On the day Hitler’s German armies invaded France and the Netherlands, Neville Chamberlain resigned as Prime Minister of England and was replaced by sixty-nine-year-old, cherubic-faced, Winston Churchill. No peaceful turn-over of power has had greater consequences. Few men in history have been faced with darker times or more daunting circumstances. Faced with a triumphant German army racing through France, with the British armies back-peddling in defeat, a cabinet and ministry that was counseling compromise and negotiation with Hitler, and with no allies on the horizon, Churchill delivered his first speech to Parliament on May 13, 1940. He noted the coming “ordeal of the most grievous kind,” and promised them he had nothing to offer them but “blood, toil, sweat, and tears.” They were thus put on notice that there would be no compromise with, or surrender to, the evil enemies of freedom — perhaps it was not the speech they were hoping for.
The Battle of Omdurman in 1898 where Churchill took part in a cavalry charge
He reiterated to the country on June 4 that:
“[W]e shall not flag or fail. 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 . . . ”
Winston Churchill in 1941
His rhetoric steeled the backbones of the English people in their darkest hour. In the end, by God’s providence, the Royal Navy and private seamen rescued their army from the beaches of Dunkirk, they sacrificed their air squadrons and won the Battle of Britain in the air, and in “God’s good time” crossed the Channel and defeated the enemy in France and Germany.
Winston Churchill giving his famous “V” sign, May 1943
After an up-and-down post-war political career, Churchill died at the age of ninety-one, in 1965, mourned by his nation and all those who understood his incredible stand that saved the Allied cause in the Second World War.