Sir Winston Churchill was Prime Minister from May 1940 to July 1945.He led the country through some of its darkest hours and was the very embodiment of the British Bulldog spirit.
As we prepare to commemorate the 75th anniversary of VE Day on Friday May 8, we look at three of his key speeches in which he spoke to the nation in their greatest need and at their finest hours.
Churchill’s ‘We shall fight on the beaches’ speech on June 4 1940 is a eulogy to the British war effort that has been immortalised in popular memory of the Second World War.As the newly appointed Prime Minister, Churchill’s first month in office was defined by the Dunkirk evacuation.
More than 300,000 Allied soldiers were evacuated in a sensational rescue mission.The success was down to a combination of German errors and the brilliant execution of the evacuation plan. However, the fact remained that, with France now fallen, Britain had become an attractive target for German invasion.
In this speech, Churchill’s aim was to counter the jubilant public reaction provoked by the evacuation from Dunkirk, and bring the discussion back to reality. As Churchill famously warns in the speech,
“We must be very careful not to assign to this deliverance the attributes of a victory. Wars are not won by evacuations.”This is an extract of that rallying cry.“I have, myself, full confidence that if all do their duty, if nothing is neglected, and if the best arrangements are made, as they are being made, we shall prove ourselves once again able to defend our Island home, to ride out the storm of war, and to outlive the menace of tyranny, if necessary for years, if necessary alone.
“At any rate, that is what we are going to try to do. That is the resolve of His Majesty’s Government-every man of them.
“That is the will of Parliament and the nation. The British Empire and the French Republic, linked together in their cause and in their need, will defend to the death their native soil, aiding each other like good comrades to the utmost of their strength.
“Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail.
“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 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, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.”
“Never was so much owed by so many to so few” was a wartime speech made by Churchill on August 20 1940.
The name stems from the specific line in the speech, Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few, referring to the ongoing efforts of the Royal Air Force crews who were at the time fighting the Battle of Britain, the pivotal air battle with the German Luftwaffe with Britain expecting an invasion.
Pilots who fought in the battle have been known as The Few ever since.
This is an extract of the expression of a nation’s gratitude.
The gratitude of every home in our Island, in our Empire, and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of the World War by their prowess and their devotion.
Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few. All hearts go out to the fighter pilots, whose brilliant actions we see with our own eyes day after day; but we must never forget that all the time, night after night, month after month, our bomber squadrons travel far into Germany, find their targets in the darkness by the highest navigational skill, aim their attacks, often under the heaviest fire, often with serious loss, with deliberate careful discrimination, and inflict shattering blows upon the whole of the technical and war-making structure of the Nazi power.
On no part of the Royal Air Force does the weight of the war fall more heavily than on the daylight bombers, who will play an invaluable part in the case of invasion and whose unflinching zeal it has been necessary in the meanwhile on numerous occasions to restrain.
This is an extract of Churchill’s speech on VE Day, Friday May 8, 1945. He asks, at its end, for people not to forget the task was not finished – there was still Victory over Japan to achieve. It was – on August 15, 1945.
God bless you all. This is your victory! It is the victory of the cause of freedom in every land. In all our long history we have never seen a greater day than this. Everyone, man or woman, has done their best. Everyone has tried. Neither the long years, nor the dangers, nor the fierce attacks of the enemy, have in any way weakened the independent resolve of the British nation. God bless you all. . . . . .and later . . . .
My dear friends, this is your hour. This is not victory of a party or of any class. It’s a victory of the great British nation as a whole. We were the first, in this ancient island, to draw the sword against tyranny. After a while we were left all alone against the most tremendous military power that has been seen. .... But there is another foe who occupies large portions of the British Empire, a foe stained with cruelty and greed – the Japanese.
I rejoice we can all take a night off today and another day tomorrow.
Tomorrow our great Russian allies will also be celebrating victory and after that we must begin the task of rebuilding our health and homes, doing our utmost to make this country a land in which all have a chance, in which all have a duty, and we must turn ourselves to fulfil our duty to our own countrymen, and to our gallant allies of the United States who were so foully and treacherously attacked by Japan.
We will go hand and hand with them. Even if it is a hard struggle we will not be the ones who will fail.