On this day in history….10th May 1940

On this day in history : 10th May 1940 – Winston Churchill becomes Prime Minister following the resignation of Neville Chamberlain – after losing a confidence vote in the House of Commons….

Winston Churchill – Public domain

In 1938 Chamberlain had signed the Munich Agreement with Adolf Hitler, handing over the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia to Germany…. In doing so Chamberlain claimed it would bring “peace in our time”…. However, in September 1939 Germany invaded Poland and in return Chamberlain declared war on Germany….

Under the direction of Chamberlain Britain proved ineffective at stopping Hitler – and when British forces were unable to prevent the German occupation of Norway in April 1940, with the loss of some 4,000 British troops, Chamberlain was to face the withdrawal of support from many members of his own Conservative party…. On the 10th of May Germany invaded France, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands – and Chamberlain completely lost the confidence of the House of Commons….

Chamberlain as Prime Minister – Public domain

Initially Lord Halifax was offered the position of Prime Minister but was to decline…. So, with his track record of military leadership Winston Churchill was appointed Prime Minister…. Labour leader Clement Attlee had made it clear his party would not work with a coalition under Chamberlain – but Churchill was to form a successful coalition and quickly won the hearts and support of the nation…. “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat” ~ Winston Churchill in his first speech as Prime Minister….

Churchill with Lord Halifax 1938 – Public domain

Chamberlain served briefly under Churchill in the War Cabinet as Lord President of the Council, until retiring through ill-health in October 1940…. He died the following month of cancer….

On this day in history….1st April 1885

On this day in history : 1st April 1885 – The birth of Clementine Hozier – one day to become the wife of Winston Churchill, who said she had made – “My life and any work I have done possible”….

Clementine Churchill in 1915 – Library of Congress Prints & Photographs – Public domain

Clementine was legally the daughter of British army officer Sir Henry Hozier and his wife Lady Blanche Hozier…. However, Lady Blanche was well-known for her infidelities and so there has always been much uncertainty as to who Clementine’s actual father was, or indeed those of her sisters….

But these things often work both ways…. In 1891 Blanche’s husband caught her with one of her lovers and he sued for divorce…. But she managed to turn the tables on him by proving his own infidelities…. The warring couple separated but never divorced….

Blanche always claimed that Clementine’s father was Captain William George “Bay” Middleton, a notable British horseman and equerry to the 5th Earl Spencer, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland…. They had an 18 month long affair – however, he was reputedly sterile…. It could possibly in fact be that all of her children were fathered by her sister’s husband, Algernon Bertram Freeman-Mitford 1st Baron Redesdale – and who was grandfather to the Mitford sisters, who were famously in the public eye during the 1920s and 30s….

Clementine was deeply affected by the break up of her parents’ marriage – and this was intensified by the loss in March 1900 of her beloved eldest sister, Kitty, to typhoid…. Her mixed-up childhood wasn’t helped by her mother’s constant search to find the perfect love life….

Clementine was educated firstly at home, then in Edinburgh before attending Berkhamsted School and finally finishing at the Sorbonne in Paris…. When she was 18 she came to the attention of Sir Sidney Peel, nearly 15 years her senior and besotted with her…. They became secretly engaged…. Twice!

It was in 1904, when she was 19, that Clementine met her future husband, Winston Churchill, for the first time – whilst attending a ball at the home of the Earl and Countess of Crewe…. They were to meet again in 1908 at a dinner party held by Lady St.Helier…. After that they met again socially on several occasions over the following months – and exchanged correspondence…. On the 11th of August 1908, at a party held at Blenheim Palace, he proposed to her in the romantic setting of the summer house known as ‘The Temple of Diana’….

Temple of Diana – Blenheim Palace

Clementine and Winston were married on the 12th of September 1908 at St. Margaret’s, Westminster…. They honeymooned in Venice and at Veveri Castle, Moravia….and then made their home in Eccleston Square, London…. They went on to have five children:- Diana, Randolph, Sarah, Marigold (who died at the age of 2) and Mary….

Winston Churchill and Clementine Hozier shortly before their marriage – Public domain

Theirs was a strong marriage- although they had their ‘moments’…. Clementine had no fear of her husband – as strong a character as he was – she would stand up to him, challenging his views both on personal and political matters…. She adopted more Liberal ideals….but she would never question his views in public….

Sometimes they would have flaming rows and she would display her fiery temper…. However, it was usually Winston who extended the olive branch – as he believed the sun should never set before they had made their peace…. He sometimes referred to Clementine as “She-whose-commands-must-be-obeyed”….

Winston and Clementine in 1915 – The New York Times Current History of the European World – Public domain

But Clementine was always at her husband’s side, supporting him and helping him…. His Chief of Staff, General ‘Pug’ Ismay said that without her ~ “the history of Winston Churchill and of the world would have been a very different story”….

Winston and Clementine, 25th September 1940, on board a naval auxiliary patrol vessel during a visit to the London Docks – From the collections of the Imperial War Museums

On this day in history….20th August 1940

On this day in history : 20th August 1940 – The speech “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few” was made by Prime Minister Winston Churchill….

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Winston Churchill, British Prime Minister, giving a V sign in 1943 – British Government, public domain

It was in recognition of the efforts of the Royal Air Force, who were in the midst of the ongoing Battle of Britain, fighting against the German Luftwaffe – as Britain was anticipating an imminent invasion….

Churchill had apparently first said the words during a visit to the No.11 Group RAF Operations Room – during a particularly harrowing day of battle; it was an experience he found emotionally moving…. He was then to use the words as a basis for his House of Commons speech, in an attempt to inspire the Country…. He pointed out that although in the previous months the Allies had seen monumental defeats, the situation now was much better…. He was right, not long after Britain had won the Battle – the first major defeat of the Luftwaffe….

To this day, pilots who fought in the Battle of Britain are known as ‘The Few’….

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HM Stationery Office – Public domain

On this day in history….14th August 1941

On this day in history : 14th August 1941 – Prime Minister Winston Churchill and American President Franklin D Roosevelt sign the Atlantic Charter, laying out their plans for a post-war world….

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Winston Churchill’s edited copy of the final draft of the Charter – Churchill blue, public domain

The announcement ended speculation as to the whereabouts of the Prime Minister, who had noticeably been absent from the House of Commons for a number of days…. Similarly Roosevelt had done a disappearing act too, along with several other top officials…. The pair had been involved in secret talks onboard American Cruiser USS Augusta and British Battleship HMS Prince of Wales, in Placentia Bay, Newfoundland…. A joint declaration had been made setting out the basic principles for after the war had ended….sealing an alliance between Britain and America….in anticipation of Hitler’s downfall….

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Franklin D Roosevelt and Winston Churchill aboard HMS Prince of Wales in 1941 – US Navy, public domain

The Charter had eight main objectives:- that Britain and America seek no territorial gains from war and any change to a country’s territory had to be with the agreement of its people…. Nationals would also have the right to choose their own government….with self-government being restored to those countries that had already lost it…. There was to be free trade for all nations – with improvement to economies and to living standards…. The aim was for peace at the end of the Nazi tyranny and for freedom of movement around the world….the belief being that aggressive nations must be disarmed to ensure world peace….

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Printed version – Winston Churchill, public domain

As it stood the Charter was to lay foundations for granting independence to Britain’s own Empire….starting with Indian Independence Day in 1947….

On this day in history….19th July 1941

On this day in history : 19th July 1941 – Winston Churchill adopts the ‘V for Victory’ hand sign – after referring to the Victory campaign, which had spread through Europe, with approval in a speech….

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Winston Churchill, British Prime Minister, giving a V sign in 1943 – British Government, public domain

On January the 14th 1941 Victor de Lavelaye, former Belgian Minister of Justice and director of the Belgian French-language broadcasts on the BBC (1940-44) suggested that Belgians adopt a ‘V’ for ‘Victoire’ – in an attempt to raise morale during World War 2…. In a BBC broadcast de Lavelaye claimed “the occupier, by seeing this sign, always the same, infinitely repeated, would understand that he is surrounded, encircled by an immense crowd of citizens eagerly waiting his first moment of weakness, watching for his first failure”…. Within weeks chalked ‘V’ signs were appearing on walls across Northern France, Belgium and the Netherlands….

The BBC started a ‘V for Victory’ campaign….with assistant news editor Douglas Ritchie taking on the persona of ‘Colonel Britton’…. Ritchie suggested the BBC should use an audio ‘V’ – using the dot-dot-dot-dash Morse Code for the letter ‘V’…. Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony has the same rhythm – so this was used by the BBC as a call-sign for its foreign language broadcasts to occupied Europe for the rest of the War….

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American V for Victory campaign – showing the dot-dot-dot-dash of Morse Code – public domain

Churchill – and other allied leaders too – adopted the ‘V’ sign hand signal…. Sometimes Churchill gestured with a cigar between his fingers…. In the beginning he used the sign with his palm facing towards him – and his Aides had to explain to him what this version meant! So, later he used it with his palm facing out…. However, one can’t help thinking that perhaps it was his misuse that made it so popular….

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Churchill, initially unaware of the meaning of this particular gesture! – War Office official photographer, Horton (Capt.) – Public domain