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Sunday, 13 April 2014

Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill was born two months prematurely on November 30, 1874, in a bedroom in Blenheim Palace (see below), the 21,000 acre estate of the Dukes of Marlborough. Winston was born after his mother slipped and fell while out walking at Blenheim Palace


His father was Lord Randolph Churchill (1849-95), a descendant of the Duke of Marlborough and a prominent Tory MP (Secretary of State for India 1885, Chancellor of Exchequer 1886).

Churchill had a distant relationship with his father, despite keenly following his career. Once, in 1886, he is reported to have proclaimed "My daddy is Chancellor of the Exchequer and one day that's what I'm going to be."

Churchill's mother was American Jenny Jerome, who was a significant politician, writer and socialiser. A thrice married beauty, she was 1/8th Iroquois and had a permanent snake-like bracelet tattooed on her wrist.

As a child, he was a chunky explosive redhead, hyperactive and naughty.

Churchill, aged seven, in 1881

He  had the same governess, Miss Hutchinson, as Clement Attlee.

Winston was very close to his nurse (nannie), Mrs. Elizabeth Everest (nicknamed "Woom" by Churchill), and was deeply saddened when she died.

As per tradition, Churchill spent much of his childhood at boarding schools, including Harrow. He was rarely visited by his mother, whom he worshipped, despite his letters begging her to either come or let his father permit him to come home.

The dyslexic Churchill entered Harrow as rock bottom student and stayed in the lowest grades at school "three times longer than anyone else." He enjoyed literature and history but detested languages and maths.

Churchill did become Harrow's fencing champion.

In 1893, on his third attempt, Churchill  passed the entrance exam and enrolled in the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. He entered the college near the bottom of the intake of cadets but when he graduated two years later he was ranked eighth out of 150 in his class. He got interested in politics there.

Churchill had an incredible memory and could repeat verbatim a lecture or a play.

Churchill has had a history of illness and injury starting from the age of ten when he nearly died of pneumonia. At the age of 18 playing tag he fell 30 feet of a bridge at Alum Chine, Bournemouth into a gorge and was unconscious for three days. A year later he nearly drowned whilst swimming with a brother in a Swiss lake. At the age of 20 he escaped death by seconds when in Cuba as a military observer a bullet smashed into the seat he had left a few moments before.

Early in his life, Churchill briefly worked as a greeting card designer for Hallmark.

Winston joined the British Army, in 1893 as Sub lieutenant in 4th (Queens Own) Hussars.

 He spent first three months of leave in 1895 as correspondent in Cuba for the London Daily Graphic.

In 1896, he was transferred to Bombay, in what was the Indian Empire (British India) where he joined the Punjab Infantry Regiment in India.

Churchill was considered one of the best polo players in his Indian regiment and led his team to many prestigious tournament victories.

Churchill served as a Cavalry officer in Sudan in 1898 where he fought in the Battle of Omdurman under the command of Kitchener. (The last classic cavalry charge in British warfare) having originally been the first man to sight his rival Khalifra's army. He was decorated for bravery after Sudan.

Churchill was The Morning Post's war correspondent during the Boer War. In 1899 he made an escape from prison camp in Pretoria, hiding in a mine shaft for three days .

After his escape from a prisoner of war camp during the Boer War, Churchill had a £25 reward dead or alive placed on his head.

Winston had a younger brother John, who served in the South African Light Horse alongside him in the Second Boer War between 1899 and 1900. John was Mentioned in Dispatches.

After the success of his journalism Churchill  resigned from his army commission in 1900 and took up writing as a full time profession along with politics.

Churchill made his first political speech in the grounds of the manor house at Chaverton, Avon in 1898.

In 1900 Churchill was elected MP for Oldham as a Conservative

In 1901 he made his maiden speech in Parliament establishing himself as a trouble shooter and inspirational figure.

Churchill had problems pronouncing his "S's".

A freemason, Churchill was initiated to the Studholme Lodge in 1902.

Churchill switched to the Liberal party in 1904 over the free trade issue.

In 1905 Churchill gained his first ministry position when he became Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies, dealing mainly with South Africa after the Boer War.

5' 7" (1.70 m), the red-headed Churchill had a snub nose and an anchor tattooed on his forearm.

Churchill proposed to the actress Ethel Barrymore when she was a young woman.. She refused him, but they remained friends.

On September 2, 1908, at the socially-desirable St. Margaret's, Westminster, Churchill married Clementine Hozier (1885-1977), a dazzling but largely penniless beauty whom he'd met at a dinner party that March.

They remained married for sixty years but several times they came close to divorce. She supported him tirelessly in his long and often difficult career.

Clementine Churchill in 1915

They had five children:
Diana Churchill, 1909-1963) She committed suicide at the age of 54 by taking an overdose of barbiturates.
Randolph Churchill (Randolph Frederick Edward), 1911-1968)  (who followed him into Parliament)
Sarah Churchill, (1914-1982)  an actress and dancer who co-starred with Fred Astaire in Royal Wedding.
Marigold Frances Churchill, (1918-1921). She died in early childhood of septicaemia.
Mary Churchill (Lady Mary Soames) (1922-), who has written a book on her parents.

In 1911 Churchill became First Lord of Admiralty. He introduced a bold programming of shipbuilding getting the Navy ready for the First World War.

Churchill his position as First Lord of the Admiralty after the 1915 massacre in the Dardanelles during World War 1 for which he was blamed .]

When Minister of Munitions during the latter part of the First World War,  Churchill would recite Siegfried Sassoon's anti war poems to his staff.

From 1922 Churchill lived at Chartwell, a modest Victorian house where he created with his own hands the garden walls, rockery and waterworks. He built one of the first private swimming pools in England there. Winston named it "cosy pig".

Churchill liked pigs and signed off letters with a picture of one as he felt cats thought humans beneath them, dogs thought humans above them but pigs never thought about it at all.

Churchill kept black swans in his Chartwell Lake. He also had  a huge menagerie of pelicans,  tropical fish, butterflies, dogs and cats.

Now a museum, the rooms at Chartwell  are kept furnished in the way they were during Churchill's lifetime.

Churchill was not a keen golfer as golf is "an ineffectual attempt to direct an uncontrollable sphere into an inaccessible hole with instruments ill adapted to the purpose."

He was a member of the Tuna club, in South California, the oldest fishing club in the USA.

Churchill formally rejoined the Conservative Party in 1924, commenting wryly that "anyone can rat, but it takes a certain ingenuity to re-rat.”

As Chancellor of the Exchequer, Churchill oversaw Britain's disastrous return to the Gold Standard, which resulted in deflation, unemployment, and the miners' strike that led to the General Strike of 1926. Churchill later regarded this as the greatest mistake of his life.

Churchill was Chancellor of the Exchequer during the General Strike. He proposed to force the striking miners back to work by cutting off poor relief to their wives and children.

During the 1930s a car crossing 5th Avenue in New York hit Churchill. He collapsed and was rushed to hospital with serious internal bleeding.

Churchill was under contract to London Films from 1934-39 as a film scriptwriter. Among his works was Conquest of Air (1938).

Winston Churchill was appointed British Prime Minister as head of an all-party administration in 1940.


After Hitler’s Nazis invaded France and Belgium, the British Army found itself  trapped in northern France standing alone against Germany. King George VI, acting upon the wishes of newspapers and a recommendation from Winston Churchill issued a call to the nation for a National Day of prayer.

Churchill liked theological imagery but was not a believer and he once quipped to a reporter who asked him if he supported the Church,  “I am not a pillar of the church but a buttress- I support it from the outside.

In 1942 Churchill told a group of mine-owners and mine workers delegates: “I sometimes have a feeling of interference. I want to stress that. I have a feeling that sometimes that some Guiding Hand has interfered. I have a feeling that we have a Guardian because we have a great Cause and we shall have that Guardian so long as we serve that Cause faithfully."

Churchill's talks on the radio during 1941/42 averaged 19 million English-speaking peoples.

Churchill always refused to travel on Friday the 13th.

He rarely traveled on public transport. One time Churchill rode round and round on The London underground Circle line and had to be helped off by a friend.

Churchill suffered from cyclothymia, a chronic disorder consisting of repetitive periods of mild depression followed by periods of normal or slightly elevated mood. So bad were Churchill's periods of depression, (he referred to them as his "black dog"), that he did not allow himself to stand at the edge of railway platforms or ship decks in case he decided to jump.

An insomniac, Churchill had twin beds and when he couldn't fall asleep in one he would move on top to the other one. He often didn’t go to bed until the early hours of the morning and when he could he didn’t rise until midday.

Churchill was in the habit of taking afternoon naps, which fueled his energy to keep him going until the small hours.

When Sir Winston was prime minister of England, he was stricken with pneumonia. Greatly concerned, the king summoned the best physician who could be found to the bedside of the ailing leader. That doctor was Sir Alexander Fleming, the developer of penicillin. He was also the son of  the gardener who had saved Winston from drowning as a boy. Later Churchill said, “Rarely has one man owed his life twice to the same person.”

Churchill drunk a lot of champagne, especially his favourite brand Pol Roger and had a seemingly enormous capacity for brandy. Such was his passion for it that the Nazi Goebbels caricatured him as a drunk.

The champagne house Pol Roger made a special one-pint bottle of champagne for Winston Churchill, to be served each morning at 11am.

Churchill was also a great port lover but would buy only Graham’s Six Grapes port.

Churchill has marathon drinking sessions, which usually started late and went onto the early hours of the following day. "When I was younger I made it a rule never to take strong drink before lunch. It is now my rule never to do so before breakfast." he quipped to King George VI.

Churchill’s mother, Jennie Jerome, invented the Manhattan Cocktail (whisky and sweet vermouth).

During the darkest hours of World War Two his spirits were often raised by the song "Keep Right to the End of the Road.”

Churchill watched the film Bambi during the Second World War to keep his morale up.

Churchill's favorite film was That Hamilton Lady (1942). He was also a great fan of the Marx Brothers.  His colleagues testified to their displeasure at the PM's habit of breaking off the evening works to watch the ritual movie and then expecting them to match his alertness and vigour until 3.00 in the morning.

Churchill had a parrot called Charlie who he brought in the 1930s and owned for 28 years. Charlie the Cursor, as he was known, was taught by Churchill a few swear words.

Churchill owned a a red-brown poodle called Rufus who shared his breakfast with Winston's parakeet, Charlie and the great man himself.

Rufus was Churchill’s constant companion during World War II. Sadly Rufus was run over in 1947. Following this misfortune, a Sunday newspaper reported that Moira Abbott of Uxbridge had offered Churchill one of her bulldogs as a replacement, but she was informed that if Mr Churchill has another dog, it would be a poodle again.

When Winston Churchill moved into 10 Downing Street his black cat Nelson kicked the previous Prime Minister Neville Chamberlian's cat, Munich, out of the house.

Nelson sat in a chair, next to Churchill  in both the cabinet and dining rooms. He was named after Lord Nelson.

Churchill was on a salary of £10,000 pa in 1943.


The Labour Party won the United Kingdom general election of July 5, 1945 by a landslide, removing Winston Churchill from power. The results were counted and declared on July 26, 1945. owing in part to the time it took to transport the votes of those serving overseas.

When the Conservatives lost the 1945 General Election, Churchill, in consolation, was offered an honor by the crown. His reaction, "How can I take the order of the bath from his majesty when the electorate has given me the order of the boot."

When his wife commented it could be a blessing in disguise losing the 1945 General Election, Churchill commented it seemed quite effectively disguised.

Churchill delivered his "Sinews of Peace" speech to a crowd of 40,000 people at Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri, USA on March 5, 1946. During his address he introduced the world to the notion of an ‘ Iron Curtain’ dividing the Soviet Union and the West. ("From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an iron curtain has descended across the Continent").

Churchill was voted Time Magazine Man of the Half Century in 1950.

A prolific historical writer, Churchill won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953.  He was allegedly disappointed that it wasn't the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to prevent the Cold War between the East and West from deteriorating into nuclear conflict.

His first book was a successful account of skirmishes in the North West frontier

Churchill published his only novel Savrola in 1900, a reasonable success, it made him £2,000.

He received an advance of £8,000 from Macmillans for his 1906 biography of his father, the equivalent of £350,000 today.

When an editor criticized Churchill for ending a sentence with a preposition, Churchill replied with a note "This is the sort of English up with which I will not put."

Winston Churchill became UK prime minister for the second time at nearly 77-years-old on October 26, 1951.

Churchill suffered a stroke in 1953 during his second spell of Prime Minister, which was covered up. He was advised to retire by a consultant neurologist after an earlier stroke four years previously but he kept  working, as his personal physician believed it was his duty to help to keep him in politics for as long as possible.

Churchill turned to the amphetamine Benzedrine to preserve his failing powers in his last couple of years in his second spell as Prime Minister.  However a mixture of old age, pressure of work, prolonged alcoholic abuse and excessive use of sedatives bought on arteriosclerosis and rendered him almost incapable of carrying out his duties.

Sir Winston Churchill resigned as Prime Minister due to ill-health aged 80 on April 5, 1955. Anthony Eden succeeded him.

A photographer who had been photographing Churchill on his 80th birthday said politely he hoped to photograph him on his 100th. " Don't see why not young man" said Churchill "you look reasonably young to me."

Winston Churchill was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II on April 24, 1953. She also invested him with the insignia of the Order of the Garter, the oldest British Order of Chivalry.

Churchill with his son Randolph and grandson in the ceremonial robes of the Order of the Garter

Winston Churchill became the first person ever to be made an honorary US citizen in 1963.

Churchill finally stood down as a MP at the 1964 general election. He was 89-years old.

Churchill spent spent most of his retirement at Chartwell and his London home, 28 Hyde Park Gate, Kensington. He devoted his last years to painting and writing.

At the age of 40 Churchill  discovered a talent for painting and from then on when his spirits needed lifting he would dip his paintbrush into his oils and be as contented as a caterpillar in a cabbage patch.

Churchill liked painting landscapes "because no tree has ever complained about its likeness." He could paint landscapes best and he used gaudy paints as he liked bright colors.

During a painting expedition in Morocco Churchill found the place he wanted which he had the best view of the landscape. The middle of the village's communal lavatory!

Churchill's hobby earned him an invitation to become a member of the Royal Academy.

Salvador Dali in 1949 declared Winston to be "The most amazing painter to come from England where there are no painters."

The exhibition of Churchill's paintings in 1958 at the Metropolitan Museum of art in New York attracted 147,750 visitors, a museum record.

When he reached Heaven Churchill said he intended to spend a considerable proportion of his first million years painting "so get to the bottom of the subject."

In 1963, by Act of Congress, Churchill was bestowed with honorary U.S. citizenship, the first recipient since Lafayette. He was too infirm to travel to Washington DC to receive the honor in person.



During his last years Churchill owned a ginger cat called Jock who ate with him and slept with him. He was mentioned in his will.  Churchill used to refer to Jock as his special assistant.

Churchill once quipped “I am ready to meet my maker. Whether my maker is prepared for the ordeal of meeting me is another matter.”

On January 15, 1965 Churchill suffered another stroke — a severe cerebral thrombosis — that left him gravely ill. He died nine days later at his Hyde Park Gate home, on January 24, 1965, 70 years to the day of his father's death.

His ginger cat Jock was reported to be on the bed with his master on the day Churchill died.

His body lay in State in Westminster Hall for three days and a state funeral service was held at St Paul's Cathedral on January 30, 1965. It was the first state funeral for a non royal family member since that of Field Marshal Lord Roberts of Kandahar in 1914.

It was Churchill's wish that, were French President Charles de Gaulle to outlive him, his (Churchill's) funeral procession should pass through Waterloo Station.

The state funeral was the largest gathering of dignitaries in Britain as representatives from over 100 countries attended it, including de Gaulle, other heads of state and government, and members of royalty. It also saw largest assemblage of statesmen in the world until the funeral of Pope John Paul II in 2005.


The five hour burial ceremony was watched by 350 million (mainly on TV).

At Churchill's request, he was buried in the family plot at Saint Martin's Churchyard, Bladon, near Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England, not far from his birthplace at Blenheim.

Churchill's grave at St Martin's Church, Bladon

Churchill always sat at Table no 4 at the Savoy Grill. After he'd passed away they prohibited other diners sitting there for a year as a tribute to the great statesman.

Churchill had a posthumous hit LP The Voice of Churchill, which got to #6 in the 1965 UK album charts.

The Pogues' 1985 album Sodomy and the Lash derived its title from Winston Churchill's description of the British naval tradition.

Churchill was voted as "The Greatest Briton" in 2002 "100 Greatest Britons" poll sponsored by the BBC and voted for by the public.

His daughter Mary wrote to him on his death bed. 'I owe you what every Englishman, woman and child owes you - liberty itself.'

Sources The Book of Lists 2 5,000 Amazing Gems of Wit and Wisdom, The Fine Art of Political Wit Faber Book of Anecdotes, Daily Express
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