Rt Hon Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill (1874-1965) was Britain’s greatest 20th century Prime Minister. He served twice, first from 1940 to 1945 when his fortitude, eloquent speechmaking and iron resolve never to surrender to the Nazi regime steered Britain to victory in World War Two. Churchill’s second term was served between 1951 and 1955 making him the first Prime Minister to advise HM Queen Elizabeth II. Churchill remains one of the most famous Britons in the world and has the distinction of being the first person in history to be made an honorary citizen of the USA.

Churchill’s father Lord Randolph was the third son of the 7th Duke of Marlborough. He was a charismatic Tory politician and a controversial figure in London high society for his questionable conduct towards his erstwhile friend the Prince of Wales (the future Edward VII). His mother was an American beauty christened Jennie Jerome. Both Lord and Lady Randolph Churchill kept accounts at Henry Poole & Co. Neither parent was particularly attentive to the young Winston over and above giving him an allowance that was insufficient thus forcing the young soldier who served in British India, the Sudan and in the Second Boer War in Africa to work as a war correspondent to supplement his income.

In his early career as a Tory politician, Winston Churchill was a controversial figure unpopular with the leadership who questioned his judgment when he opposed Indian Home Rule and supported King Edward VIII during the Abdication Crisis. The 1930s were known as Churchill’s ‘Wilderness Years’ when he was deprived of power and largely ridiculed as an alarmist for his vocal criticism of Adolph Hitler’s Nazi regime in Germany and his call to re-arm the British Army, Navy and Air Force. His reputation had not recovered from the disastrous decision to engage in combat in Gallipoli (with catastrophic loss of life) during World War One.

History proved Churchill correct and following the resignation of Prime Minister Neville ‘peace in our time’ Chamberlain, Churchill was invited to form a government. He became known for his strident speeches to galvanise the British populace who stood alone against the Nazis. Considering he was born with a lisp and a stutter, this was a great achievement. His words are some of the most powerful rhetoric ever quoted: ‘I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat’ and his great call to arms ‘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 streets, we shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender’.

The Prime Minister famously fought with depression; the ‘Black Dog’ that he taught to walk to heel by drinking a silver tankard of Pol Roger every morning, painting and somewhat bizarrely bricklaying at his country estate, Chartwell. He married Clementine Hozier in 1908, a woman Churchill relied upon for her intelligence, intuition and fortitude. Clementine Churchill tolerated her husband’s remarkable capacity for alcohol but criticised his excessive fondness for Romeo & Julietta Cuban cigars. Like many a manic depressive, Churchill had a wicked sense of humour. When Lady Astor famously said ‘if I was your wife I would poison your drink’, Churchill replied, ‘if I was your husband, I would drink it’.

It was something of a shock to Churchill that he was voted out of power in the same year that Victory in Europe was declared. He was returned to No 10 Downing Street in 1951 but retired due to increasingly fragile health four years later. The Queen offered Churchill the title Duke of London which he declined but he did accept the honour of being made a Knight of the Garter. When he died in 1965 aged ninety-years old, Her Majesty commanded that Churchill be given a full State Funeral at St Paul’s Cathedral: an honour previously conferred on national heroes such as Admiral Lord Nelson and the 1st Duke of Wellington.

Churchill’s patronage of Henry Poole predated World War Two. As Henry Poole & Co: A History author Stephen Howarth writes ‘in addition to civilian clothes, Churchill ordered from Poole’s his formal apparel as the Under Secretary of State for the Colonies, a Privy Councillor, President of the Board of Trade, Home Secretary, First Lord of the Admiralty, Secretary of State for War, Chancellor of the Exchequer and an Elder Brother of Trinity House. He was particularly proud of this last uniform, and often wore it as Prime Minister during the Second World War; by then, though, he was no longer a client. His last order had been minor – repairing a Trinity House uniform in April 1937 for five guineas and renovating a yachting cap in May 1937 at a cost of seventeen shillings and sixpence. But his outstanding bill amounted to nearly £197, and a clerk in the company counting house wrote to him so frequently to Number 10 Downing Street about the arrears that, like the Prince of Wales before him, he took umbrage and quit. But unlike the prince, he did not return’.

(c) James Sherwood

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