Winston Churchill was a British politician, military officer, and writer who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1940 to 1945 and was famed for leading Great Britain to victory during the Second World War. He would later return to office; serving as prime minister again from 1951 to 1955.
Following his sensational rise to fame in British politics, Churchill became one of the most celebrated figures of the 20th century, revered as a victorious wartime leader who defended Europe’s liberal democracy against fascism. Together with his American and Russian counterparts; Franklin D. Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin, Churchill helped shape the Allied strategy of World War II that saw the defeat of Nazi Germany. This piece walks you through his political journey and ultimately, his last days as an elder statesman.
Who Was Winston Churchill?
Winston Churchill was born Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill in Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, United Kingdom, on 30 November 1874, to parents; Lord Randolph Churchill and Jennie Churchill. By genealogy, Churchill comes from a long line of the aristocrats. He is a direct descendant of the Dukes of Marlborough; one of the highest levels of the British gentry. His father served as Conservative MP for Woodstock in 1873.
At age seven, Churchill was enrolled at St. George’s School in Ascot, Berkshire. It is said that the young boy hated this school and performed poorly in his academics. Owing to health challenges, however, Churchill was moved to Brunswick School in Hove.
He improved academically as a result of the transfer and managed to make the pass mark for the entrance exam into Harrow School. While there, Winston Churchill excelled in his academics and did well especially in history. However, he was known to be careless and unpunctual. Nevertheless, he had a knack for writing, as he authored several poems and letters which were published in the school magazine.
More so, he did well in extracurricular activities such as fencing; in which he won a competition. Although Churchill wouldn’t have opted for the military, his father’s insistence shoved him on that path. Consequently, he spent his last three years at Harrow School wearing the army form.
Though groomed for the military, one would think Winston Churchill had a straight ticket into the military academy. Nothing could be farther from the truth. After two unsuccessful attempts, he finally made it into the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst in September 1893, as a cadet in the cavalry. He spent fifteen months at Sandhurst, graduating in December 1894.
Fresh from military school, Churchill will face his first blow; the demise of his father, in January 1895. A month later, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the 4th Queen’s Own Hussars regiment of the British Army, Aldershot. Hungry for action, Churchill tried to leverage his mother’s influence to get himself posted to a real war zone. His Kairos moment came in the autumn of 1895 when he and Reginald Barnes traveled to Cuba to observe its war of independence. Together with Spanish troops, Churchill joined to suppress independence fighters and got wound up in several clashes. In the years that followed, the military man got posted on missions to locations such as Cuba, India, and Sudan.
By 1899, Winston Churchill had begun making moves to cement his political career. He got selected as one of the two Conservative parliamentary candidates at the June 1899 by-election in Oldham, Lancashire. He, however, soon left Britain for South Africa on a tip-off about Britain going to war with the Boer Republics. In October of that year, one of Churchill’s journeys went awry after his train got derailed by Boer artillery shelling. He was then captured as a prisoner of war and interned in a Boer POW camp in Pretoria. Two months later, Churchill alongside two other inmates escaped detention over the latrine wall. Churchill himself stowed aboard a freight train and later took refuge in a mine, sheltered by the English mine owner. When the Boer authorities went in search for the missing inmates, Churchill took safety aboard a freight train heading to Portuguese East Africa.
Winston Churchill returned to Britain in July 1900 and contested as a Conservative candidate for the seat of Oldham in the 1900 general election. The 25-year-old went on to win the seat; albeit narrowly. Churchill took his seat in the House of Commons and officially resumed duties in February 1901. While there, he often sided with the Liberal opposition against the government, allowing him to gain the trust of the liberals. As his seeming support for the liberals grew, fellow conservatives viewed Churchill with contempt and worked to botch his return to parliament in the next elections. However, Churchill eventually crossed the floor, defecting from the Conservatives to sit as a member of the Liberal Party in the House of Commons; on 31 May 1904.
In the ensuing years, Winston Churchill served in various roles and capacities, including Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies (1905–1908), President of the Board of Trade (1908–1910), First Lord of the Admiralty (1911–1915), Secretary of State for War and Air (1918–1921), Secretary of State for the Colonies (1921–1922), Chancellor of the Exchequer (1924–1929), and then Prime Minister (1941-1945). He resigned office in May 1945 and remained leader of the opposition until his return to office in 1951 before ultimately resigning in April 1955.
When and How Did He Die?
In 1949, the hectic responsibilities of the prime minister and later leader of the opposition had gradually taken its toll on Churchill. In the summer of that year, he suffered a mild stroke while holidaying in southern France. When he returned to office in 1951, his health had deteriorated so noticeably that King George VI considered persuading him to retire the following year in favor of Anthony Eden.
With mounting demands of duty from his Premiership and Foreign Office, Churchill suffered a second stroke at 10 Downing Street on 23rd June 1953. Regardless of him being partially paralyzed down one side, he managed to preside over a Cabinet meeting the following morning with no one noticing his plight.
During the 1959 general election, Winston Churchill rarely appeared in public or attended the House of Commons. Sources say that the former premier suffered from Alzheimer’s disease in his later years, while others held that his declined mental capacity was only a result of a series of strokes and the increasing deafness he suffered between 1949 and 1963. On 15th January 1965, Churchill suffered a severe stroke at his London home and died nine days later; on Sunday, 24 January 1965. He was aged 90.
Winston Churchill’s funeral became the largest state funeral in history; featuring representatives from 112 nations. Within Europe alone, 350 million people, including 25 million in Great Britain, watched the procession on live television. His body laid in state in Westminster Hall for three days and a state funeral service was held at St Paul’s Cathedral on 30 January 1965.