Hello, this is Michael Anthony, and you’re listening to British History 101.
I’ll start off tonight with an explanation of the music you’ve just heard at the beginning of this episode. That was an instrumental performance of the song Jerusalem, which I have been graciously granted permission to play by Mr. John Hawksley and will be featured at the beginning of every episode of British History 101 from here on out. The music you heard was a transcription – by ear, I’d like to add – of Mr. Hawksley and performed on a Beckerath organ at the Lincoln Center for Performing Arts in New York City. If you share my taste in music, it’s an absolutely beautiful song and masterfully performed. If you’d like to hear more of Mr. Hawksley’s work, I’d recommend stopping by http://www.hawksley.net/mp3, H-A-W-K-S-L-E-Y.net/mp3, and checking out the plethora of incredible work he’s put there.
Tonight’s episode will be a bit of a 2-for-1 deal. First off, I’d like to go a bit more in depth regarding the opening theme because it’s a very important part of British culture and something I think every listener would benefit from knowing. The lyrics of the song when it is sung are an extract from the preface to Milton: A Poem by William Blake, written in 1804. If you were to read the poem, you’d find that it says:
And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green?
And was the holy lamb of God
On England’s pleasant pastures seen?
And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic Mills?
Bring me my Bow of burning gold;
Bring me my Arrows of Desire;
Bring me my Spear; O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of Fire!
I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand,
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant Land.
The lyrics refer to the legend of Joseph of Arimathea bringing Jesus Christ to the town of Glastonbury in England (which we will treat in a later episode all to itself later). The lyrics were not set to music until the midst of World War I in 1916. Morale was running low in Britain due to the high number of casualties from the war, and Charles Hubert Hastings Parry was asked to set the poem to music for a Fight for Right rally in the Royal Albert Hall in London. Six years later, Sir Edward Elgar wrote the orchestral score for Jerusalem that impressed King George V so much that he said he would prefer for Jerusalem to be Britain’s national anthem rather than God Save the King. As a matter of fact, many English today feel the same way – although God Save the Queen is the country’s national anthem, a popular sentiment places Jerusalem as an even more patriotic song. Each year, the song is sung by an audience of thousands on the Last Night of the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall at the same time that crowds at other Proms in the Park locations are singing the anthem all around the nation. It is also traditionally used as an office or recessional in English churches and cathedral’s on St. George’s Day. It is truly a beautiful song to be appreciated by anyone of any nationality.
This week, I received an email from a listener named Chip who suggested Winston Churchill as a topic for British History 101, and that will be our main topic tonight. With that, let’s get started on our discussion of Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill, Order of the Garter, Order of Merit, Order of the Champions of Honour, Territorial Decoration, Fellow of the Royal Society, and Queen’s Privy Council for Canada.
Winston Churchill was born on 30 November 1874 at Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, Oxfordshire. His father, Randolph Churchill, was a Conservative politician and his mother, Jennie Jerome, was the daughter of American businessman Leonard Jerome. The family name Churchill was added to the original surname of Spencer to highlight the family’s descent from the 1st Duke of Marlborough, John Churchill. Winston entered Harrow School in 1888, where he joined the Harrow Rifle Corps and was the school’s fencing champion. He left Harrow in 1893 and attended the Royal Military College at Sandhurst, graduating the next year. He was commissioned a second lieutenant in the 4th Queen’s Own Hussars in February of 1895 and was transferred to Bombay, India the following year. India provided the setting for Sir Winston’s first written work.
Churchill caught word that three brigades of the British Army were going to fight tribal Indians and asked his superiors if he could join the brigades. He wrote an account of the battle, and was given 5 pounds per column for the Daily Telegraph back home. He was later granted a commission from the Daily Graphic newspaper to cover Spanish battles against Cuban guerrillas on the Caribbean island. During his time with the British Army, Churchill wrote The Story of the Malakand Field Force and The River War before leaving the Army in 1899 and becoming a war correspondent. While covering the Boer War in South Africa in 1899, the train Churchill was travelling on was ambushed by Boers, and Churchill ended up being taken prisoner and held in Pretoria. However, he was able to escape, and eventually rejoined the British armed forces and was awarded a commission in the South African Light Horse Regiment. Interestingly, Churchill and his cousin the Duke of Marlborough were some of the first troops into Pretoria, and they demanded and received the surrender of 52 Boer guards of the prisoner camp there. When Churchill returned to England, he wrote London to Ladysmith via Pretoria and Ian Hamilton’s March, both of which were published in 1900. In that same year, The Story of the Malakand Field Force was published, for which Churchill received 600 pounds sterling.
Churchill entered politics in 1899 after he returned from his incident in South Africa and ran for election as Member of Parliament for Oldham on the Conservative ticket. He failed to be elected that year, but found success the following year and became Oldham’s representative in Parliament. An old story says that while trying to build support for his campaign, Churchill asked a man for his support. The man replied “Vote for you? I’d rather vote for the devil.” Churchill quickly responded with “I quite understand, but since that man is not running this time, could I count on your support?” Whether or not the obstinate voter cast his opinion for Churchill, he came to represent the man in Parliament.
Although he was elected as a Conservative, Churchill’s increasing dissatisfaction with his own party (who, on several occasions, refused to support him) led him to join the Liberals in 1904, the party in which he worked very hard to get minimum wage laws passed in Great Britain. In 1906, Churchill won the election for MP of North West Manchester and thus gained a seat in Parliament on his new political affiliation. The previous year, Henry Campbell-Banner had become the Liberal Prime Minister, and he appointed Churchill as his Undersecretary of State for the Colonies. Churchill further increased in prominence in 1908 when Herbert Asquith was elected Prime Minister and made Churchill his President of the Board of Trade. It was also during this year that Churchill became a husband, marrying Clementine Ogilvy Spencer.
During his tenure as President of the Board of Trade, Churchill enacted radical reforms known as the Liberal reforms, and this reform spirit continued two years later when he was made Home Secretary in 1910. His efforts to reform prisons introduced the provision of lecturers and concerts for prisoners while incarcerated along with the setup of after-care programs to help convicts readjust to society after serving their sentences.
The year after he became Home Secretary, Churchill was promoted again to the position of First Lord of the Admiralty, a position he held into World War I. Here he advanced the modernization of the navy, especially by developing the switch from using coal as a fuel to oil. He was a first mover on the military potential of aircraft in warfare and he set up the Royal Naval Air Service in 1912. Churchill was so fascinated by aviation that he began taking flying lessons himself.
World War I saw Britain plunged into battle on the continent, and Churchill took much responsibility for the failed Dardanelles campaign in 1915. For this, he was demoted to the position of Chancellor for the Duchy of Lancaster, where he felt he had no influence on governmental war policy and thus he rejoined the Army. Winston Churchill went on to command the 6th Battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers on the Western Front. I think it is a fair assessment to say that all was not quiet on the Western Front with Churchill in charge.
In 1916, Herbert Asquith resigned as Prime Minister, and his successor David Lloyd George brought Churchill back into the government as Minister of Munitions for the final year of the war, where he oversaw the production of tanks, airplanes, guns and shells. He further served as Minister of War and Air during 1919-1920 and Colonial Secretary in 1921-1922, where he stirred up controversy over policy covering the territory of Iraq. Estimates put the number of troops required to hold Iraq at about 100,000; Churchill proposed reliance on air power for force, reducing the number of troops required to 14,000. With his plan approved, Britain sent her new Royal Air Force to Iraq. Iraqi tribesmen rebelled in 1920, and the RAF was responsible for the deaths of approximately 9,000 Iraqis during the uprising. Devastating though the bombing from air was, it failed to quell the rebellion. Churchill was an advocate of using chemical warfare to cut down the Arab and Kurdish tribesmen, saying “I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes to spread a lively terror.”
I should note at this point that from the time Churchill was originally elected Member of Parliament for North West Manchester, he always held the position of MP for one district or another throughout his political career. I haven’t mentioned each individual election he won because I felt there were more momentous things to deal with than Parliamentary elections every few years. However, it’s now prudent to explain that in 1922 General Election Churchill lost the seat he held for Dundee by E.D. Morel. After this, Churchill “crossed the floor,” as it were, again, rejoining the Conservative Party, with which he was elected back into Parliament in 1924 as the representative for Epping. While he actually ran as an Independent Constitutionalist, it was obvious that he held Conservative backing during the election, and he formally made his membership known the following year. Churchill is known to have said, “Anyone can rat (or change parties), but it takes a certain ingenuity to re-rat.”
With Stanley Baldwin as the new Prime Minister after the 1924 election, Churchill was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer (for those of you in the United States who aren’t familiar with that term, it would almost be our equivalent of Secretary of the Treasury). The following year, Churchill made what he would later call the greatest mistake of his life – the decision to put Britain back on the gold standard, which led to great deflation, unemployment, and eventually the General Strike of 1926, which Churchill strongly opposed and declared “Either the country will break the general strike, or the general strike will break the country.” He also held a positive view of fascism under Mussolini, which would obviously change in the coming decades. While Mussolini was still in Churchill’s good graces, however, Churchill even called Il Duce “the Roman genius,” and “the greatest lawgiver among men.” Of course, anyone familiar with the leaders of World War II knows how that would change in the coming decades.
The Conservative administration was defeated in 1929, and at this point Churchill became estranged from the rest of the party he had once again adopted, in large part over the issue of Indian home rule, which Churchill was dead-set against. He is known to have called Mahatma Ghandi, leader of the Indian independence movement, a “half-naked fakir, who ought to be laid, bound hand and foot, at the gates of Delhi and then trampled on by an enormous elephant with the new viceroy seated on its back.” We must not forget Churchill’s role as Undersecretary of State for the Colonies earlier on in his political career…
Two years later, Ramsay McDonald became Prime Minister and formed the Nationalist government, at which point Churchill, viewed as a right-wing extremist, was not invited to join the Cabinet. In the next few years, he dedicated much of his time to writing, including Marlborough: His Life and Times (about his ancestor, John Churchill) and A History of the English-Speaking Peoples. I would recommend his History of the English-Speaking Peoples for anyone with a bit of time on their hands; while it’s rather long, it’s very interesting and quite enjoyable, as it’s obviously written by someone very proud of their heritage.
The early years of the 1930’s saw the rise to power of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party in Germany, and Churchill became an outspoken critic of Neville Chamberlain (the Conservative prime minister who declared “peace in our time”) and the entire appeasement policy, along with supporting rearmament and the strengthening of Britain against a war he was sure would come. Although he had suffered some amount of disappointment and disgrace, Churchill was entering the years during which he would become one of the most famous men of all time.
Upon the outbreak of World War II, Churchill was appointed First Lord of the Admiralty (again) and a member of the War Cabinet. When he returned to the position he had held during World War I, the Navy broadcast the simple signal “Winston is back.” On 4 April 1940, he was appointed Chairman of the Military Coordinating Committee. In this position, Churchill advocated the pre-emptive occupation of the neutral Norwegian port of Narvik and the iron mines of Kiruna, Sweden. However, he was met with opposition by Prime Minster Chamberlain, who was later proven wrong when the Germans successfully invaded Norway. On 8 May, the Labour party demanded that the Norwegian campaign be debated, and Chamberlain’s handling of the issue soon became a vote of censure – the loss of Norway reflected badly on Chamberlain’s previous policy of appeasement. 30 Conservatives voted against Chamberlain, and 60 abstained from voting. Holding no confidence in Parliament, Chamberlain resigned, and King George VI asked Winston Churchill to be his prime minister and form an all-party government. Churchill accepted, his first act as Prime Minister being to write to Neville Chamberlain and thanking him for his support after he had resigned. On 10 May, the German Army invaded the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg. The war was coming closer to home.
During his leadership of Britain during the early phases of World War II, Churchill developed strong ties with U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The Lend-Lease Act of 1941 allowed Britain to purchase war supplies from the United States on credit – a move that would definitively place the United States in a difficult position very soon.
Early on in World War II, the fighting was going poorly for Britain, especially with Hitler’s Blitz on London. At one point, Churchill faced a vote of no-confidence in his leadership in Parliament; luckily for Britain, in my opinion, he did not lose the vote and remained in power. Parliament’s elected confidence in him was reflected in the people – it is at this point that he became known for being able to inspire Britons all over the island, stirring up such deep patriotism that volunteers even went so far as to stand atop the roof of St. Paul’s in London and put out the fires ignited on it during German bombings. With the American entry into the war after the attack on Pearl Harbour at the end of 1941, relations between Churchill and Roosevelt were further cemented. Prior to Pearl Harbour, Churchill had allied himself with Josef Stalin of the Soviet Union once Hitler invaded the USSR in June 1941’s Operation Barbarossa. Over the next few years, the tide of war obviously swung in favour of the Allies, especially with the costly victory on June 6, 1944 with the invasion of Normandy. Despite victories that followed D-Day, Churchill was voted out of office in 1945 when he compared a future Labour government under Clement Attlee with Nazi Germany, and Attlee won the prime minister position in a landslide.
Interestingly, it was Winston Churchill who is credited with popularizing the term “Iron Curtain,” during a speech he gave at Westminster College in Fulton Missouri on 5 March 1946. As a guest of President Harry Truman, Churchill boldly stated:
“From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste on the Adriatic, an Iron Curtain has descended across the continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of central and eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sophia, all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere.”
Six years later after his famous Iron Curtain speech, Churchill returned to the prime minister’s office. He lasted for another four years before declining health forced him to retire from his position. It is interesting to note that during this time, Churchill was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature for his six-volume work The Second World War. In 1963, President Kennedy of the United States honoured Churchill by making him the first-ever Honorary Citizen of the United States – a prestigious award indeed, when one considers the events of the late 18th century.
Winston S. Churchill died on 24 January 1965 from the effects of the last of a line of strokes he suffered in his late years. He was given a state funeral by decree of Queen Elizabeth, a funeral which saw the largest number of statesmen gathered together from around the world for 40 years, a number topped only by the funeral of Servant of God Pope John Paul II in 2005.
That brings us to the conclusion of tonight’s “two for one” special. A transcript of this and previous episodes of this podcast can be found at BritishHistory101.com. If you find time to visit the website, be sure to add yourself to the Platial map on the right hand side of the screen – it’s been very interesting to see where all of the podcast’s listeners are located! Send suggestions, questions, comments, rants, and raves to BritishHistory101@gmail.com. I can also be reached via Skype, under the name British History 101. As discussed at the beginning of the podcast, our music tonight is “Jerusalem,” music written by Sir Charles Hubert Humphrey Perry and performed by the gracious John Hawksley. While the song will, from now on, be featured at the beginning of each episode of British History 101, I’m going to play it in its entirety tonight. Before we go, however, take a listen to a teaser from George Hageman at the Military History Podcast.
Thanks , George. I really enjoy your podcast and I hope some of British History 101’s listeners will as well.
To everyone who tuned in tonight, thanks for listening, and we’ll meet again next Tuesday for a special episode of British History 101, to be released on a very special day for many Britons. Until then, have a listen to “Jerusalem,” and have a wonderful week.