Key Personality: Winston Churchill

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Churchill is a Key Personality for:
Winston Churchill, giving his famous "V for victory"
sign outside 10 Downing Street.
World War II

  • Winston Churchill was first elected as a Conservative MP in 1924. He became Chancellor of the Exchequer from then until 1929. He returned Britain to the Gold Standard, which turned out to have negative effects on the British economy. He also wanted to smash the trade unions during the General Strike of 1926,
  • Churchill was out of office until 1939. He had warned against Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's policy of appeasement, and encouraged strong alliances between Britain, France and the Soviet Union to keep Hitler under control. Chamberlain put Churchill in charge of the Royal Navy when World War II broke out, but only a year later in 1940, he replaced Chamberlain as Prime Minister and led a coalition government between the Conservatives and the Labour Party.
  • Churchill offered strong leadership during 1940, when the fall of France had left Britain alone in Europe against Germany. He was popular for his rousing and courageous speeches during the Battle of Britain, famously saying he had "nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat". His speeches encouraged the British public to resist Germany. Churchill formed a close personal relationship with US President Franklin Roosevelt. He arranged the Land-Lease Act, which allowed Britain to receive American military goods without payment. America entered the war in 1941.
  • Churchill and Roosevelt agreed the Atlantic Charter in 1941, declaring that all people should have the right to decide their own form of government. The two leaders joined with the Soviet leader Josef Stalin to co-ordinate the Allied war effort. The "Big Three" met in wartime conferences in Casablanca, Tehran, Yalta and Potsdam to make important decisions about the war and the rebuilding of Europe after it. Churchill was responsible for sending British troops to defend Egypt, the destruction of the French naval fleet before it could fall into German hands, and he opposed the opening of a second front until the Allies were sure of victory.
  • Towards the end of the war, Churchill feared the growth of communism as the Soviet Union took over much of Eastern Europe. Roosevelt did not share this view, which caused some distance to grow between the two. After the defeat of Germany and the end of the war, Churchill's Conservatives lost fresh elections to the Labour Party. Although disappointed, he began writing a six-volume history of the war, and became Prime Minister again from 1951 until 1955. He died in 1965 and was granted a full state funeral by Queen Elizabeth II.

The Allied leaders, Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill, at the Yalta Conference in 1945.

In short...

  • Background:
    • first elected as a Conservative MP in 1924, Chancellor of the Exchequer 1924-29.
    • Returned Britain to the Gold Standard (negative results), wanted to smash the trade unions.
    • Out of power from 1929 to 1939.
  • Prime Minister:
    • Opposed the policy of appeasement, warned that strong alliances were needed between Britain, France and the Soviet Union.
    • Put in charge of the Royal Navy by Chamberlain when WWII broke out, replaced Chamberlain as Prime Minister a year later.
    • Strong leadership, rousing speeches, encouraged the British public.
    • Close relationship with US President Roosevelt - Land Lease Act.
  • Wartime Conferences:
    • The "Big Three": Churchill, Roosevelt, Stalin.
    • Met in Casablanca, Tehran, Yalta and Potsdam.
    • Decisions about the war and the rebuilding of Europe.
    • Key decisions: Sent troops to defend Egypt, destruction of French fleet.
  • Later Career:
    • Feared the expansion of communism after the war, view not shared by Roosevelt.
    • Lost post-war election in Britain, wrote a history of the war.
    • Prime Minister again from 1951-1955.

Churchill with a young Queen Elizabeth II (and an even younger Prince Charles) in the late 1950s.
Picture © Getty Images