November 30 marks the birthday of one of the great men of modern history.
Winston Randolph Churchill was born on November 30, 1864, into a distinguished English family. Through his father, Lord Randolph Churchill, Winston was a direct descendent of John Churchill, 1st duke of Marlborough, hero of the wars against Louis XIV of France in the early 18th century. His mother, Jennie Jerome, was the daughter of a wealthy New York financier, Leonard W. Jerome. The young Churchill grew up believing that he himself was destined for great things, and he lived his life accordingly.
He attended Sandhurst, the British army’s military college, and he saw his first field service during border fighting on the frontier of British India. Later he was with the army of General Kitchener in the Sudan, and he participated in the famous Battle of Omdurman near Khartoum in 1898.
Despite these battle experiences, the young Churchill found the routine of military life a bit too dull for his tastes, and in 1899 he resigned his commission to enter politics. He narrowly lost his first Parliamentary election, after which he signed up to report the South African War for a London newspaper. Within a month of his arrival in South Africa he won plaudits for his role in rescuing an armored train that had been ambushed by the Boers. Churchill was captured immediately following that engagement, but shortly after being interned in a POW camp he managed to escape from his captors. He returned to Britain as a military hero and was soon elected to the House of Commons. Excepting for a few brief intervals, he remained a member of that august body for the remainder of his active political life.
Over the years Churchill held many important posts in the British government. When World War I broke out in 1914 he was chief of the navy, and he made certain that the British fleet was prepared for hostilities. Later he became heavily involved in advocating and planning for the Gallipoli Campaign, which turned out to be a military disaster for the British and Commonwealth naval and land forces involved. As an aftermath to that fiasco, Churchill left the government and spent some time in France as commander of a Scottish battalion, returning to Parliament the following year.
Churchill continued to serve in various government posts during the 1920s, but he was in disfavor with Conservative Party leaders by the 1930s. He had switched political parties more than once and was considered to be something of a maverick. Eventually, he was excluded from any major government post.
When Adolph Hitler took control of the German government in 1933, Churchill immediately recognized him as a dire threat to world peace. He tried to warn Conservative leaders of the danger, but his advice was largely ignored, and Britain took no immediate steps to prepare for possible confrontation. Churchill’s warnings about Hitler soon proved correct, and when World War II erupted in September 1939, he was called to government service again as chief of the navy.
Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’a government collapsed in early May 1940 amid charges of incompetence, and Churchill became Britain’s leader. France and Britain paid the price for their years of appeasement and failure to prepare for war. France collapsed, and the British, with their commonwealth, then stood alone against the Nazi juggernaut. Churchill rallied the people with his inspiring words and forceful leadership.
Long a close friend of the United States and her people, Churchill longed for America’s entry into the war against Germany. Though President Roosevelt shared Churchill’s views, political realities kept the United States from active conflict; nevertheless, Roosevelt did all that he could to succor the British during the dark days of 1940-41. December 7, 1941, changed all that, and the two great democracies marched forward together, in alliance with the Soviet Union, to crush the Axis powers.
Shortly after German surrender the British Conservative Party lost control of Parliament, and Churchill was no longer Prime Minister. He returned to that office in 1951-55, toward the end of his active political life, but his great service to his nation had been finished. During the interim, Churchill had warned us about the great danger posed by Britain’s and the United States’ late ally, the Soviet Union, and he coined the term “The Iron Curtain” to describe the barrier erected by Communism between East and West.
Churchill died on January 24, 1965, honored by his countrymen and free men of every nation. Statesman, soldier, patriot, war leader, orator and author, we have rarely seen his equal. I was fortunate enough to be alive and politically conscious during many of his more prominent years. I thank God that this great man was present during a time of civilization’s most pressing need.