8 Facts you never knew about Winston Churchill

Winston Chrchill
Believe it or not, many British school children have absolutely no idea who Winston Churchill was. In surveys, conducted a few years ago, one in three primary school children thought that Churchill was the first man to walk on the moon, a fifth of British teenagers thought he was a fictional character, while yet others were convinced that he was the animated dog from a well-known British TV advertisement!

So, while you can’t possibly do full justice to such an important character from British History, in such a short article, here is a brief biography of Winston Churchill, for those British children who appear to have slept through every history lesson they ever attended. And, for those who do have a slightly better grasp of British history, there are also some fascinating facts about Churchill that you may not have known!

Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill, aged seven, in 1881
Source: By British Government [Public domain]
Winston Churchill 1874 - 1965
Winston Churchill was born at Blenheim Palace on 30th November 1874 into the family of the Dukes of Marlborough. His father was a famous Conservative politician of the time, Lord Randolph Churchill and his mother was an American socialite, Jennie Jerome.

As a child, Churchill had very limited contact with his parents and was, in fact, much closer to his nanny, Elizabeth Ann Everest, with whom he spent much of his time. He was educated at three different schools, the last one being Harrow, and he had a generally poor academic record.

He left Harrow in 1893 and joined the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, after three attempts at passing the entrance exam. During Churchill’s military career, he served in India, Cuba, Sudan, and South Africa and it was during this time that he first came to the public’s attention as war correspondent for several newspapers. Churchill also served, for a few months, with the Royal Scots Fusiliers on the Western Front in the First World War.
Churchill in uniform, 1895Source: [Public domain]
Winston Churchill was first elected to Parliament in 1900 and through his long parliamentary career, he held many different posts before he was elected Prime Minister in 1940, the wartime role for which he is most remembered.

Although some people do question the importance of the part that Winston Churchill played in Britain standing firm against Nazi Germany, most historians agree that his leadership and motivational speeches did indeed play a vital role in bolstering the morale of his country, particularly when Britain were the last country left fighting.

What cannot be debated is that Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill was one of the greatest political figures of the twentieth century who will probably always be thought of as the embodiment of Britishness.

Churchill’s Conservative government lost the 1945 general election, but Churchill was re-elected Prime Minister in 1951 and he served until 1955. Throughout his life, Churchill had battled with what he called “The black dog” of depression and in his later years, he suffered a series of strokes.

Winston Churchill suffered a severe stroke on the 15th January 1965 and he died nine days later at the age of 90. He was honoured with what was the largest state funeral that had ever been held at that point in time, which was attended by the representatives of over a hundred nations and watched on television by an estimated 350 million people in Europe.

Churchill could have been buried at Westminster Abbey, but, instead, he was buried in a quiet churchyard of Blaydon, which is near to his birthplace of Blenheim Palace.

“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 in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”

8 Facts you never knew about Winston Churchill

1. Churchill wasn’t a very good student
Despite the fact that he led Britain to victory in the Second World War, Winston Churchill was certainly not a good student. He was, in fact, pretty poor at all subjects apart from English and history. His worst subject was foreign languages and he once left a Latin test having left only a ‘blot and several smudges’ on his test paper.

His early military career was less than spectacular too. He failed the entrance exams for Sandhurst Military college twice before finally getting in with the aid of extra tuition from a military tutor and by entering for the cavalry, rather than the more difficult to achieve, infantry examinations.

2. Churchill was voted out of office before WWII had ended
It didn’t take long for the British public’s mind to return to domestic issues, once it became clear that Second World War was coming to an end. Winston Churchill and his Conservative government were voted out of power in July 1945. This was after Germany had surrendered, but, before Japan did. Churchill’s response to his landslide defeat was; “That is democracy. That is what we have been fighting for.” He regained his position as prime minister in 1951 and retained it for three and half further years until he was forced to resign due to ill health.

Winston Churchill giving his famous 'V' sign -May 1940
Source: By British Government [Public domain]
3. Churchill was probably alcohol dependant
There is debate as to whether he was, or was not an alcoholic, but there is no doubt that he loved a drink. He certainly drank heavily with meals and was even known to take an alcoholic drink with breakfast. He also held some pretty firm views on alcohol and he referred to the introduction of prohibition in the United States as “an affront to the whole history of mankind.” He also said, when told that, for religious reasons, he would not be able to drink in the presence of the King of Saudi Arabia; “my religion prescribed an absolute sacred rite smoking cigars and drinking alcohol before, after, and if need be during all meals and the intervals between them.”

4. Churchill won a Nobel Prize for Literature
Winston Churchill was an accomplished writer and he published many works including a novel, his memoirs, two biographies and a number of history books. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1953 for his work.

5. Churchill was either clumsy or extremely unlucky
The great man suffered a whole string of accidents in his lifetime, many of which could have brought his life to an early end. He fell from his horse on numerous occasions and on several of these occasions he dislocated his shoulder. He was hit by a car in New York, when he looked the wrong way for oncoming traffic. He ruptured a kidney and suffered concussion after jumping off a bridge for a joke, and he once almost drowned in a lake in Switzerland.

6. Churchill escaped prison during the Boer War
Winston Churchill was serving as a military officer and war correspondent in the Boer War in 1899 when the train he was travelling on was ambushed and he was captured. He made a daring escape from prison by scaling the prison wall and later hiding in a mine-shaft for three days. The British mine worker who had been aiding him, then helped Churchill to escape to Mozambique, hidden in a rail truck after which, he quickly returned to the front.

7. Churchill was half American
Often portrayed as all things British, Winston Churchill was actually half American. In fact, the heritage on both sides of his family was impressive. Churchill’s father, Lord Randolph Churchill, was a descendant of the Dukes of Marlborough, his grandmother was related to George Washington and Churchill’s mother was the daughter of the American Millionaire Leonard Jerome. Churchill was also the first person ever to be granted honorary American citizenship.

8. Churchill was also an artist
As well as being a writer, Churchill was also a prolific artist and he painted just less than six hundred separate works. It is said that Churchill took up painting as a relief from the pressures of work and it did take him a while to master the art. Even though some his paintings may not be classed as masterpieces, one of his paintings, ‘Goldfish Pool at Chartwell’, recently sold at auction in 2006 for nearly £1.8m.

Churchill waves to crowds , 8 May 1945
Source: By British Government [Public domain]
Winston Churchill – Britain’s war time Prime Minister
On the day that Winston Churchill became Prime Minister in 1940, Germany invaded Belgium, France, The Netherlands and Luxembourg. From that moment on, Britain faced the biggest test of its history and it was Winston Churchill that saw the country through the war including the Blitz, Dunkirk and the Battle of Brattain.

It wasn’t just his stirring speeches that made a difference, he was instrumental in much of the military planning and he also pulled together the allied countries of Russia and the United States.

Who knows, perhaps without Winston Churchill, the history books would now have been telling a very different story.

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