During the twentieth century, there were many people, some well known and others not so well known, who contributed to society in one way or another. When determining which one of these people was the biggest contributor to society during the twentieth century, and, therefore, the person of the twentieth century, their lives as a whole should be taken into consideration. In addition to contributing much to society in various ways, the best candidate for person of the century should also have had struggles and experiences that they overcame or went through and from which they learned. Winston Churchill is the person who contributed the most to society during the twentieth century and made it what it is today.
Throughout his life, like other good candidates for person of the century, Winston Churchill had many struggles and experiences that he overcame and from which he learned. One of these major struggles had to do with his family, or more specifically, his parents. Winston was born into a rich and famous family of England. Both his father, Lord Randolph Churchill, and his mother, Lady Randolph Churchill (Jennie Jerome), were well known throughout England. Lord Randolph was a well-known member of Parliament and, because of his popularity, his wife was also well known. Like other well-known people at the time, Winston’s parents were often busy with political and social meetings and didn’t have time to care for him. Mrs. Everest, a nurse/nanny to Winston and his brother, Jack, took care of him as he grew up. As one author writes, “It was to her [Mrs. Everest] that Winston turned when in need, and he always remembered her with affection” (Bailey 8). It wasn’t that Winston wasn’t devoted to or didn’t admire his parents; they were just distant while growing up (8). Winston overcame the lack of love and attention from his parents by looking to Mrs. Everest as a parental figure, and he learned to be more independent, not being cared for much by his parents at such an early age.
Another struggle Winston had was his ongoing difficulty with school. When Winston was almost eight years old, he was sent to school at St. George’s in Ascot (Sandys 43). He was rarely interested in learning because of the methods used there to teach him. He, like most of the other boys, was often disobedient and mischievous. At the time in England, beating was an acceptable method of discipline (not only for misbehavior, but also for lack of knowledge), so Winston was often beaten cruelly (61). Mrs. Everest found out about Winston’s poor treatment, and, after she informed his parents, they transferred him to a school at Brighton. Winston was treated much better at this school and enjoyed it a bit more. This environment was much friendlier and allowed Winston to learn things that interested him (62). Eventually it was time for Winston to go on to public school at Harrow. When entering the school, he was required to take an exam. Since he did poorly on the entrance exams, he was put into the lowest level at the school (109).
Despite Winston’s troubles at school, he was able to overcome the less-than-perfect learning opportunities by working hard at school. When he was only fourteen, his interest in writing and military showed, when he wrote an eighteen-hundred word essay with six hand-drawn maps, describing a battle between Russia and Britain (Sandys 131). As Celia Sandys, Winston’s granddaughter, writes, the paper “describes the battle as seen through the eyes of Colonel Seymour, an aide-de-camp to the general officer commanding the British troops. Written in the first person, it is undoubtedly the youthful Winston’s fantasy of what he himself would have liked to experience” (161). After school at Harrow, it was decided that Winston would enter military school. This school, too, required entrance examinations. Although Winston did poorly on these, he learned to work hard, he matured, and he graduated near the top of his class (Sandys 176-179 and Bailey 12).
After military college, Churchill entered the army. Often, when he was on leave from the military, he would go to various war sites around the world, such as Cuba, as a journalist for London newspapers. After about four years of being in the army, Churchill resigned from it and turned more towards journalism and politics. In 1899, he ran for the Parliament seat for Oldham as a Conservative, but he lost. Soon after the election took place, the Boer War broke out in South Africa. Because of Churchill’s interest in the military and skill at writing, he was able to go to South Africa for a London newspaper (Microsoft Corporation 1). Soon after Churchill arrived in South Africa, he was asked to take a British armored train to the troubled area. On the way, the train was ambushed by a large number of Boers. Churchill immediately took charge of efforts to clear the tracks, but he ended up getting captured and was sent to a prisoner-of-war camp in South Africa. He soon got frustrated with all the restrictions put upon him since he was in prison, so he planned an escape. About four weeks after being captured, Churchill was able to get away. Six days later he boarded a train to East Africa, which took him a total of 300 miles to safety. After escaping, Churchill went back to South Africa in order to continue sending reports back to the newspaper. Throughout these challenging experiences, Churchill was further developing his ability to quickly take charge of things and also to be persistent. Not only was he able to help after the ambush, but he also didn’t give up after being captured (Bailey 20-22).
Although he was the son of a well-known politician, Churchill did not always succeed politically. As was stated, Churchill lost his first election. However, because of his feats in South Africa, he became much better known and was elected to the House of Commons. Although things didn’t always go perfectly for Churchill, he was still persistent and hard working. The people didn’t always like him, but he still worked his hardest to do what he believed was right for the country. Throughout his political career, he held every cabinet office except foreign minister (Microsoft Corporation 1-3).
The many hardships Churchill experienced while growing up and maturing only served to develop and strengthen his character. His qualities are part of what make him such a great candidate for person of the century, and they played a major part in his contributing to society. Churchill’s strongest quality was probably persistence. We see this being developed in his life especially during his experience in South Africa during the Boer War. Between World War I and World War II, Churchill’s persistence can be especially seen in his tenacious effort to oppose Hitler and his building up of the German military. Many Britons were worried about British affairs rather than world affairs, so they ignored Churchill for the most part. When the Prime Minister at that time was reelected, he didn’t give Churchill a cabinet office again, but that didn’t stop Churchill from letting the people know of the dangers of Hitler. Churchill persisted with his stand against Hitler and, soon after World War II began, the public lost its confidence in Chamberlain, the Prime Minister at the time. Then Churchill became Prime Minister; his persistence had paid off and he was finally able to help his country fight against Hitler (Microsoft Corporation 3-4).
During the time when Churchill was Prime Minister, he conveyed his persistence to the people in many of his speeches. In one speech, Churchill said, “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 yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy” (Famous Quotes… 4). This shows his persistence – not giving in to anything except to what is the right thing to do. In another speech, Churchill said, “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!” (5). This, too, shows Churchill’s perseverance and unwillingness to give up or give in to the Axis Powers (Germany, Italy, Japan).
Another quality Churchill had that helped him to contribute a lot to society and which made him a great candidate for person of the century is his intelligence. Although no one would have been able to measure Churchill’s intelligence accurately by looking at his education as a young boy, he was quite intelligent. As Encarta Encyclopedia puts it, “He was a precocious student and, like his father, had a remarkable memory, but he was also stubborn. By his own account, he considered himself such a dunce that he ‘could learn only English.’ However, he said, ‘I learned it thoroughly.’” (Microsoft Corporation 1). When Churchill was about 14 years old, he memorized and recited perfectly 1200 lines of Macaulay’s “Lays of Ancient Rome” (Sandys 117). He made use of his intelligence when he realized Hitler was up to no good, building up the German military. At the time, few people in Britain realized the importance of Churchill’s warnings (Microsoft Corporation 3-4).
A third quality Churchill had that helped him lead the country was his work ethic – he was a very hard-working man. During World War I, Churchill was made first lord of the admiralty and was told to prepare the navy for war. Encarta Encyclopedia says, “Churchill threw himself into this task.” (Microsoft Corporation 2). During World War II, when Churchill was Prime Minister, he took charge of every aspect of the British war effort (4). Both of these examples show Churchill’s hard work and dedication to his country.
In addition to having great qualities that make Churchill the best candidate for person of the century, he also had many abilities that helped him to contribute a lot to society. The first of these is his skillfulness in the area of politics. Churchill grew up around politics. As was stated, Churchill’s father was a politician. Churchill’s grandfather, 7th Duke of Marlborough, was also a politician. Not long after Churchill was born, his grandfather was appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and took Lord Randolph with him as his personal secretary. Lord Randolph’s family went with him, so Churchill spent his first five years in Ireland. Although Churchill’s parents didn’t give him much attention, he was still obviously around politics and influenced by it a lot while growing up (Bailey 8). Throughout his political career, Churchill held every important cabinet office, except foreign minister (Microsoft Corporation 1). This shows his strong ability to be a leader in the government and to be a good politician. Although not always supported by the people and other politicians, Churchill continued doing what he believed was the best for not only the country, but also for the world.
One of Churchill’s strongest abilities was most likely his leadership ability. Prior to World War I, Churchill took charge of the navy, as first lord of the admiralty. He headed up the development of heavier guns, faster battleships, and naval aviation. In July of 1914, as signs of coming war were more and more common, Churchill lead the navy in a test to see how prepared it was for war. After that, he ordered the fleet to remain ready for war. A few months later, after the war had begun, Churchill could see that the war equipment they had at the time – barbed wire and machine guns – would not be enough to bring an end to the war, so he began heading up the development of tanks. His leadership in the war helped bring it to an end sooner because of all the knowledge he used that he’d learned in military school. He was able to encourage and head up the development of new weapons, which helped the war end sooner (Microsoft Corporation 3).
The most important factor in determining who the person of the century should be is what they contributed to society during their life. These contributions are really just examples of how the person of the century used their qualities and abilities. Winston Churchill used his qualities and abilities – persistence, intelligence, hard work ethic, political skill, and leadership – to aid him in his stand against Hitler. World War II began in September 1939 with the German invasion of Poland. Britain and France, in turn, declared war on Germany. Later in the war, the US and USSR joined Britain and France. Chamberlain, the Prime Minister when World War II first began, appointed Churchill as the first lord of the admiralty, and, as in World War I, he focused especially on building up the navy, more specifically, antisubmarine warfare, showing his hard work ethic, intelligence, and his leadership (Microsoft Corporation 4).
Eight months after the beginning of World War II, Germany attacked Norway. The confidence of British citizens was no longer in Chamberlain, and he resigned. On May 10, 1940, when Churchill became Prime Minister, unlike Chamberlain, he took command over every aspect of the war, portraying his hard work ethic (Microsoft Corporation 4). In his first speech to the House of Commons, he said, “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil tears, and sweat.” (4). Churchill’s strong leadership ability came into play not only in this speech, but also in his many other motivating speeches. Churchill skillfully brought the country together and united the people of different political parties through his motivating speeches (4). In one speech, Churchill told the people, “Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, This was their finest hour.” (Famous Quotes… 2). This speech was given not long after France had lost their country to Germany and many British people’s spirits were down because they thought Hitler would take over England next. In this powerful speech, as well as in the many others Churchill made during World War II, he used his strong background in the English language to motivate the soldiers to fight for the country and the people to not lose hope, and to unite all the people of the country (2). It was especially important to do so because of all the different political parties who didn’t always agree. Churchill was able to bring people from all political parties together as one nation to fight against Hitler.
Not only was Churchill able to unite his country, but, as a world leader, he was also able to unite other powerful countries to take a stand against Hitler. Before the US officially got involved in the war, Churchill wrote Franklin D. Roosevelt, letting him know the need for naval and aeronautical equipment. Although the US was supposedly neutral, it was able to give and sell equipment to Britain. When Hitler’s army invaded the Soviet Union, Churchill sent supplies to help them out. He was so against Hitler that he was willing to help the Soviet Union, a Communist country, defend themselves from Hitler. Once the US joined the war, Churchill talked with Roosevelt often. They decided to combine their efforts and concentrate on defeating Hitler. At first, Churchill made most of the decisions regarding the combined war effort, but, as the United States became more powerful, it began making more and more decisions. Towards the end of the war, Churchill realized Stalin wanted to take over countries in Eastern Europe, but Roosevelt didn’t heed Churchill’s warnings; he was more concerned about working with Stalin to keep peace after the war. Again, in this case, Churchill was able to analyze what was occurring and predict what might happen (Microsoft Corporation).
After World War II, an election was held in Britain. Although he lost his position as Prime Minister, Churchill remained a Member of Parliament and was able to continue contributing to society. He remained quite involved with world affairs and he was the Leader of the Opposition. In a speech he made at Westminster College in Missouri, Churchill discussed the friendship between the United States and Britain, but he also mentioned the potential danger of the spread of Russian ideas of communism. He first coined the term ‘Iron Curtain’ in this speech – “A shadow had fallen upon the scenes so lately lighted by the Allied victory…From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in 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 Sofia…” (Bailey 59). These words Churchill spoke eventually influenced the formation of NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization) (59).
Churchill’s life began slowing down – he had more time to relax and enjoy his favorite personal activities. During much of his life painting was a hobby of his, and he now had much more time for this. He also had lots of time to write. He wrote a six-volume work about World War II, entitled, The Second World War. Right before his 77th birthday, Churchill became Prime Minister again. In October that year, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Churchill’s health slowly began declining. Two years before resigning as Prime Minister, he suffered a stroke. A few months after Churchill’s 90th birthday, he died. People from all over the world paid tribute to him for all he had done for society (Bailey 60-63).
Sir Winston Churchill fits the perfect description for man of the century. He used the abilities and qualities to not only lead England (and the other Allies) in a defeat against Hitler, but also prevent civilization from becoming to a more evil civilization, tainted with the evil of Hitler.
Bailey, Eva. Churchill. East Sussex: Wayland Publishers Limited, 1981.
“Famous Quotes & Stories of Winston Churchill.” (Online). Available http://www.winstonchurchill.org/bonmots.htm, May 12, 2001.
Microsoft Corporation. “Churchill, Sir Winston Leonard Spencer.” 2000. Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia 2000. CD-ROM.
Sandys, Celia. The Young Churchill: The Early Years of Winston Churchill. United States of America: Dutton, 1995.