Widely considered to be one of the greatest wartime leaders of the 20th Century, Winston Churchill was also a British Army officer, historian, writer, and artist. Born into an aristocratic family, he had many privileges. Despite this, he struggled with a speech impediment, and was a low achiever at school.
Remembered nowadays for his successes, Churchill's military, political, and journalistic careers were very rocky, with many serious setbacks along the way. Like many great people, his life is a story of struggle against adversity: personal, political, and military.
Below are Churchill facts.
. Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill was born in 1874 at Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England into an aristocratic family. His father was a leading Conservative politician and his mother was an American socialite, the daughter of a New York millionaire.
. Churchill was a low achiever at school, thanks mainly to his independent and rebellious spirit. His father believed him to be unsuited to a career in law or politics, and put him in the army class.
. He got little time and affection from his parents, and once remarked that he hardly ever spoke to his father. When his father died young, aged 45, the young Churchill, convinced that he too would die young, vowed that he would have to make his mark on the world as quickly as possible.
. Churchill had a severe lisp. In later life, he would have special dentures made to help his speech. Despite the challenges he faced over his speech impediment, Churchill went on to be widely acknowledged as one of the greatest public speakers of modern times.
. After leaving his school, Harrow (which he loathed), Churchill applied to attend the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. It took him three attempts to pass the entrance exam. He graduated in 1894 and was commissioned as a cornet (second lieutenant) in the 4th Queen's Own Hussars the following year.
. He also began to write as a war correspondent. In 1895 he went to Cuba to observe the Spanish fight Cuban guerrillas in the Cuban War of Independence. He came under fire on his 21st birthday and was later awarded a medal by the Spanish. He also acquired a lifelong taste for Cuban cigars and siestas.
. Churchill left the British Army on 5th May 1899 and later that year went to South Africa, as a war correspondent, reporting on the Boer War. He was captured and held in a prisoner of war camp. He escaped, traveling almost 300 miles (480 km) to Portuguese Lourenço Marques in Delagoa Bay with a 25 pounds bounty on his head, and became a national hero back home in Britain for a time.
. He used his popularity to get elected as a member of parliament in 1900 for the Conservative party. He found himself at odds with many in the rest of the party, however, accusing the leadership of abandoning free trade. He left the Conservatives and joined the Liberal Party.
. Winston Churchill was made First Lord of the Admiralty in 1911. Churchill used his new position to begin modernising Britain’s battleships. In 1915 he was forced to resign in disgrace, however, after the disastrous Battle of Gallipoli (World War 1), which he was heavily involved with in planning.
. After resigning from the government in 1915, Churchill rejoined the British Army to rehabilitate his reputation, and commanded a battalion on the front line of the Western Front. He disagreed with the tactics of mass slaughter in World War I, but also exposed himself to unnecessary danger at times, venturing into no man's land.
. After standing for the Liberals again in the 1923 general election in Leicester and losing, Churchill returned to parliamentary politics in 1924, standing for the Conservatives in Epping and winning the seat. He was offered the post of Chancellor, a position that had once been held by his father.
. Churchill restored the gold standard, a currency system which set the value of the pound to a fixed amount of gold. The move was economically disastrous, severely damaging industry and exports. It contributed to the growing industrial unrest in Britain that would culminate in the 1926 General Strike.
. Churchill's views fell out of favor. He opposed giving more powers of self-governance to Britain's Indian Empire. He also gave dire warnings of the rise of Hitler and the Nazis, which were ignored.
. On 1 September 1939 Hitler invaded Poland. Two days later, Britain declared war on Germany. Winston Churchill was recalled from exile and returned to the post of First Lord of the Admiralty. By May 1940, it was clear that Britain was losing the war with the Nazis and the then prime minister, Neville Chamberlain resigned. When the favorite to succeed him, Lord Halifax turned down the leadership role, Churchill stepped in.
. Britain stood alone. Churchill's plan was to inspire the British people to keep fighting until (he hoped) the USA and USSR joined the war. Some of Churchill's most famous speeches were made around this time, including: "We shall never surrender" and "This was their finest hour".
. Once the USA and USSR were in the war, the course of the conflict began to swing back against the Germans. It became clear that at some point there would have to be some kind of seaborne invasion of France. Churchill was reluctant to commit, due to the disaster of Gallipoli, which he had played a key role in orchestrating over twenty years earlier. The date was eventually set for the 6 June 1944, however, with participation from US, British and Canadian forces. To Churchill's great relief, "D-Day", as the operation was called, was a success.
. Germany surrendered on 7 May 1945. Japan managed to continue its fight for another few months, but then also surrendered. The war was won and the allies were victorious. Churchill's wartime achievement didn't translate into domestic political success, however. The British public were in the mood for a radical change and voted in favor of the Labour Party, rather than Churchill and the Conservatives in the General Election of 1945.
. His political career as a national leader was not over yet, however, and on 26 October 1951, only four weeks before his 77th birthday, Churchill once more became prime minister. His health was suffering, however. In 1953, he suffered a stroke that left him partly paralyzed. His ill health eventually caused him to resign in April 1955.
. Churchill suffered from depression all his life (which he called the "black dog"), but his mental health deteriorated markedly in his finally years. His condition wasn't helped by the suicide of one of his daughters, and the alcoholism of another. His physical health also continued to decline, and he suffered a series of strokes.
. Churchill died on 24 January 1965, exactly 70 years after the death of his father. He was 90 years old. His funeral service took place on the 30 January. World dignitaries and leaders attended and enormous crowds of silent mourners lined the streets as his coffin went through central London to St Paul's Cathedral. He was laid to rest at Blenheim Palace, the place where he had been born 90 years earlier.