On this day in 1953 Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill- solider, war time leader and recipient of the Nobel Laureate for Literature- was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II.
Churchill’s illustrious career begun as a cornet (second lieutenant) in the 4th Queen’s Own Hussars on 20 February 1895 serving admirably in conflicts from India to Cuba. Being elected as the Conservative MP for Oldham before joining the Liberal party in 1904. He was praised for his work building up the Royal Navy as First Lord of the Admiralty (a post he obtained in 1911) before the outbreak of the First World War, however, military blunders in the Dardanelles and Gallipoli campaigns lead to Churchill resigning his post. He eventually returned to the front bench from 1919-21 where he served as Home Secretary. Eight months after the outbreak of the Second World War, Churchill had warned Chamberlain to be cautious of Hitler’s machinations, Churchill ascended took the office of Prime Minister at the head of a war time coalition.
In war time office, Churchill played a leading role in keeping Britain, at the time the soul combatant against the Axis regime, from falling to the Nazi powers. His now immortalised “We Will Never Surrender” speech riled the fledgling British forces against the German push across the channel- code names Operation Sea Lion. The ensuing battle- forever known as the Battle of Britain- saw the depleted, drained British RAF hold off the might of Goering’s Luftwaffe. The achievement was encapsulated most fittingly by Churchill himself when he said: “Never, in the course of human conflict, has so much, been owed by so many, to so few!”
His diplomacy at a time of utter crisis, with the Nazi war machine breathing down the neck of the British and The Blitz crushing Britain’s capital cities, was again masterful. Mustering support from both the USSR and the USA, Churchill ensured that Britain’s war effort was kept afloat. The Tizard Mission- the trading of British Military secrets for American goods- also bolstered Anglo-American ties with a co-operative effort leading to the introduction and completion of the Manhattan Project. The fact that the original target for the atomic bomb was designed to be Berlin once again demonstrates the close ties forged between Churchill and Roosevelt which would go on to form the “special relationship”.
Churchill was, however, a full breath war time leader- inept at the politics of peacetime. In July 1945 Churchill was ousted from office by Clement Attlee’s Labour party. Despite retaking the post in 1951, Churchill became a shadow of the once mighty leader. He resigned two years later but remained in parliament until 1964- a year before his death. Churchill was laid to rest with a full state funeral- a practise usually reserved for monarchs- his remains still lay in St Martin’s Church, Bladon.
He most recent honour, was as a pictorial on the back of the new polymer Five Pound note. The inscription reads: ‘Winston Churchill 1874-1965… “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.”‘
Despite the now iconic status of Churchill as the defender of democracy against the scourges of fascism, he remains a polarising figure. For example, the author John Charmley, attests that Churchill certainly believed in racial hierarchies and eugenics although the extent that these claims are accurate must be considered carefully. He has also been criticised, amongst other things, for his failure to act in the Bengal famine of 1943, which is believed to be responsible for the death of 3 million people.
Regardless of how one may view Churchill as a leader from an objective standpoint, sometimes it is best to accept the symbolic character. Churchill will forever be remembered as the defender of freedom. He directed the light against the darkness of fascism and ensured that Britain did not fall to Nazi occupation. For that he will forever be regarded, as the greatest ever Briton.