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The Most Significant Hero of the Twentieth Century: Winston Churchill
One of the most important periods in the history of mankind was the twentieth century. Many important discoveries and inventions were made and there were many significant events of which the most spectacular were the two World Wars. The great advances in science and technology as well as numerous social and political reforms made in this period lead to the world we live in today. That caused the rise of many significant and important heroes, but I think the greatest of them was Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill. My definition of a hero is someone that has a righteous, kind and noble heart; a mission and ability to influence people; an ability to overcome frightening and bleak obstacles; affected important events; a persistent character that never gives up; a passion of the thing he does to achieve his heroic status and something in common with a normal person. Winston Churchill fits that description perfectly and was truly a significant hero of the twentieth century. Having an extraordinary and exciting life, he really deserves my admiration and respect because of his life, character, abilities, talents and intervening with many events of both the UK and the world. He made many significant contributions and overcame mountains of obstacles that led to his heroic status and receiving of many honors.
Winston Churchill had an extraordinary, amazing and exciting life. His birth was on November 30, 1874 in Blenheim Palace, a massive palace in Oxfordshire (Macdonald 11). This marked him for greatness as Blenheim was home to important, aristocratic families. His parents were Lord Randolph Churchill and Jennie Jerome. Lord Randolph was a MP (Member of Parliament) and a famous speaker of his time while Jennie was the daughter of the wealthy American Leonard Jerome. Churchill was educated at three different schools: St. George’s School, Brunswick School and Harrow School. Later, he went to the Royal Military College, Sandhurst to join the cavalry (“Winston Churchill”). When he was older, he saw action in Cuba, India, Egypt, Sudan (Best 10) and even the Western Front in WWI (Macdonald 71). He also took part in the last great cavalry charge in the history of Britain (Best 12). He entered Parliament at age twenty-five, drawing massive amounts of people with his speeches (Macdonald 46-47) and eventually stayed in the House of Commons for sixty years (“Biography Introduction”). Besides his career in the House of Commons, he also took multiple posts in Government, including Home Secretary, First Lord of the Admiralty (twice), Chancellor of the Exchequer and most importantly, Prime Minister (twice) (“Winston Churchill”). During WWII, Winston Churchill led the Allies to success and victory, saving Europe and possibly the whole world from the Nazis. In an article in the official website of the Churchill Centre and Museum, the writer gives a good summary of Winston Churchill’s extraordinary life:
His lifetime spanned not only the two World Wars of the 20th Century but other conflicts, historical diplomatic meetings, and the onset of the Cold War. Winston Churchill led the British nation on two separate occasions as prime minister, in peace and in war, and on two separate occasions as First Lord of the Admiralty, both in the office and on the frontline. (“Churchill: Leader and Statesman”)
Winston Churchill’s life is extraordinary and amazing, achieving in one life what others need several lives to achieve.
Winston Churchill’s thrilling life interests me greatly, but one of the reasons I admire him is because of his bravery, persistence and perseverance. He showed great bravery when travelling to places in the British Empire such as Afghanistan and South Africa where the chance of being killed was extremely high and during WWI, Winston was technically a Member of Parliament but he visited the front line for half a year. This feat was unbelievably dangerous because thousands of men were dying every day (Macdonald 72). When Winston was First Lord of Admiralty, he was the cause of the failed Gallipoli campaign and was kicked out of his post, thrown to the sidelines (Macdonald 71). Most people would give up, but Churchill’s perseverance and persistence enabled him to keep on going and after he returned from the front line, he soon found himself in the Parliament and War Cabinet again (Macdonald 78). These two important characteristics - perseverance and persistence were also reflected during October 29, 1941 when Winston Churchill visited his old school, Harrow School, and said,
I am addressing myself to the School – surely from this period of ten months this is the lesson: never give in, 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 Give In!” 307).
Winston Churchill’s bravery, perseverance and persistence were vital parts of his success and we should display those characteristics in our lives as well.
Besides his bravery, perseverance and persistence, Winston Churchill was an optimist and also possessed an extraordinary foresight along with his talent of speech-making and determined personality. In the article “Churchill: Leader and Statesman”, the writer displayed Churchill’s optimism by quoting some famous words from his speech “Wars Are Not Won by Evacuations” in the House of Commons on June 4, 1940:
We shall go on to the end. 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 find on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender. (qtd. in “Churchill: Leader and Statesman”)
The optimism he had enabled him to keep up public morale, ensuring that it was at the correct level. He also showed his extraordinary foresight when he realized that Germany was going to be a danger and warned the public in the 1930s and although he was ignored, he never stopped urging the government to take action (Macdonald 122). He was soon proved right and this foresight would help him during the war. When Neville Chamberlain resigned, Churchill immediately became Prime Minister and used his extraordinary speech-making talents and determination to influence the general public into supporting him and keep up morale before leading them all to victory (Macdonald 130). His speeches reflect his personality well. For example, during a speech in the House of Commons on May 13, 1940, he said, “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat” (“Blood, Toil Tears and Sweat” 206) which clearly reflects his determined personality because it means that Britain shall never surrender and fight to the very end. His talent in keeping up morale is also seen in another speech on May 19, 1940. He made it on the radio and said, “Arm yourselves and be ye men of valour, and be in readiness for the conflict; for it is better for us to perish in battle than to look upon the outrage of our nation and our altar” (“Arm Yourselves” 209). The characteristics of Winston Churchill are amazing and his talents and abilities are some of the reasons he managed to succeed.
Winston Churchill’s life was greatly affected by many major events in the UK and the world. When he was younger, the British Army was fighting rebels around the world. The wars made his father decide that Winston was to join the Army and Winston agreed so that he could have fame and medals (Macdonald 33). The wars gave him a first-hand experience of warfare which would later prove invaluable. When he was fighting the Boers in South Africa, he was captured (Macdonald 41), but in two weeks he had a plan to escape as described in Winston Churchill and his Great Wars: “He had 300 miles to travel across enemy territory with no map or compass to guide him. He didn’t speak a world of Dutch and in his pocket he had nothing but £75 in British notes and a few pieces of chocolate” (Macdonald 42). He immediately gained massive amounts of fame which set off his political career (Macdonald 47). Because of WWI, Churchill became the First Lord of Admiralty, losing his post because of the Gallipoli campaign and was then booted to the sidelines (Macdonald 71). In WWII, the Nazis invaded Norway and the British tried to help, but they failed completely. That failure demolished the government of Neville Chamberlain, leaving a clear pathway for Churchill to become Prime Minister (Macdonald 126-127). The life of Winston Churchill was certainly full of exciting events with almost not a second of peace and these events provided golden opportunities for his rise.
Not only affected by many UK and world events, Winston Churchill was a major factor and influence in those events. For example, during his first time as First Lord of Admiralty, the Royal Navy was in a state of civil war between two admirals - Jackie Fisher and Lord Charles Beresford (Macdonald 63). If Winston Churchill had not been appointed as First Lord, the Royal Navy would easily been completely destroyed by Germany as nothing could be agreed upon. Instead, Winston “swept through the Navy like a ten-force gale” (Macdonald 63). He created the Royal Naval Air Force, improved the sailors’ conditions and ensured that the Royal Navy had state-of-the-art warships so they were ready for war (Macdonald 63). In 1915, the Gallipoli campaign in Turkey failed (Macdonald 71). Winston took the blame and he was kicked out of his post before he was booted to the sidelines. He then had visited the Western Front for six months and when he saw troops being mowed down, he used his influence to get tanks introduced, an extremely important landmark in military history (Macdonald 77). Years later in World War II, when Neville Chamberlain resigned, Winston Churchill immediately took the reins of Prime Minister. He used all of his talents - intelligence, persuasion, wit, persistence, perseverance and speech-making to liberate Europe from the Nazis, saving the world (Macdonald 169). Winston Churchill’s life was crammed full of important events, but he certainly had a major influence in many of them.
Winston Churchill didn’t become a hero for doing nothing – he had to make large amounts of contributions. His political career was started when he bravely escaped from a Boer prison and successfully navigated three hundred miles of enemy territory safely. He was immediately hailed as a hero and received massive amounts of fame, making the headlines in South Africa. All the fame convinced the Conservatives to include him in their party, kick-starting his career in politics (Macdonald 47). Thirty years later, his unique strategic foresight allowed him to speculate that the Nazis were preparing for war and he urgently warned the government to prepare to fight the Nazis (Macdonald 122). When he was proved right years later, he became Prime Minister and used all his courage, intelligence and speech-making powers to keep up public morale in the darkest of situations and defeat the Axis powers, saving the world from the Nazis (Macdonald 122,169). An example is that in 1940, French and British troops were pinned down at Dunkirk and faced total annihilation by the oncoming enemy. It seemed as if it was the end, but Churchill immediately used his power of speech-making to successfully convince the public to send their own boats and ships to France to try and rescue the soldiers. Many were downed by the German U-boats, bombers and mines, but they successfully rescued 338,000 soldiers and brought them back, saving the power of the French and British armies (Macdonald 129). Later, the Luftwaffe (German Air Force) attacked RAF (Royal Air Force) airbases, so Churchill used his wit by ordering the RAF to drop bombs on Berlin, which made Hitler furious and he foolishly ordered the Luftwaffe to strike at London instead of the airbases, which allowed the RAF a breathing space to regroup (Deary 7). The German invasion of Britain was stopped by the RAF and the Allies could then use it as a base when they planned to invade German-occupied Europe. Winston Churchill’s contributions were amazing and significant both in effect and amount and they rewrote world history.
During his life, Churchill had encountered many obstacles and worked hard to overcome them. One obstacle was when his political career first started and he went into the Conservative Party. Four years later, he swapped and joined the Conservative Party’s rivals - the Liberal Party. At the time, it was considered a dishonorable and traitorous action to betray one’s own party, so Churchill created an unbelievably large amount of powerful enemies which would make his life extremely difficult for years to come (Macdonald 51). In 1924, twenty years after he swapped, he had a change of heart and returned to the Conservatives (Macdonald 96). Although that meant one obstacle had been overcome, there was another obstacle that had to overcome - “In 1929, the Conservatives narrowly lost the election to Ramsay Macdonald’s Labour Party. He was out of power and would stay in the shadows for ten long years. The wilderness years had begun” (Macdonald 98). However, he did not give up and he became Prime Minister in 1940. During that time, WWII was in motion and there were two Votes of Confidence and a Motion of Censure that threatened to kick him out of his post. But Churchill’s speech-making powers saved the day, with spectacular results like one Vote of Confidence: 464-1 (Winston S. Churchill 275, 325, 339), and he continued to be in office. Years later, after WWII had ended, the Conservatives lost the election to the Labour Party again and Churchill was out of power, but in the 1950s the election results led him becoming Prime Minister for the second time (Macdonald 172, 176). Churchill’s life, like many other great men and women, had been full of obstacles which were successfully overcome by diligence and perseverance.
Because of his amazing contributions and talents, Churchill received an uncountable amount of honors, medals and prizes. In 1939, he was awarded the title of Honorary Air Commodore of the No. 615 (Country of Surrey) Squadron in the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. Although 615 Squadron was disbanded in 1957, Winston Churchill continued to retain the rank. Churchill was also Colonel in Chief of the 4th Queen’s Own Hussars, the regiment he fought with when he was in his early twenties. Later, he was the first Colonel in Chief of the Queen’s Royal Irish Hussars (the regiment the 4th Queen’s Own Hussars was amalgamated into) and he was also the Colonel in Chief of the Queen’s Own Oxfordshire Hussars (“Honours of Winston Churchill”). Not only a politician, Churchill was also a great writer. The article in Wikipedia best summaries Churchill’s outstanding achievement in writing:
Churchill was also a prolific writer of books, writing a novel, two biographies, three volumes of memoirs, and several histories in addition to his many newspaper articles. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953 for his mastery of historical and biographical description as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values. (“Winston Churchill”)
One of his greatest honors was when in 1963, President John F. Kennedy proclaimed Winston Churchill as the Honorary Citizen of the United States. He was the first to receive such a honor. Winston Churchill was also invited to join the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels, a non-profit organization that helps the citizens of Kentucky. Other honors include a Royal Navy destroyer in 1940 was named after him along with a submarine in 1970. In 2001, an American destroyer was named USS Winston S. Churchill in his honor (“Honours of Winston Churchill”). Throughout his life, Winston Churchill had made thousands of contributions in various aspects, and thus was well rewarded for them.
Churchill would not have been considered a hero and would instead be considered as an alien or a god if he had no weaknesses or dark sides. When he was a child, Churchill had an unbelievable urge for his father’s love, mainly because they had only shared three to four long conversations together and their relations were icy cold (Macdonald 33). During his early school life, Churchill got into many scrapes and trouble and one could even have proved fatal when a boy stabbed him in the chest with a knife (Macdonald 19). Geoffrey Best wrote in his biography of Winston Churchill, “His school years were not distinguished, and had much unhappiness in them” (6). Churchill was also in poor health and it was his health that let him escape the flogging and the cane at his first school, St. George’s (Macdonald 18). When he had children, he wanted to be a good father because of his relationship with his own father so he spoiled his son who believed he was destined for great things as well (Macdonald 87). Mary Soames, Churchill’s youngest daughter, said at a press interview, “Randolph was bolshie from the year dot and Diana was very self-willed. Mama and Randolph never got on, which was partly because my beloved papa spoiled him something rotten” (Turner). Churchill’s habit of running up mammoth-sized debts was shown even when he was small as he always asked for more money in his letters home. In fact, he spent enough money in a week to feed a poor family of six or seven people (Macdonald 27). This led to frequent arguments with his wife, Clementine Hozier, who got so fed up that she actually threw a plate of spinach at him, which fortunately missed and hit the wall (Turner). His bad moods were shown during WWII as there were tons of frustrating events (“Churchill: Leader and Statesman”) as reflected from Mary Soames’s interview, “Father, on the other hand, could be frightfully noisy when he lost his temper” (Turner). Although Winston Churchill did have a large amount of weaknesses, his weaknesses merely enforce his heroic image as a hero must also have something in common with the meekest of people.
Winston Churchill was perfect example of a hero. His abilities outshine everybody else and his courage, wit, determination, perseverance and persistence were amazing. He faced mountains of obstacles in his life, yet he overcame them all. He successfully achieved in ninety years what others might need nine hundred years to achieve. He rewrote history with his leadership and talents. He has had great influence on me and many others that leads us to believe that we should never give up. His achievements make us wish to follow in his footsteps. His determination and persistence help us face challenges and problems ahead. The question left is: do we want a similar hero in the 21st Century? If such a hero exists, he/she may guide us through many of our current problems. Although such a hero does deserve our admiration, hopefully the hero would not arrive because of the Third World War. Anyway, at least we already have Winston Churchill. We can learn from him to solve our current issues. With all of his talents and achievements, there is no doubt that Winston Churchill is the most significant hero of the twentieth century.
Best, Geoffrey. Churchill: A Study in Greatness. 2001. London: Penguin Books, 2002. Print.
“Biography Introduction.” WinstonChurchill.org. The Churchill Centre and Museum, n.d. Web. 10 Feb. 2011. < http://www.winstonchurchill.org/learn/biography/why-study-winston-churchill>.
“Churchill: Leader and Statesman.” WinstonChurchill.org. The Churchill Centre and Museum, n.d. Web. 10 Feb. 2011. <http://www.winstonchurchill.org/learn/biography/biography/churchill-leader-and-statesman>.
Churchill, Winston. “Arm Yourselves, and Be Ye Men of Valour!.” Winston Churchill’s Speeches: Never Give in!. Ed. Winston S. Churchill. 2004. London: Pimlico, 2007. 204-206. Print.
---. “Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat.” Winston Churchill’s Speeches: Never Give in!. Ed.
Winston S. Churchill. 2004. London: Pimlico, 2007. 206-209. Print.
---. “Never Give in!.” Winston Churchill’s Speeches: Never Give in!. Ed. Winston S. Churchill. 2004. London: Pimlico, 2007. 306-308. Print.
---. “Wars Are Not Won by Evacuations.” Winston Churchill’s Speeches- Never Give in!. Ed. Winston S. Churchill. London: 2004. Pimlico, 2007. 210-218. Print.
Churchill, Winston S., ed. Winston Churchill’s Speeches-Never Give in!. 2004. London: Pimlico, 2007. Print.
Deary, Teary. Blitz. London: Scholastic Children’s Books, 2009. Print.
“Honours of Winston Churchill.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 10 Feb. 2011. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honours_of_Winston_Churchill>.
MacDonald, Alan. Winston Churchill and His Great Wars. London: Scholastic Children’s Books, 2004. Print.
Turner, Graham. “An Interview with Mary Soames.” WinstonChurchill.org. The Churchill Centre and Museum, n.d. Web. 10 Feb. 2011. <http://www.winstonchurchill.org/learn/biography/biography/family>.
“Winston Churchill.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 10 Feb. 2011. < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winston_Churchill>