History

Winston Churchill, photographed by Cecil Beaton, at 10 Downing Street, London, in 1940.

Winston Churchill

Sir Winston Churchill was a British prime minister and statesman who led the country to victory against Nazi Germany and the Axis powers in World War Two.


Photo: Winston Churchill, photographed by Cecil Beaton, at 10 Downing Street, London, in 1940. (IWM MH 26392)

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The Battle of Britain
The Battle of Britain

Introduction

Winston Churchill, photographed by Cecil Beaton, at 10 Downing Street, London, in 1940.
Winston Churchill

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More information about: Winston Churchill

Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill was born on 30 November 1874 at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire. His father was the prominent Tory politician, Lord Randolph Churchill. Churchill attended the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, before embarking on an army career. He saw action on the North West Frontier of India and in the Sudan. While working as a journalist during the Boer War he was captured and made a prisoner-of-war before escaping.

In 1900, Churchill became Conservative member of parliament for Oldham. But he became disaffected with his party and in 1904 joined the Liberal Party. When the Liberals won the 1905 election, Churchill was appointed undersecretary at the Colonial Office. In 1908 he entered the Cabinet as president of the Board of Trade, becoming home secretary in 1910. The following year he became first lord of the Admiralty. He held this post in the first months of World War One but after the disastrous Dardanelles expedition, for which he was blamed, he resigned. He joined the army, serving for a time on the Western Front. In 1917, he was back in government as minister of munitions. From 1919 to 1921 he was secretary of state for war and air, and from 1924-1929 was chancellor of the exchequer.

The next decade were his 'wilderness years', in which his opposition to Indian self-rule and his support for Edward VIII during the 'Abdication Crisis' made him unpopular, while his warnings about the rise of Nazi Germany and the need for British rearmament were ignored. When war broke out in 1939, Churchill became first lord of the Admiralty. In May 1940, Neville Chamberlain resigned as prime minister and Churchill took his place. His refusal to surrender to Nazi Germany inspired the country. He worked tirelessly throughout the war, building strong relations with US President Roosevelt while maintaining a sometimes difficult alliance with the Soviet Union.

Churchill lost power in the 1945 post-war election but remained leader of the opposition, voicing apprehensions about the Cold War (he popularised the term 'Iron Curtain') and encouraging European and trans-Atlantic unity. In 1951, he became prime minister again. He resigned in 1955, but remained an MP until shortly before his death. As well as his many political achievements, he left a legacy of an impressive number of publications and in 1953 won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Churchill died on 24 January 1965 and was given a state funeral.

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