the footsteps of his father in politics, with whom he shared his sense of independence, he became a supporter of social reform.

Not entirely convinced that the Conservative Party was faithfully committed to social justice, Churchill chose to join the Liberal Party in 1904. He was elected to Parliament in 1908 and appointed to the Prime Minister’s cabinet as Chairman of the Board of Commerce.

In that position, Churchill joined the newly appointed Chancellor David Lloyd George in opposing the expansion of the British Navy. He introduced various reforms of the prison system, established the first minimum wage, and helped establish job boards and unemployment insurance.

Churchill also helped pass the Popular Budget, which introduced taxes on the rich to pay for new welfare programs. The budget was passed in the House of Commons in 1909 and was initially rejected in the House of Lords before it was passed in 1910.

In January 1911, Churchill showed his tougher side when he was involved in a brawl between Latvian anarchists and policemen on the streets of London, which resulted in the death of three bobbies. When the building in which the anarchists had been hiding caught fire, Churchill ordered that the fire not be put out until they surrendered. Some did not and lost their lives. The coldness that he showed then was not the dominant tone of his management, but it showed the firmness of his decisions, despite the fact that they could be controversial.

WOMAN AND CHILDREN

After a brief courtship, in 1908, Winston Churchill married Clementine Ogilvy Hozier. The couple had five children: Diana, Randolph, Sarah, Marigold (who died at a young age from tonsillitis) and Mary.

FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRAL

Appointed First Lord of the Admiralty in 1911, Churchill helped modernize the British Navy, ordering that new warships be built with petroleum engines rather than coal engines.

He was one of the first to promote military aircraft production and establish the Royal Navy Air Service. He was so excited about aviation that he himself took flying lessons to understand its military potential first-hand.

Churchill also drafted a controversial law to amend the Mental Deficiency Act of 1913, which mandated the sterilization of the feeble-minded. The bill, which only ordered the remedy of confinement in institutions, was finally approved in both houses of Parliament.

FIRST WORLD WAR

Churchill remained in his post as First Lord of the Admiralty until the beginning of World War I, but was forced to leave it due to his dismal failure at the Battle of Gallipoli. He resigned from the government in late 1915.

For a brief period, Churchill rejoined the British Army, commanding a battalion of Royal Scottish Rifles on the Western Front, and saw action in ‘no man’s land’.

In 1917, he was appointed minister of munitions for the last year of the war, overseeing the production of tanks, aircraft, and munitions.

AFTER WORLD WAR I

From 1919 to 1922, Churchill served as Minister of War and Air and Colonial Secretary to Prime Minister David Lloyd George.

As colonial secretary, Churchill was embroiled in another controversy when he ordered air power to be used against members of rebellious Kurdish tribes in Iraq, a British territory. At one point, he suggested that poison gas be used to quell the rebellion, a proposal that was considered but never enacted.

Fractures in the Liberal Party led to Churchill’s defeat as a member of Parliament in 1922, and he rejoined the Conservative Party. He served as Chancellor of the Exchequer, putting Britain back on the gold standard and taking a tough stand against a general labor strike that threatened to cripple the British economy.

With the defeat of the Conservative government in 1929, Churchill was left out of government. He was perceived as a right-wing extremist, disconnected from the people.

PAINTING

In the 1920s, after his expulsion from the government, Churchill turned to paint. “Painting came to my rescue at a very difficult time,” he would later write.

Churchill painted more than 500 pictures, usually working outdoors, although he also practiced with still lifes and portraits. He claimed that painting helped him develop observation and memory.

‘YEARS OF THE DESERT’

During the 1930s, known as his “wild years,” Churchill concentrated on his writings and published a memoir and biography of the first Duke of Marlborough.

During that time, he also began work on his celebrated History of the English-Speaking Peoples, although it would not be published until two decades later.

While activists in India in the 1930s clamored for independence from British rule, Churchill joined opponents of independence. He held a particular contempt for Mahatma Gandhi, stating that “it is alarming and also nauseating to see Mr. Gandhi, a seditious lawyer from the Middle Temple … walking half-naked down the steps of the viceregal palace … to parley likewise with the representative of the King-Emperor «.

SECOND WORLD WAR

Although Churchill did not initially see the threat posed by Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in the 1930s, he gradually became a prominent advocate of British rearmament.

By 1938, when Germany began to control its neighbors, Churchill had become a staunch critic of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement policy toward the Nazis.

On September 3, 1939, the day Great Britain declared war on Germany, Churchill was again appointed First Lord of the Admiralty and a member of the war cabinet; in April 1940, he became president of the Military Coordination Committee.

Later that month, Germany invaded and occupied Norway, a setback for Chamberlain, who had resisted Churchill’s proposal that Britain preempts German aggression by unilaterally occupying Norway’s vital iron mines and seaports.

PRIME MINISTER

On May 10, 1940, Chamberlain resigned and King George VI appointed Churchill Prime Minister and Minister of Defense.

Within hours, the German army began its western offensive, invading the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg. Two days later, German forces entered France. As the clouds of war darkened Europe, Britain stood alone in the face of attack.

Churchill would serve as Prime Minister of Great Britain from 1940 to 1945, leading the country through World War II until the surrender of Germany.

BATTLE OF GREAT BRITAIN

Quickly, Churchill formed a coalition cabinet of leaders of the Labor, Liberal and Conservative parties. He placed smart and talented men in key positions.

On June 18, 1940, Churchill delivered one of his iconic speeches before the House of Commons, warning that “the Battle of Britain” was about to begin. Churchill kept the resistance to Nazi rule alive and created the basis for an alliance with the United States and the Soviet Union.

Churchill had cultivated a relationship with American President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s, and in March 1941, he was able to secure vital assistance from the United States through the Leasing and Loan Act, which allowed Britain to apply for on-credit war products to the United States.

Following the United States’ entry into World War II in December 1941, Churchill was confident that the Allies would eventually win the war. In the months that followed, he worked closely with Roosevelt and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin to forge an Allied war strategy and a postwar world.

At a meeting in Tehran (1943), at the Yalta Conference (1945), and at the Potsdam Conference (1945), Churchill collaborated with both leaders to develop a united strategy against the Axis powers and helped create the world. of the postwar period with the United Nations as its centerpiece.

Yalta Conference

As the war drew to a close, Churchill proposed plans for social reforms in Britain but did not get the necessary support. Despite the surrender of Germany on May 7, 1945, Churchill was defeated in the general elections of July 1945.

SPEECH OF THE ‘STEEL CURTAIN’

In the six years after his defeat, Churchill became the leader of the opposition party and continued to have a major impact on international politics.

In March 1946, during a visit to the United States, he delivered his famous “Iron Curtain” speech, warning of Soviet domination in Eastern Europe. He also advocated for Britain to remain independent from European coalitions.

With the general elections of 1951, Churchill returned to the government. He became Prime Minister for the second time in October 1951 and served as Defense Minister between October 1951 and January 1952.

Churchill introduced reforms such as the Mines and Quarries Act of 1954, which improved working conditions in the mines, and the Home Rental and Repair Act of 1955, which set standards for housing.

These internal reforms were overshadowed by a series of foreign policy crises in the Kenyan and Malay colonies, where Churchill ordered direct military action. While it succeeded in quelling the rebellions, it became clear that Britain could no longer maintain its colonial rule.

NOBEL PRIZE

In 1953, Churchill was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II.

The same year, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for “his mastery of historical and biographical description, as well as for his brilliant oratory in defense of exalted human values,” according to the Nobel Prize committee.

DEATH

Churchill died on January 24, 1965, at age 90, at his London home nine days after suffering a severe stroke. Britain was in mourning for more than a week.

Churchill had shown signs of fragile health as early as 1941 when he suffered a heart attack while visiting the White House. Two years later, he had a similar attack while battling severe pneumonia.

In June 1953, at age 78, he suffered a series of strokes in his office. That particular story was hidden from the public and Parliament, and the official announcement indicated that he was suffering from exhaustion.

Churchill recovered at home and returned to his job as prime minister in October. Yet it was apparent even to the great statesman that he was weakening physically and mentally, and he retired as prime minister in 1955. Churchill remained a member of Parliament until the 1964 general election when he did not opt ​​for reelection.

It was speculated that Churchill suffered from Alzheimer’s disease in his later years, although medical experts pointed to his previous strokes as the likely cause of reduced mental capacity.

Despite his poor health, Churchill was able to remain active in public life, albeit from the comfort of his residences in Kent and Hyde Park Gate in London.

LEGACY

Like other influential world leaders, Churchill left a complicated legacy.

Honored by his compatriots for defeating Hitler’s dark regime and the Nazi Party, he topped the list of the greatest Britons of all time in a 2002 BBC poll, beating such prestigious figures as Charles Darwin or William Shakespeare.

For critics, his firm commitment to British imperialism and his withering opposition to Indian independence underscored his disdain for other races and cultures.

His figure has been the subject of numerous performances on the big screen and on television over the years, with actors such as Richard Burton or Christian Slater trying to capture his essence. In 2017, John Lithgow was awarded an Emmy for his acclaimed role as Churchill on the Netflix series The Crown.

That year also brought the release of two biographical films: In June, Brian Cox starred in the title role in the film Churchill, which focused on the events leading up to the invasion of Normandy in WWII. Gary Oldman, in turn, underwent an incredible physical transformation to become the iconic statesman in Darkest Hour.

Churchill’s relevance as a leading figure of the 20th century is such that his two main biographies required multiple authors and decades of research. William Manchester published volume 1 of The Last Lion in 1983 and volume 2 in 1986 but died while working on the third volume, which was completed by Paul Reid in 2012.

The official biography, Winston S. Churchill, was started by Randolph, the son of the former prime minister, in the early 1960s; It passed to Martin Gilbert in 1968, and then to an American institution, Hillsdale College, three decades later. In 2015, Hillsdale published volume 18 of the series.