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This week we are celebrating the 80th anniversary of Churchill becoming Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and his famous first speech in the House of Commons.
Churchill was known for his military leadership ability and was appointed British prime minister as the replacement for Neville Chamberlain – who resigned after losing a confidence vote in the House of Commons. He formed an all-party coalition and quickly won the popular support of Britons.
We invite you to test your knowledge on Winston Churchill and his most famous speeches for your chance to win a £20 Amazon Voucher.
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Entries close 23:59 22 May 2020.
Enjoy Our Range of Programmes on Winston Churchill
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Churchill Subscriber Quiz - History
Roosevelt, who served as U.S. president from 1933-1945, tried to avoid U.S. involvement in World War II but changed course after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He partnered with Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and China to defeat Germany and its allies.
Born in 1929, Frank was 13 years old when she and her Jewish family were forced into hiding in the Netherlands to avoid Nazi persecution. They were discovered two years later and sent to concentration camps, where Frank died. After the war, her father published her diary, which has been read by millions of people.
Hitler ruled Germany from 1933 to 1945 and led the Nazi Party. He sought to reestablish Germany as a leading power in Europe by seizing land from other countries and eliminating European Jews. Hitler killed himself on April 30, 1945, after realizing he faced certain defeat.
As prime minister of Great Britain during World War II, Churchill gave powerful speeches and famously resisted tyranny. He is largely credited with Britain’s decision to ally with the United States and the Soviet Union--a strategy that helped end the war.
Supplemental resources that link to external websites about World War II
The National Archives' collection of more than 200 World War II photographs, organized by topic
The History Channel: World War II
Film footage, interactives, and articles related to the war
An interactive history of World War II told through artifacts and images
Terms and definitions that pertain to World War II
discrimination against Jews
a prison or place of forced labor often a general term that includes death camps specifically designed by the Nazis as mass killing centers during World War II
a part of a city in which members of a minority race or group live, usually in poor conditions
the mass slaughter of millions of Jews and other people by the Nazis during World War II
a place where enemies or suspected enemies are held
a member of a political party, led by Adolf Hitler from 1920 to 1945, that was dedicated to German dominance of Europe and the destruction of Jews
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narvikk/Getty Images (Plane) Illustration by Dave Seeley (Pearl Harbor) Bettmann/Getty Images (code talkers) Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images (internment camp) Courtesy Sarah Kaminsky (forging materials) Hulton Archive/Getty Images (FDR) Anne Frank Fonds Basel/Getty Images (Anne Frank) Bettmann/Getty Images (Adolf Hitler) Fox Photos/Getty Images (Winston Churchill)
Churchill Subscriber Quiz - History
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Pearl Harbor attack: How did Winston Churchill react?
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was appalling to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, but that night he 'slept the sleep of the saved and thankful.' The US would enter the war.
To Winston Churchill the Japanese attack on United States naval forces at Pearl Harbor was one of the greatest days of the most terrible war in Great Britain’s history. He was appalled, calculating, and exhilarated – perhaps in equal measures.
He was dining at Chequers, the country retreat of prime ministers, when he heard the news. His guests were US Ambassador Gil Winant and Averell Harriman, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s special envoy to Europe.
A butler brought in a portable radio for the party to listen to the BBC Home Service. When the attack was confirmed Churchill leapt to his feet and said he must declare war on Japan at once. His guests dissuaded him from this impetuous act, historian Walter Reid recounts in “Churchill 1940-1945,” his book about wartime relations among the Allied leaders.
The prime minister phoned Roosevelt, and asked “Mr. President, what’s this about Japan?” FDR responded that it was true, and they were all in the same boat now.
To Churchill, this meant one thing above all: victory. Britain was no longer alone. Finally, the US would enter the war.
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“Being saturated and satiated with emotion and sensation, I went to bed and slept the sleep of the saved and thankful,” he wrote in his own history of World War II.
Remember the context. For years Churchill – the finest dramatist of all wartime leaders – had wooed, cajoled, and flattered Roosevelt in particular and American in general in an effort to ally with its vast resources and manpower in an existential struggle.
He wrote FDR two or three times a week. Important Americans who visited Britain were treated like royalty. Literally. As historian Max Hastings recounts, when Ambassador Winant first arrived to take up his post, he was met by special train and whisked to Windsor.
There, George VI himself was waiting at the station to drive the ambassador in his own car to the castle.
“Never in history had a foreign diplomat been received with such ceremony,” Hastings writes.
Roosevelt offered some ships and other arms and war equipment. But he stopped well short of promising a war alliance. The US mood would not allow it.
In early August 1941, the two leaders of the English-speaking peoples met at a shipboard conference off the coast of Canada. Churchill thought they had developed a strong relationship. And they had – but not as strong as Churchill hoped. FDR was much the shrewder of the two about personal relations with other leaders. Some would say the American was at times deceptive about his intentions.
Pearl Harbor rendered all that irrelevant. It united Americans behind the idea of total war in a way that a lesser attack would not have done. And on Dec. 11, 1941, Adolf Hitler compounded Japan’s strategic error by declaring war against the US. He had always expected he would have to face the United States, and so thought it a “matter of course to follow Japan’s lead,” writes Hastings in his history of the war, “Inferno.”
This move relieved Roosevelt “from a serious uncertainty about whether Congress would agree to fight Germany,” according to Hastings.
The stage was set for Churchill to woo the US nation. In December, he and his military chiefs sailed to America to hammer out the strategy they would follow in the coming struggle – which would include making the defeat of Germany, the greater threat, the first priority.
Churchill stayed in the White House. He was by all accounts, an enjoyable and exhausting guest. He and FDR would stay up until all hours talking and imbibing. At one point, Roosevelt wheeled himself into Churchill’s room to find the prime minister naked, striding about, and dictating to his stenographer.
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On Dec. 26, Churchill addressed the US Congress for the first time. He joked about his own Anglo-American heritage (his mother was American). He implicitly linked Britain and America as one, saying of the Japanese, “What kind of people do they think we are?”
He warned that many disappointments and unpleasant days would lie ahead. But he said the best war news of all had already occurred: “the United States, united as never before, have drawn the sword for freedom and cast away the scabbard.”
From Winston Churchill to the Bengal famine: are we in denial about our role in WW2?
The Second World War was perhaps the greatest collective trauma in the history of the world. But are we remembering the Allied victory through rose-coloured glasses? What elements of the Second World War might we be in denial about? Historian Keith Lowe explores – in 60 seconds
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Published: July 7, 2020 at 5:41 pm
What elements of the Second World War are we in denial about?
This series of videos is designed to be bitesized, offering introductory information for between 1-2 minutes.
Historian Keith Lowe answers…
“It starts with the fact that we celebrate the war an awful lot we like to look back on the war with rose-tinted spectacles.
“As far as what we are in denial about, we don’t like to look too closely at some of the things that we did. The Bengal famine [of 1943] is the obvious one, and what it meant to the people who actually lived through it and the responsibility for it, which started with the Bengal government, went up to the Indian government and ended, really, with the British government and [Winston] Churchill.
“Nobody likes to say bad things about Churchill because, of course, he’s our symbol of British fortitude during the war. But, you know, he was no saint, just like none of us are saints. So people don’t like to criticise Churchill.
“There are plenty of other things, too. In Africa, we rounded up Africans and basically set up slave labour camps and made them work for us on plantations against their will. And these things are not really talked about. So, yeah, I suppose that counts as denial.”
Listen to the full interview with Keith Lowe on the podcast
Keith Lowe’s latest book, Prisoners of History, is a study of Second World War monuments around the world, and what each of these monuments say about the societies that put them up. It is published on 9 July 2020. You can find him on Twitter @KeithLoweAuthor.
Keith Lowe was speaking to Rachel Dinning at BBC History Magazine’s History Weekend 2017.
Churchill Subscriber Quiz - History
One of the major points of contention that many viewers had about the Oscar nominee for best picture Darkest Hour is a scene in which Churchill asks passengers on the Underground in London what they think, as German troops are closing in on British soldiers at Dunkirk, about a negotiated settlement with Nazi Germany to end the United Kingdom’s involvement in World War Two. To the sceptics who hated that scene it was symbolic of how Hollywood so often invents fantastical scenes to give a contrived emotional dimension to key moments in history.
And, as Churchill biographer Ashley Jackson points out, it indeed never happened, of course. Nor was it the only thing the film got wrong about Churchill. Darkest Hour also did get a number of things right, however. To learn more, click the play button above for the video to start.
If you would like to comment on this story or anything else you have seen on BBC Culture, head over to our Facebook page or message us on Twitter.
1. Croatia just became the second former Yugoslav republic to join the European Union. Which was the first?
About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:
“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”
If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.
But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.
The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.
We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”
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Winston Churchill’s History-Making Funeral
On a pale gray winter morning, Big Ben’s distinctive chimes echoed through the London silence. After tolling the time at 9:45 a.m., the British icon would remain uncharacteristically quiet for the rest of the day out of respect for another of the country’s towering figures—Sir Winston Churchill. Below the mighty bell, the flag-draped coffin of the wartime prime minister rested on a gun carriage as the biting wind carried the roars of cannons thundering 90 shots, one for each year of Churchill’s life, in nearby Hyde Park.
Upon command, a single drum began to beat. Then came the rhythmic pounding of boots upon pavement as more than 100 members of the Royal Navy moved in lockstep as they drew the cortege of the man who had led the country as prime minister through World War II and later from 1951 to 1955. Military bands played dirges and somber marches as Churchill’s body was pulled through the streets of London accompanied by servicemen from nearly 20 different military units. Four majors of the Queen’s Royal Irish Hussars were required just to carry Churchill’s litany of medals, orders and decorations.
Churchill became the first civilian in the 20th century to receive the honor normally reserved for kings and queens and only the second prime minister to be given a state funeral, William Gladstone being the first in 1898. For three days and for three nights, Churchill lay in state in 900-year-old Westminster Hall as more than 300,000 mourners filed past the casket, hewn from English oaks taken from his family estate, in muffled silence.
Churchill’s funeral cortege, January 30, 1965
Before dawn on the morning of the funeral, a million people began to gather along the cortege route. They watched in silence as the gun carriage rolled through the British capital and past the offices where Churchill had served as the First Lord of the Admiralty during two world wars, past the Fleet Street newspaper offices where he had once been an ink-stained scribe, past 10 Downing Street where he had guided the country through its darkest hours against the Nazi threat and past Trafalgar Square where Londoners celebrated when news of victory finally arrived in 1945.
After an hour, the procession finished its journey from Britain’s political heart to its religious soul, St. Paul’s Cathedral. Much like Churchill himself, St. Paul’s had become a symbol of steely British determination during World War II as it managed to withstand the worst of the Nazi bombing during the Blitz.
Such was the country’s admiration for Churchill that Queen Elizabeth II broke with monarchical tradition to attend a funeral for someone outside of the royal family. Even more unusual, the queen gave precedence to one of her subjects and arrived at the cathedral before the former prime minister’s casket.
Gathered inside St. Paul’s to celebrate Churchill’s extraordinary life were dignitaries from an unprecedented 112 countries—including six monarchs, six presidents and 16 prime ministers—which made the state funeral the largest in history at that time. In addition to the 3,000 congregating under St. Paul’s dome, an estimated television audience of 350 million people𠅊 tenth of the world’s population—watched the funeral service, which featured some of Churchill’s favorite hymns. As the mourners sang the ttle Hymn of the Republic,” a shaft of sunlight broke through the clouds, beamed through the cathedral’s windows and fell on the Union Jack cloaking the casket.
Churchill lying in state in Westminster Hall, part of the Houses of Parliament
Following the service, Churchill’s coffin was carried down the west steps of St. Paul’s and returned to the gun carriage, which continued on to a pier outside the Tower of London where the Royal Artillery fired a 19-gun salute. The funeral procession then took to the water as the casket was carried aboard the launch Havengore for a short sail up the River Thames. In a meticulously orchestrated event that had been choreographed for years, perhaps the day’s best-remembered moment was also an unscripted one. As 16 Royal Air Force fighter jets roared overhead in tight formations, London’s dock workers dipped their cranes lining the south bank of the Thames one by one as if the mammoth machines were bowing their heads to Churchill.
After the Havengore docked upstream, the former prime minister’s casket was taken to Waterloo Station and placed on a specially prepared train with five Pullman coaches filled with family and friends for Churchill’s final journey. As the locomotive chugged along the 60-mile journey to Oxfordshire, mourners with bowed heads and hats over their hearts stood silently on station platforms along with uniformed World War II veterans with arms raised in salute.
Not far from Blenheim Palace where he was born 90 years earlier, Churchill’s life came full circle. In a private ceremony at a quiet churchyard in the village of Bladon, Churchill’s body was lowered into the small family plot and covered with the soil that he had preserved to be British.
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5. Before marrying Clementine, Winston Churchill had proposed to three other women.
Pamela Plowden was always considered to be Churchill’s first great love. He wrote plenty of letters and courted her for many years, but she repeatedly turned down his proposals and married someone else. Later on, Churchill fell in love with American actress Ethel Barrymore, but she rejected his proposal as well. Muriel Wilson then caught his eye, and though he took her on a romantic trip to Venice, she also turned him down. By 1908, Churchill started courting Clementine Hozier, who he married after five months.