Eighty years ago on May 10th 1940, one of the most influential figures of the 20th century, Winston S. Churchill, was appointed Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, following the resignation of Neville Chamberlain and on the very day that Germany invaded Belgium, France, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.
In light of the current global pandemic crisis, the words, actions and commanding influence of the great wartime leader are particularly relevant.
Our entire Churchill collection will be on display in our current exhibition “A Leader For All Times: Celebrating the 80th Anniversary of Churchill’s Charge” opening on May 13, 2020 in our Worth Avenue gallery.
Upon taking charge, Churchill immediately formed his five-man War Cabinet which included Chamberlain as Lord President of the Council, Clement Attlee as Lord Privy Seal, Viscount Halifax as Foreign Secretary and Arthur Greenwood as a minister without portfolio.
On May 13th 1940, Churchill delivered his first wartime speech, the first of many powerful addresses which would rally the British resistance, most importantly during the difficult days of 1940–41 when the British Commonwealth and Empire stood practically alone in its active opposition to Adolf Hitler. By refusing an armistice with Germany, Churchill kept resistance alive in the British Empire and created the basis for the later Allied counter-attacks of 1942–45, with Britain serving as a platform for the supply of the Soviet Union and the liberation of Western Europe.
At the end of May, 1940, with the fall of France seemingly imminent, Churchill rejected his Foreign Secretary’s proposal of exploring a negotiated peace settlement and resolved to fight on. The arguments he continued to present in his wartime speeches effectively hardened public opinion against a peaceful resolution and prepared the British people for a long war. On Tuesday, June 4th 1940 the successful evacuation of Allied soldiers from the beaches and harbor of Dunkirk, or Operation Dynamo, inspired Churchill to deliver his famed “We shall fight on the beaches” speech to the Commons, in which he uttered the famous words:
“We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air. 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, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.”
On August 20, 1940, upon his exit from the Battle of Britain Bunker, Churchill delivered one of his greatest speeches before the House of Commons in which he used his famous words: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few”, referring to the ongoing efforts of the Royal Air Force crews who were at the time fighting the Battle of Britain, the pivotal air battle with the German Luftwaffe with Britain expecting an invasion.
In 1941, Cassel and Company published the first volume in a series of Churchill’s historic speeches, Into Battle, which was compiled by Churchill’s father Randolph S. Churchill who himself described the published speeches as a “…contemporary history of the war which is as lively as it is authoritative; and, so far as contemporary history is of value, they may be said to be the last word upon the war.”
In January 1943, Churchill met American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt at the Casablanca Conference, which lasted ten days. It was also attended by General Charles de Gaulle on behalf of the Free French Forces. Stalin had hoped to attend but declined because of the situation at Stalingrad. Although Churchill expressed doubts on the matter, the so-called Casablanca Declaration committed the Allies to securing “unconditional surrender” by the Axis powers.
In June 1944, the Allied Forces invaded Normandy and pushed the Nazi forces back into Germany on a broad front over the coming year. After being attacked on three fronts by the Allies, and in spite of Allied failures, such as Operation Market Garden, and German counter-attacks, including the Battle of the Bulge, Germany was eventually defeated.
In February of 1945, Churchill met with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Soviet Union leader Joseph Stalin to to negotiate the terms of the End of WWII and Europe’s postwar reorganization, most importantly the defeat of Nazi Germany and re-establishment of the nations conquered and destroyed by Germany.
On May 7, 1945, now referred to as Victory in Europe Day, Churchill broadcast to the nation that Germany had surrendered and that a final ceasefire on all fronts in Europe would come into effect at one minute past midnight that night. Later that day, he addressed a large crows at Whitehall, uttering the famous words:
“God bless you all. This is your victory. In our long history, we have never seen a greater day than this. Everyone, man or woman, has done their best.”
Churchill resigned as prime minister in July of 1945 and was succeeded by Clement Attlee who formed the first majority Labour government. He then served as Leader of the Opposition for six years before he was reelected as Prime Minister for a second term in October of 1951 which lasted until his final resignation in April 1955. Regarded as perhaps the most important speech Churchill delivered as Leader of the Opposition between 1945 and 1951, The Sinews of Peace, or Iron Curtain Speech attracted immediate international attention and had an immense impact upon public opinion in the United States and in Western Europe. The speech has come to be regarded by many as the beginning of the Cold War and has been praised for its intricately woven thematic and powerfully climactic style. Churchill’s second term was preoccupied with foreign affairs, including the Malayan Emergency, Mau Mau Uprising, Korean War, and a UK-backed Iranian coup.
In 1948, Churchill began writing his masterpiece, The Second World War, which he himself affirmed that ‘this is not history: this is my case'” (Holmes, 285). “The Second World War is a great work of literature, combining narrative, historical imagination and moral precept in a form that bears comparison with that of the original master chronicler, Thucydides. It was wholly appropriate that in 1953 Churchill was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature” (Keegan). The work was named by Modern Library as one of the 100 best non-fiction books of the twentieth century.
In addition to the pieces featured above, our collection currently includes many other first editions, autographed letters signed, and signed photographs of Winston S. Churchill. View the complete collection here.