Great Briton

One of the most famous men of the twentieth century, it can be said with confidence that the world would not be the place it is today without Sir Winston Churchill.

We all know a little about Winston Churchill, but there is a surprising amount of his long and fabulously colourful life that is not so well known. For a start, this great Englishman was, in fact, half-American. His mother, Jennie Jerome, was a famous beauty from New York whom his father, Lord Randolph Churchill, married against his parents' will. No doubt Churchill's mixed parentage had a great influence on his faith in the strength and unity of the "English-Speaking Peoples" that ultimately led to the Allied victory in the Second World War.

At school Churchill was not so successful. A look at his reports show that his teachers would never have believed their young student was destined for future fame, let alone receive the Nobel Prize for Literature, as he did in 1953. A school report from 1883 credits Churchill's composition as "very feeble", his spelling as "about as bad as it well can be", and goes on to say that he "does not quite understand the meaning of hard work". But then again, Winston was only nine.

Churchill was a recognized figure long before becoming Prime Minister of Britain in 1940. After graduating from the Royal Military College at Sandhurst in 1894 he became an army officer. But his first experience of military action was in Cuba, where he went as a journalist while on leave from the army in 1895. The next few years Churchill spent with his regiment in India, where he spent most of his time playing polo and reading the works of the great nineteenth-century intellectuals that his mother sent him. He also wrote his first book in these years, based on his experiences fighting on the north-west frontier.

Further exotic experiences were instore when Churchill went to Sudan to serve under the famous General Kitchener in 1898. Again he played the dual role of soldier and journalist and took part in one of warfare's last-ever cavalry charges during the battle of Omdurman. He wrote another book about this, and a novel as well.

Lucky escape

But it was in South Africa, during the war against the Boers, that Churchill really came to public prominence. As a journalist working for the Morning Post Churchill managed to get himself captured by the enemy. It didn't take him long to escape, though, and his dramatic adventures - which he publicized through his writing - made him world famous almost overnight. He capitalized on this fame by doing a lecture tour of the USA, which provided him with enough money to become an MP. He joined the Conservative Party and entered Parliament in 1900.

Churchill's early political career was a series of ups and downs. After several disagreements with his fellow Conservatives, Churchill left the party to join the Liberals. He had some successes and quickly found himself promoted, becoming, in 1911, First Lord of the Admiralty. This high position gave him extensive powers over the Navy and led to the first great mistake of his career.

As the First World War had reached a stalemate in the trenches, Churchill promoted an idea to attack the Central Powers from the east, by invading Turkey at the Dardanelles and linking up with Britain's Russian allies. This policy proved to be a complete disaster (readers might remember the film Gallipoli, which portrayed the tragic deaths of thousands of soldiers from Australia and New Zealand) and in May 1915 Churchill was forced to resign.

Out of a job, Churchill took up painting as a hobby and continued with his writing. His wife Clementine, whom he had married in 1908, provided him with four children, so no doubt his domestic life kept him reasonably busy. But such an active man could never be happy at home, and in 1916 he returned to the army where he fought on the western front.

Learning to fly

It wasn't long before he was recalled to the government, and as the war came to an end Churchill became responsible for the development of air power. Without much experience of flying Churchill decided to learn to be a pilot himself. Later he took on a new job as colonial secretary and in this capacity he was responsible for the creation of the new Arab states in the Middle East, as well as the precursor of Israel, and even played a part in negotiations towards the creation of the Irish Free State. But in 1922 he lost his seat in Parliament and spent the next couple of years writing his memoirs of the First World War.

In a move that many would have thought politically impossible, Churchill rejoined the Conservative Party in 1924 and became Chancellor of the Exchequer (finance minister). Not being so capable with this sort of thing, Churchill was unhappy in this office, and his attempt to return Britain to the gold standard (where the value of gold is a fixed amount on which the value of money is based) ended in another disaster. Workers went on strike across the country, serious unemployment followed, and ultimately the world slipped into the economic crisis of the 1930s. But perhaps Churchill doesn't deserve the blame for it all!

With the defeat of the Conservatives in the election of 1929 Churchill was out of office. Once again he turned to his writing, working on, among other things, his masterwork, A History of the English-Speaking Peoples.

During these turbulent years Churchill was one of the few politicians to make repeated warnings about Hitler's Germany, warnings which all too often fell ondeafears. His opposition to the Nationalist movement in India and his support for King Edward VIII's decision to abdicate the throne made him unpopular with the government. But as war became more and more inevitable and Churchill's warnings were proved correct, the government came under strong pressure from the press and people to bring Churchill back. With the outbreak of war in September 1939 he was reinstated as First Lord of the Admiralty.

His "finest hour"

In May 1940 Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was forced to resign and Churchill took his place - and the rest, as they say, is history. Churchill proved a very great war leader, having amazing energy for a man of his age - he celebrated his seventieth birthday in 1944. His unceasing efforts to secure help from the USA changed the course of a war Germany was winning in 1941, and his many fine speeches and broadcasts upheld the morale of the British people: "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."

Churchill's voice had the strength and power to make these lines stir the emotions of the nation - it is a quote that many British people know by heart to this day.

Never at ease in the alliance with Stalin's Russia, Churchill tried hard to persuade the Americans to help contain Soviet expansion. But US President Franklin D. Roosevelt did not support this policy and Churchill was very disappointed with the outcome of the Tehran and Yalta conferences. It is popularly believed that Churchill coined the phrase "Iron Curtain" in a speech he made in the USA in 1946, but in fact others had used it previously.

Though very popular as a person, Churchill's Conservative government was voted out of office in the 1945 elections by a public desperately wanting a new start following the war. He did, however, regain his position as Prime Minister in 1951, but resigned four years later, aged eighty. In 1953, along with winning a Nobel Prize and gaining a knighthood, he attended the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, and in 1958 his paintings were exhibited at London's prestigious Royal Academy. Following his death in January 1965 he was given a state funeral - an honour usually reserved for royalty. "I am ready to meet my Maker," he commented shortly before he died. "Whether my Maker is prepared for the ordeal of meeting me is another matter."

Barnaby Harward


"I am fond of pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals."

"Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few." On the Battle of Britain, 1940

"Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning." November 1942

"Democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."

"I have taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me."


Allied- relating to the Allies - the British, American, Polish etc. side in the Second World War (sprzymierzony; tu: aliancki)
destined - certain to have sthg or do sthg in the future (he was destined - przeznaczeniem jego było, pisane mu było)
(to) credit - (here:) evaluate (tu: ocenić kogoś, czyjeś wyniki)
feeble - very bad or weak (słaby, kiepski)
frontier - area around a border (kresy)
in store - going to happen (idiom: czekać na kogoś, być w zanadrzu)
dual - (here:) double (podwójny)
warfare - methods of fighting wars (wojna, działania wojenne)
charge - (here:) an attack in which soldiers, cavalry etc. run towards the enemy with great force (tu: szarża kawaleryjska, atak)
(to) capture - catch and imprison (schwytać, pojmać)
stalemate - a situation where it seems impossible for either side in a war, game etc. to win (szach. pat; sytuacja bez wyjścia, martwy punkt)
trench - (here:) a defensive ditch dug in the First World War (okop)
capacity - (here:) position, role (tu: stanowisko, urząd)
defeat - failure to win or succeed (porażka, klęska)
turbulent - difficult, having many sudden changes, violent (niespokojny, burzliwy)
(to) fall on deaf ears - receive no response, be not listened to (idiom: pozostać bez echa)
inevitable - certain to happen, unstoppable (nieunikniony)
(to) reinstate - return to a position of power (przywrócić na stanowisko)
unceasing - never stopping (nieustający)
(to) surrender - officially stop fighting (poddać się)
(to) know by heart - have the ability to repeat the words of a song, poem etc. without reading them (idiom: znać na pamięć)
at ease - comfortable, happy (swobodnie, bez skrępowania)
(to) contain - (here:) prevent from spreading (tu: zahamować, powstrzymać)
ordeal - nasty or terrible experience (ciężka próba)