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They Changed History: Winston Churchill
Meet the man
Writing about one of the greatest leaders of the twentieth century is a daunting task, but it's one that I'm feeling compelled to do right here and now. I've got no reason to do so, except to simply write and let you know a few things about one of the greatest men of the twentieth century, one that in his life managed to cause anger and hatred in one group, yet love and affection in another.
Churchill, both loved and hated by the British, loved for the fact that he led us through the darkest period of our history, yet hated at times when the workers demanding what we would consider today to be fair terms he had no hesitation in imposing Martial law and 'ruling' with an iron fist.
This series isn't so much about giving the life story of the people in the hubs as about looking at some of the challenges those people faced and seeing the lessons we might be able to learn from them, and Churchill faced challenges in "SPADES"
Let's have a look at his story
"With great privilege comes greater responsibility.
Winston may not have been the author of those words, that honour goes to the French Revolution, and someone else, but he certainly believed in the statement.
Born into one of the most influential families of the Victorian Era, Winston grew up in 'Great privilege' in many ways.
His father, Lord Randolph Churchill was the third son of the Duke of Marlborough, a senior politician and member of the House of Lords, the highest Lawcourt in Britain and at the time, it was the one place that held equal power to the Parliament in Britain. No law could be passed in Britain without the approval of the House of Lords.
The House of Commons was where the common people of the time had a voice, though in Britain at the time only Landowners could actually vote, the House of Lords was where the real power lay.
Winston's Mother wasn't English, she was American. Jenny Jerome was the daughter of an American Financier and grew up in Brooklyn, New York.
During the 19th Century, the British aristocracy was already having financial problems, one way that they got around this was across the 'puddle' (as the Brits often refer to the Atlantic) the Americans had lots of money, and many of them were wanting 'respectability' so what better way to get it than have your daughter marry a Lord or an Earl?
Winston's Father probably wasn't having the financial woes, but he was a 'lesser' Lord.
Winston grew up in a world that was very different to the one you and I know, but it was one that carried a lot of responsibility.
Hurdle number 1 "A speech impediment"
Yes, that's right, probably the greatest orator of the English language had a speech impediment!
This is the man whose speeches galvanised a nation into defiance, who just by his use of the spoken word took a beaten and battered nation on the brink of catastrophic defeat and made them believe that they could win against impossible odds, but he had a speech impediment!!!
Not only that, but he was nominated for the Nobel prize in literature four times before he finally won it in 1955.
We don't really know for sure what the impediment was, some say it was a stutter, most of history seems to say that, but some others have said that it was a lisp, but he had the impediment, and try listening to his speeches, see if you can hear the impediment?
He developed a way to deal with it, and it was simple, he would work his speeches until he knew them off by heart, yes he followed his notes, but he didn't really need them as he knew the speeches 'off by heart'
Winston turned his 'weakness' into one of his greatest strengths. He learned how to 'Marshall the English language and send it into Battle"
Winston has the ability to Marshal the English language, and send it into Battle.— Lord Halifax (an adversary of Winston's who wanted appeasement of Hitler)
Listen to the speech, and remember the orator had speech impediment, yet with it he galvanized a nation
Hurdle 2 "Too fond of the Jews"
It's hard to think, but prior to the Second world war, Germany wasn't the only nation where the Jews weren't liked, let alone trusted.
In 1892 France had put an officer on trial for treason, despite the obvious evidence of his innocence he was found guilty and sentenced to years of hard labour, the reason he was tried was he was Jewish!
Imagine this, October 1914. Britain is at war, but it's a war that no one was ready for, everyone was seriously short on munitions, and they were about to take on a force that was much better prepared.
The Royal Navy was seriously short of acetone to make Cordite, the propellant needed to launch their massive shells for the Battleships. They needed 60,000 tons of the stuff by Christmas, and there was none!
At the time, a chemist in Manchester had come up with a new way of manufacturing the material, but it was experimental and they needed the stuff today!
There was one minor problem though, and that was the Chemist was a Zionist Jew by the name of Chaim Weismann, and he wanted something from Britain.
The Royal Navy was only able to take on the Imperial German Navy because of the work of Dr Weismann.
Churchill saw that Britain owed Dr Weismann its very existence, and by extension, they owed the Jewish nation their very lives. It was Dr Weismann who supplied the acetone for the Battleships, but it was the wealthy Jewish families who were funding the war for Britain, they were there helping when no one else would.
To the rest of the world the Jews were a nation to be used and then thrown away, but to Winston, you never forgot your friends!
Churchill was a friend of the Zionist cause all his political life, and whenever he could do something for the Jewish people, he took advantage of it, even when it meant countermanding standing orders.
How Europe really felt about the Jews
- Antisemitism in Europe - Wikipedia
Gives some more detail of what it was really like for them.
- Dreyfus affair - Wikipedia
Tried for treason, found guilty despite the evidence, and no one would listen because he was Jewish!
Hurdle number 3 "Too many ideas"
Franklyn Delano Roosevelt once said of Winston, "Winston has a thousand ideas a day, but only about two of them are worth anything!"
He had a very quick mind, and could analyse problems while others were still trying to work out if actually was a problem!
It meant at times he got things spectacularly right, but other times he got them spectacularly wrong.
In 1915 Turkey had decided to join Germany in the war, the entire Middle East was in danger, and there was a very real possibility that the British Empire could be cut in two.
In early 1915 Turkey launched an attack on the Suez canal, the fighting was brutal but eventually, they were beaten back.
Churchill came up with a scheme to send a fleet of Battleships though the Dardanelles to attack Constantinople and knock Turkey out of the war, to do so they had to take the Gallipoli peninsula.
It became the worst defeat in British Military history and would have finished the career of anyone else, but Churchill believed in admitting mistakes and resigned as First Lord of Admiralty and joined his old regiment in France (Yes, he fought in the trenches).
After the war, he was re-elected to Parliament and took up the post of 'Colonial secretary' where he worked on the creation of a Jewish homeland.
Many places were suggested, but the Zionist movement would consider only one, Israel.
Churchill did eventually come up with a plan that he got the Jewish people to agree to, in it they would get roughly 10% of the land, but Jerusalem would stay an 'international' city protected by the league of nations, and the Palestinians would get the rest, it was the Palestinians that rejected the plan, and eventually when the nation was formed, they got less than the plan allowed them to have.
Churchill's plan was for a two-state system, but with the roles reversed from what is there today.
Winston has a thousand ideas in a day, but only about four of them are of any use!— Franklin Delano Roosevelt on Winston Churchill
Hurdle number 4 "The Black dog"
No, it wasn't his pet dog, but it was something that followed him around all his life.
From 1933 onwards Churchill could see the clouds of war rising again in Europe, he'd seen first hand the carnage of the first great war, and it was rising again.
National Socialism had taken hold in Germany, Socialism in Russia, both were evil is Churchill's eyes, and both were repugnant to him.
But no one was listening! Britain was doing everything it could to avoid another war. The British had lost over a million in the first war, France had lost a similar amount, neither of them wanted to go through the same again, but Germany was re-arming, the Soviets were as bad if not worse and no one was listening!
Churchill was known to suffer from bouts of severe depression, he called them his "Black Dog" that he always knew was around.
Apparently, when he was going into a fit of depression he'd often talk of the "Black Dog being nearby" and people knew he was going into a state of melancholy. But at times he said it was "far away" meaning he was in a state of hyperactivity, at those times he was hard to keep up with.
Then again, very few faced the kind of decisions he had to.
- Knowing an English city was about to be obliterated (Coventry), and knowing that if you gave the order to evacuate, then it would tell your enemy you know his plans, and could lose you the whole war!
- Knowing your enemy was re-arming, and no one was listening to you.
- Standing against the opinion of the day, and believing in victory when all seemed lost
Winston had a 'release valve' for his depression, he took up Art
In the 1930s, when no one was listening to him, he took up two things that helped him through the 'hard yards'
One was painting, and the other was Bricklaying!
Using the two, he kept his mind off the things that drove him into depression. He even used painting when he was in office to help him relax.
He knew that if he stopped, the depression would take hold, and it was much worse to break, by keeping busy he could do things he enjoyed that would help fight the debilitating depression.
Some today see Churchill's depression as being part of a wider Bipolar disorder, that may be the case, but one thing is sure. He faced things that would crush other men, and he came out 'fighting' showing us that there is a way through these things and that what he did to take his mind away from them really does work.
A personal story
Churchill is a hero of mine. I never met the man, I was four when he died, but writing this hub I remember a story my Mum told me the last time she was here in NZ.
You see, her oldest brother did meet him, in strange circumstances.
My Uncle was a Pilot, and sometime during the war, he was flying his plane on a mission, delivering a VIP somewhere when they saw a plane 'coming out of nowhere' on an intercept course.
My uncle's reaction was to throw the plane into a hard right turn and dive for the ground. They shook the other plane off, they were actually outside the reach of British fighters at the time, but they got clear, at which time someone from the back of the plane came forward to thank the Pilot as "that was the best bit of flying the VIP had ever seen," and he wanted the Pilot to know it.
After they got to the destination the Pilot was curious as to whom the VIP was (The RAF had told him not to ask) so he looked out of the cockpit window to see Churchill waving back at him!
I've never been able to authenticate the story, so it might be true, or it might not, but it's still a great story to tell, and it's just like the man, he was a risk taker, but that's a whole other hub.
This outlines the friendship Churchill had for Israel
I'm adding this somewhat later than the hub was first written, but maybe it'll give people some idea of the nightmares the man faced.
One thing that isn't well known is that even before the war started the British had an advantage, they had been given the secret coding machine that the Germans were using!
In 1937 when Germany attacked Czechoslovakia, the Czechs captured an 'Enigma' machine, knowing that their country was about to be 'swallowed up' they smuggled the machine to Britain who promptly set about trying to work out how the machine worked.
By 1940 Britain was breaking the codes and deciphering the messages being sent, even though they didn't have the firepower to stop what the Germans were doing, it must have been horrible, knowing what was coming, but being unable to stop it.
Early in 1941, Hitler gave the order for a massive night attack on the British Midlands, the city of Coventry was selected and messages sent to all Luftwaffe squadrons to prepare for the raid.
Within an hour of the order being given, a translation of the order was given to Churchill, he had a choice if he ordered the evacuation of the city that would tell the Germans that the British had broken their codes, they would change them, and all advantage would be lost, if he didn't, an entire city of over 200,000 was doomed to destruction!
That night Coventry was destroyed, but the secret was preserved, a secret Britain paid a heavy price for.
Reason for the hub
Yes, Winston is a hero of mine. He wasn't perfect, and there are probably many things that if I looked hard enough I would have a hard time with (he was a strong 'Imperialist' who believed in the Empire) but this hub isn't about that kind of stuff.
Winston shaped the course of the latter part of the twentieth century, it wasn't perfect, and in many ways it was chaotic, but he believed in principles and followed them through when others were willing to trade them away.
Not only that, but he battled huge personal battles with speech impediments and depression, yet became the leader who galvanized the free world into action when it was most needed.
He fought with depression, and possibly Bipolar disorder and found a way to use some of their effects to his advantage, and as such he's an example to us all that not even these can hold us back if we decide to 'take them on'
It's my hope that people reading the hub will find encouragement in what I've written, encouragement to 'keep on going' and encouraging friends who might be battling through some of these things.