Churchill, Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill

Churchill, Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill
   Twice prime minister of the United Kingdom, Winston Churchill is remembered for his great achievement during World War II, especially during the period between the fall of France in June 1940 and the entry into the war of the United States in December 1941, when Britain stood alone against Nazi Germany. In the pre-1914 period, however, Churchill was notable as an author on imperial wars, as a reforming cabinet minister, and as an energetic First Lord of the Admiralty. Educated at Harrow and Sandhurst, he was commissioned in the Queen’s Own Hussars in 1895. In that same year, he took up a parallel vocation as a journalist, reporting on the Spanish campaign in Cuba. In 1896, he sailed with his regiment to India. Deploying his mother’s extensive contacts in high places, he managed to attach himself to a punitive expedition to the northwest frontier in1897, and to Lord Kitchener’s reconquest of the Sudan the next year. During the latter, Churchill famously took part in one of the British army’s last cavalry charges. Both experiences resulted in books, Churchill’s River War on the Sudanese campaign being marked by a guarded sympathy for the defeated enemy, and remaining a valuable account. Resigning his army commission in 1899, Churchill went to South Africa as a journalist on the outbreak of the Second Boer War, but after taking command of the unsuccessful defense of armored train, he was captured by the Boers. His subsequent escape from prison in Pretoria and return to Durban via Portuguese East Africa made him a popular hero. He had stood unsuccessfully for Parliament in 1899, but in the “khaki” election of 1900, by now a national hero, he was successful.
   Churchill crossed the floor to the Liberals in 1904 on the issue of free trade , the Tories having taken up the question of an imperial tariff wall. His crossing of the floor coincided with the rapid decline of Conservative fortunes and earned him a reputation as an opportunist. On the formation of a Liberal government in 1905, Churchill became undersecretary to the Colonial Office; as the Secretary, Lord Elgin, was in the Lords, Churchill represented the department in the Commons. When Herbert Asquith succeeded Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman in 1908, Churchill became President of the Board of Trade - a cabinet minister at age 33. Under the influence of David Lloyd George, Churchill campaigned for the “peoples’ budget” of 1909 and for the restriction on the powers of Lords contained in the Parliament Act of 1911. Although originally skeptical of higher naval spending, as First Lord of the Admiralty from 1911, he pushed for new and modern battleships, and for other technical innovations, such as submarines and aircraft. At the approach of war in 1914, Churchill ordered the fleet to move from its channel bases to its war station at Scapa Flow.
   An aggressive advocate of the potential of naval power, he pushed the Dardanelles expedition of 1915, which of course went badly wrong, and cost Churchill the Admiralty. After a period in the trenches, he returned to office as minister of munitions, and then after the war at the War Office. Following his service as chancellor of the exchequer in the 1920s, Churchill’s career once more seemed over, this time because of his obstinate opposition to Indian self-government and his warnings about Hitler’s rearmament. The rest, as they say, is history.
   See also <>; <>; <>.
    Churchill, Winston. The River War. 2 vols. London: Longmans, 1899;
    Gilbert, Martin, and Randolph S. Churchill. Winston S. Churchill. 8 vols. London: Heinemann, 1966–1988.

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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