Winston Churchill was 66 years of age when he became prime minister of Great Britain on May 10 1940. It was a moment of extreme crisis in Europe. Belgium, Holland and France were collapsing under the fierce onslaught of the German invasion. A large British army was retreating in the direction of Dunkirk. There was opposition within the government to Churchill.
A powerful element within the Conservative party favoured a negotiated peace with Germany, believing that the war was really an idealistic struggle between Nazi Germany and Communist Russia. 'Let them fight it out, and we will make friends with the victor' was the suggested policy.
Churchill, however, would have none of it. He believed, and finally convinced his cabinet, that the coming war was a struggle for civilisation itself. On June 18 he told the House of Commons “ I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin.”
“ Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties and so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for 1,000 years, men will say. This was their finest hour.”
There was an enormous amount of work to be done in preparing for an all out war. Its armed forces were not fully prepared for the demands which would be immediately required. A massive armament build up was urgently needed. Recruitment to the forces had to start at once. The public was apathetic. It was paramount that it be made aware of the coming dangers. Food rationing had to be defined and publicised, air-raid shelters built, children evacuated from the cities, and a thousand other things.
Churchill held meeting after meeting, urging rapid response to all decisions, and efficiency in achieving them. He could be short tempered, exasperated, impatient, and furious if everything was not achieved promptly.
He delivered his powerful rallying call that electrified the nation:
“ ... 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 then one morning he came into
his office and found the following note:
I hope you will forgive me if I tell you something I feel you ought to know.
One of the men in your entourage (a devoted friend ) has been to me and told me that there is a danger of your being generally disliked by your colleagues and subordinates because of your rough, sarcastic and overbearing manner…if an idea is suggested, say at a conference, you are supposed to be so contemptuous that presently no ideas, good or bad, will be forthcoming. I was astonished and upset because in all these years I have been accustomed to all those who have worked with and under you, loving you – I said this, and I was told ‘No doubt it is the strain’.
My Darling Winston, I must confess that I have noticed deterioration in your manner; and you are not as kind as you used to be. It is for you to give the Orders…with this terrific power you must combine urbanity, kindness, and if possible Olympic calm…I cannot bear that those who serve the Country and yourself should not love you as well as admire and respect you…Besides you won’t get the best results by irascibility and rudeness…
Please forgive your loving devoted and watchful…
Winston Churchill first met Clementine Hozier in 1904, but it wasn’t until their second meeting that their romance began. After a four-month courtship, Winston proposed to Clementine. They were married one month later at Saint Margaret’s Church, Westminster, in London on September 12, 1908.
Their marriage was a lasting and happy one but they also had fiery arguments. Clementine was a determined, dignified, loyal, sympathetic and yet also challenging partner. She was the critic Winston heeded above all others.
During their 56 year marriage, Winston and Clementine wrote warmly to one another whenever they were apart. They even wrote love notes back and forth to each other while living in the same house. Their letters and notes often ended with drawings illustrating their pet names for each other. He was her "pug" (a breed of dog ) and she was his "cat."
After the war they spent their latter years barely out of each other's sight. He wrote her many letters of affection, including this one:
My darling Clemmie,
you wrote some words very dear to me, about my having enriched your life. I cannot tell you what pleasure this gave me, because I always feel so overwhelmingly in your debt, if there can be accounts in love... What it has been to me to live all these years in your heart and companionship no phrases can convey. Time passes swiftly, but is it not joyous to see how great and growing is the treasure we have gathered together, amid the storms and stresses of so many eventful and, to millions, tragic and terrible years?…
With tender love from your devoted,