Wednesday, May 10, 2006

May 10: Words from Winston Churchill Day

On this day in 1940, Winston Churchill took the office of British Prime Minister, replacing Neville Chamberlain. On the same day Hitler began his Western offensive, storming into Holland and Belgium with 136 German divisions. By June 15, 1940, the Germans were in Paris, and the fate of the English speaking people and civilization itself was in the hands of Sir Winston Churchill.

Through his leadership, his optimistic voice, and, possibly most important, his words, Churchill helped the British to rally against the dark threat of Nazi Germany.

Three days after taking the helm of Prime Minister, Churchill entered the House of Commons to a lukewarm reception. In a brief speech, Churchill demonstrated the indomitable spirit that would continue to buoy the spirits of the British people as they faced the threat of Nazi domination.

Here is an excerpt from his address:

I say to the House as I said to ministers who have joined this government, I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many months of struggle and suffering.

You ask, what is our policy? I say it is to wage war by land, sea, and air. War with all our might and with all the strength God has given us, and to wage war against a monstrous tyranny never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy.

You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word. It is victory. Victory at all costs - Victory in spite of all terrors - Victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival.

Let that be realized. No survival for the British Empire, no survival for all that the British Empire has stood for, no survival for the urge, the impulse of the ages, that mankind shall move forward toward his goal.

I take up my task in buoyancy and hope. I feel sure that our cause will not be suffered to fail among men. I feel entitled at this juncture, at this time, to claim the aid of all and to say, "Come then, let us go forward together with our united strength."

For the complete text of Churchill’s address, visit

According to Gretchen Ruben, author of Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill, the Prime Minster’s greatest strength was his genius with words. Churchill clearly understood the power of words. He once said, "Words are the only things which last forever." In fact, his words live on; no other author, for example, has more quotations in Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations.

President John F. Kennedy said, "Churchill mobilized the English language and sent it into battle."

He had an expansive vocabulary, and although he sometimes used anachronistic words he knew the right time to employ the plain, short Anglo-Saxon lexicon; he said, "Short words are best, and the old words when short are best of all" (1).

In addition to his eloquence and excellent diction, Churchill also is memorable for his ability to use humor when appropriate. One classic example involves English grammar. When an editor objected to his ending a sentence with a preposition, Churchill wrote the following note in the margin: "This is the sort of pedantry up with which I will not put."

Today’s Challenge: Churchill: Man or Myth?
Read the following quotes below. Some are often attributed to Churchill, but in reality were never said by him. See if you can tell Churchill's true words from his false.

1. "From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an iron curtain has descended across the Continent."

2. "The only traditions of the Royal Navy are rum, sodomy and the lash."

3. "If you're not a liberal when you're 25, you have no heart. If you're not a conservative by the time you're 35, you have no brain."

4. "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few."

5. "All this contains much that is obviously true, and much that is relevant; unfortunately, what is obviously true is not relevant, and what is relevant is not obviously true."

6. "Never give in--never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.''

7. "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!"

8. Lady Astor: "Winston, if I were your wife I'd put poison in your coffee."
Winston: "Nancy, if I were your husband I'd drink it."

Quote of the Day: A speech is like a symphony. It may have three movements but must have one dominant melody. –Winston Churchill

1. From a speech Churchill gave on March 5, 1946 Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri.
2. Not Churchill. Said by Churchill's assistant, Anthony Montague-Browne.
3. Not Churchill
4. Speech made in the House of Commons as the Battle Britain peaked on August 20, 1940.
5. Not Churchill
6. Churchill gave this extremely short speech at his old school, Harrow on October 29, 1941.
7. Churchill’s Speech about Dunkirk given in House of Commons June 4, 1940.
8. Vintage Winston Churchill

1 - Rubin, Gretchen. Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill. New York: Random House, 2003.

1 comment:

Neel Mehta said...

I was kinda hoping that one of Winston Churchill's descendants would drop in and compliment you. Then you'd really be on a roll.