Sir Winston Churchill

A Biography of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

Sir Winston Churchill
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)

Winston Churchill was a legendary orator, a prolific writer, an earnest artist, and a long-term British statesman. Yet Churchill, who twice served the as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, is best remembered as the tenacious and forthright war leader that led his country against the seemingly undefeatable Nazis during World War II.

Dates: November 30, 1874 -- January 24, 1965

Also Known As: Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill

The Young Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill was born in 1874 at his grandfather's home, Blenheim Palace in Marlborough, England. His father, Lord Randolph Churchill, was a member of the British Parliament and his mother, Jennie Jerome, was an American heiress. Six years after Winston's birth, his brother Jack was born.

Since Churchill's parents traveled extensively and led busy social lives, Churchill spent most of his younger years with his nanny, Elizabeth Everest. It was Mrs. Everest that nurtured Churchill and cared for him during his many childhood illnesses. Churchill stayed in touch with her until her death in 1895.

At age eight, Churchill was sent off to boarding school. He was never an excellent student but he was well liked and known as a bit of a troublemaker. In 1887, 12-year-old Churchill was accepted to the prestigious Harrow school, where he began studying military tactics.

After graduating from Harrow, Churchill was accepted into the Royal Military College, Sandhurst in 1893. In December 1894, Churchill graduated near the top of his class and was given a commission as a cavalry officer.

Churchill, the Soldier and War Correspondent

After seven months of basic training, Churchill was given his first leave.

Instead of going home to relax, Churchill wanted to see action; so he traveled to Cuba to watch Spanish troops put down a rebellion. Churchill didn't go just as an interested soldier, he made plans to be a war correspondent for London's The Daily Graphic. It was the beginning of a long writing career.

When his leave was up, Churchill traveled with his regiment to India. Churchill also saw action in India when fighting Afghan tribes. This time, again not just a soldier, Churchill wrote letters to London's The Daily Telegraph. From these experiences, Churchill also wrote his first book, The Story of the Malakand Field Force (1898).

Churchill then joined Lord Kitchener's expedition in the Sudan while also writing for The Morning Post. After seeing a lot of action in the Sudan, Churchill used his experiences to write The River War (1899).

Again wanting to be at the scene of the action, Churchill managed in 1899 to become the war correspondent for The Morning Post during the Boer War in South Africa. Not only was Churchill shot at, he was captured. After spending nearly a month as a prisoner of war, Churchill managed to escape and miraculously made it to safety. He also turned these experiences into a book - London to Ladysmith via Pretoria (1900).

Becoming a Politician

While fighting in all these wars, Churchill had decided that he wanted to help make policy, not just follow it. So when 25-year-old Churchill returned to England as both a famous author and a war hero, he was able to successfully run for election as a member of Parliament (MP). This was the start of Churchill's very long political career.

Churchill quickly became known for being outspoken and full of energy. He gave speeches against tariffs and in support of social changes for the poor. It soon became clear that he did not hold the beliefs of the Conservative Party, so he switched to the Liberal Party in 1904.

In 1905, the Liberal Party won the national election and Churchill was asked to become the Under-Secretary of State at the Colonial Office.

Churchill's dedication and efficiency earned him an excellent reputation and he was quickly promoted.

In 1908, he was made President of the Board of Trade (a Cabinet position) and in 1910, Churchill was made Home Secretary (a more important Cabinet position).

In October 1911, Churchill was made First Lord of the Admiralty, which meant he was in charge of the British navy. Churchill, worried about Germany's growing military strength, spent the next three years working diligently to strengthen the British navy.

Family

Churchill was a very busy man. He was nearly continuously writing books, articles, and speeches as well as holding important government positions. However, he made time for romance when he met Clementine Hozier in March 1908. The two were engaged on August 11 of that same year and married just a month later on September 12, 1908.

Winston and Clementine had five children together and remained married until Winston's death at age 90.

Churchill and World War I

At first, when the war began in 1914, Churchill was praised for the work he had done behind the scenes to prepare Britain for war. However, things quickly started to go badly for Churchill.

Churchill had always been energetic, determined, and confident. Couple these traits with the fact that Churchill liked to be part of the action and you have Churchill trying to have his hands in all military matters, not only those dealing with the navy. Many felt that Churchill overstepped his position.

Then came the Dardanelles campaign. It was meant to be a combined naval and infantry attack on the Dardanelles in Turkey, but when things went badly for the British, Churchill was blamed for the whole thing.

Since both the public and officials turned against Churchill after the Dardanelles disaster, Churchill was swiftly moved out of government.

Churchill Forced Out of Politics

Churchill was devastated to have been forced out of politics. Although he was still a member of Parliament, it just wasn't enough to keep such an active man busy. Churchill went into depression and worried that his political life was completely over.

It was during this time that Churchill learned to paint. It started as a way for him to escape the doldrums, but like everything Churchill did, he worked diligently to improve himself.

Churchill continued to paint for the rest of his life.

For nearly two years, Churchill was kept out of politics. Then, in July 1917, Churchill was invited back and given the position of Minister of Munitions. In 1918, Churchill was given the position of Secretary of State for War and Air, which put him in charge of bringing all the British soldiers home.

A Decade in Politics and a Decade Out

The 1920s had its ups and downs for Churchill. In 1921, he was made the Secretary of State for the Colonies but only a year later he lost his MP seat while in the hospital with acute appendicitis.

Out of office for two years, Churchill found himself leaning again toward the Conservative Party. In 1924, Churchill once again won a seat as an MP, but this time with Conservative backing. Considering he had just returned to the Conservative Party, Churchill was quite surprised to be given the very important position of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the new Conservative government that same year.

Churchill held this position for nearly five years.

In addition to his political career, Churchill spent the 1920s writing his monumental, six-volume work on World War I called The World Crisis (1923-1931).

When the Labour Party won the national election in 1929, Churchill was once again out of government.

For ten years, Churchill held his MP seat, but did not hold a major government position. However, this didn't slow him down.

Churchill continued to write, finishing a number of books including his autobiography, My Early Life. He continued to give speeches, many of them warning of Germany's growing power. He also continued to paint and learned bricklaying.

By 1938, Churchill was speaking out openly against British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's plan of appeasement with Nazi Germany. When Nazi Germany attacked Poland, Churchill's fears had proved correct. The public once again realized that Churchill had seen this coming.

After ten years out of the government, on September 3, 1939, just two days after Nazi Germany attacked Poland, Churchill was asked to once again become the First Lord of the Admiralty.

Churchill Leads Great Britain in WWII

When Nazi Germany attacked France on May 10, 1940, it was time for Chamberlain to step down as Prime Minister. Appeasement hadn't worked; it was time for action. The same day that Chamberlain resigned, King George VI asked Churchill to become Prime Minister.

Just three days later, Churchill gave his "Blood, Toil, Tears, and Sweat" speech in the House of Commons.

This speech was just the first of many morale boosting speeches made by Churchill to inspire the British to keep fighting against a seemingly invincible enemy.

Churchill spurred himself and everyone around him to prepare for war. He also actively courted the United States to join in the hostilities against Nazi Germany. Also, despite Churchill's extreme dislike for the communist Soviet Union, his pragmatic side realized he needed their help.

By joining forces with both the United States and with the Soviet Union, Churchill not only saved Britain, but helped save all of Europe from the domination of Nazi Germany.

Falls Out of Power, Then Back in Again

Although Churchill was given credit for inspiring his nation to win World War II, by the end of the war in Europe, many felt that he had lost touch with the daily lives of the people.

After suffering through years of hardship, the public didn't want to go back to the hierarchical society of pre-war Britain. They wanted change and equality.

On July 15, 1945, the election results from the national election came in and the Labour Party had won. The following day, Churchill, age 70, resigned as Prime Minister.

Churchill remained active. In 1946, he went on a lecture tour in the United States that included his very famous speech, "The Sinews of Peace," in which he warned of an "iron curtain" descending upon Europe. Churchill also continued to make speeches in the House of Commons and to relax at his home and paint.

Churchill also continued to write. He used this time to start his six-volume work, The Second World War (1948-1953).

Six years after resigning as Prime Minister, Churchill was again asked to lead Britain. On October 26, 1951, Churchill began his second term as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

During his second term as Prime Minister, Churchill focused on foreign affairs because he was very worried about the atomic bomb. On June 23, 1953, Churchill suffered a severe stroke. Although the public wasn't told about it, those close to Churchill thought he would have to resign. Surprising everyone, Churchill recovered from the stroke and got back to work.

On April 5, 1955, 80-year-old Winston Churchill resigned as Prime Minister due to failing health.

Retirement and Death

In his final retirement, Churchill continued to write, finishing his four-volume A History of the English Speaking Peoples (1956-1958). Churchill also continued to give speeches and to paint.

During his later years, Churchill earned three impressive awards. On April 24, 1953, Churchill was made Knight of the Garter by Queen Elizabeth II, making him Sir Winston Churchill. Later that same year, Churchill was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Ten years later, on April 9, 1963, U.S. President John F. Kennedy awarded Churchill with honorary U.S. citizenship.

In June 1962, Churchill broke his hip after falling out of a his hotel bed.

On January 10, 1965, Churchill suffered a massive stroke. After falling into a coma, he died on January 24, 1965 at age 90. Churchill had remained a member of Parliament until a year before his death.