His father was a Lord and a Chancellor of the Exchequer. His mother, Jenny Jerome, was an American socialite whose claim to fame was the invention of the Manhattan cocktail. Unbowed by these accomplishments, Sir Winston went on to become the personification of World War II England, twice its Prime Minister, a Nobel Laureate in Literature and one hell of a, or as he’d say, bloody, funny guy.
The list of Sir Winston’s achievements are well documented and fall outside the purview of this simple article. Instead, a decent respect to his intellect and fine sense of humor dictates that we examine some of his more pithy sayings.
Sir Winston was born a mere seven months after the nuptials of his father and mother. At the time, premature birth was almost always fatal for the child and yet, the baby Winston was born without incident. Of course, many believed that the child had been conceived previous to the actual marriage. In later years, when questioned on the matter, Sir Winston would simply comment,
“Although present on the occasion, I have no clear recollection of the events leading up to it."
Thus, the roguish tongue of the future Parliamentarian was born.
A young Winston Churchill spent a significant amount of time as war correspondent. He first experienced combat in Cuba in 1895 . Further engagements would follow in India, the Sudan and finally in South Africa where he was captured and imprisoned buy the Boers.
He subsequently escaped and remained “at large” for some time before returning to the British lines. Subsequently, he was one of the first soldiers to reenter Pretoria, then capital of South Africa, and demand the surrender of his previous captors. When asked to recount his time on the run and in combat, he rather succinctly stated,
“There is nothing more exhilarating than to be shot at… with no effect.”
There is little doubt that Sir Winston would remember his experiences as a young man to great effect in far more dire circumstances during his first tenure as Prime Minister.
Churchill’s career in politics spanned over half a century. He held various political and cabinet positions throughout his life culminating in his appointment as Prime Minister of Great Britain on two separate occasions. His career was not an unbroken series of successes, however. Most notably, Churchill was blamed for the fiasco at Gallipoli and lost his position as First Lord of the Admiralty.
Throughout, his life Churchill was an avowed enemy of fascism and communism being one of the first to recognize the dangers of both Hitler and Stalin. Though, Churchill understood that democracy had some deficiencies, he was an unabashed advocate who famously replied to critics that,
“Democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”
The Second World War
At one point during the Second World War, Britain stood alone against the forces of Nazi Germany and its allies. The British peoples looked to Churchill for leadership. At the earliest stages of the war, he knew that the going would be tough. In his first speech upon being named Prime Minister, he uttered the famous words,
“I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.”
As the war continued to worsen with the capitulation of Belgium, Churchill was faced with supporting the morale of the British people and in his second speech delivered the famous line,
“We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”
The same month saw the end of the German Air Force’s strategic bombing campaign, known as The Blitz, but the beginning of the Luftwaffe’s attacks against British military targets, specifically their air assets, during the Battle of Britain.
The Battle of Britain was, indeed, a close run thing with the fate of the war hanging in the balance. The Royal Air Force was continually stretched to its limits and well beyond at some points. When the RAF had finally defeated the Luftwaffe, the Prime Minister, recognizing the valor and steadfastness of his pilots, gave this famous tribute to the RAF,
“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”
Churchill was unseated as Prime Minister shortly after the end of the war. Sir Winston took the rebuff in stride and continued as opposition leader. During this time, he was in great demand on the social circuit and attended numerous banquets, state functions and private dinner parties. In particular, Sir Winston was in great demand for his wit. On one occasion, Nancy, Viscountess Astor quipped that she would poison Churchill’s tea if she were married to him. Churchill famously replied,
“Madam, if you were my wife, I'd drink it!"
Churchill went on to win the Nobel Prize in literature and was asked his opinion of all sorts of literary efforts. He was a diligent if somewhat scathing literary critic who passed remarks with the likes of such greats as George Bernard Shaw. The great Irish playwright once sent Sir Winston a pair of tickets to the opening night of his new play and invited Churchill to bring a friend…if he had one. Churchill wrote back that he,
“Cannot possibly attend first night, will attend second… if there is one.”
Sir Winston Churchill has left a legacy of statesmanship and a life well lived. His witticism touched upon every facet of life and included himself. In the United States, many of his sayings would probably be considered “homespun” wisdom. Nevertheless, Sir Winston was a keen observer of the human condition and never spoke more truthfully than when he observed,
“Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened.”
In 1963, Sir Winston was made the first honorary citizen of the United States. He died two years later at the age of 90 and by Royal decree lay in state for three days. Queen Elizabeth II, as well as senior representatives from 110 nations, attended the funeral. He is buried at St. Martin’s Church in Bladon.