National Geographic : 1949 Apr
Winston Churchill (1874- ) FITTINGLY, THE PORTRAIT of Win ston Churchill which faces this page shows him in the "siren suit" he wore in World War II. It will remind later generations of Churchill, the embodiment of the fighting spirit of John Bull. Whenever there was danger and destruc tion in the dark days of the Battle of Britain, he was certain to appear and to spread con fidence by his presence. He flew thousands of miles to confer with his allies, to cheer the men at the front, to attend meetings of strategy boards. In his flights he traveled in a pressurized chamber facetiously called the "Easter egg." It was designed for his use because his doc tors warned him that it would be unsafe for him to fly at heights above 8,000 feet. No one who was in London during the spring and summer of 1940 will ever forget those months. The swift Nazi moves when Hitler first set his war machine in motion and the withdrawal of the British forces from Norway, after the ineffectual efforts of the Government to stem the German rush, had caused gloom throughout the land. English spirits soared when the rugged, fearless, outspoken Churchill succeeded Cham berlain as Prime Minister. Churchill at once managed to put over his rugged and indomitable personality on the radio. In those first critical months I watched anxious groups gathered around the loud speaker in England, in the United States, and in Canada. His audiences stood spellbound listening to his biting remarks about the Nazis and Hitler. Surely no other leader in history has ever more successfully instilled into his hearers his own supreme confidence. Even in the grim months after Dunkirk, when England was ex pecting invasion at any moment, the British people shared Churchill's belief that our cause would triumph-though how we should pull through we did not know. Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill was born on November 30, 1874, at Blenheim Palace, the home of his great ancestor, the Duke of Marlborough, victor at Blenheim (1704). At Cowes in the Isle of Wight his father had fallen in love at first sight with Jeannette, the daughter of Leonard Jerome of New York, proposed to her the following day, and married her after a short delay suffered impatiently by the young lovers but insisted upon by both families. It was a happy stroke of fate that gave an American mother to the man who was destined to lead England in the trying time when that country and the United States joined arms against a common foe. Winston's first venture outside the family circle was his sojourn at a private school at Brighton, where his schoolmistress described him as "the naughtiest small boy in the world." He had been sent to Brighton because of sup posedly delicate health, yet the teacher found him far from lacking in liveliness. School years at Harrow followed Brighton. After leaving the Royal Military Training College at Sandhurst, Churchill obtained a commission in the 4th Hussars, and within a year went out during leave to Cuba, where he obtained his first glimpse of war. He wrote articles at £5 each for the Daily Graphic and returned to England with the Spanish military medal. With periods of campaigning on the north west frontier of India and in the Sudan be hind him, he served conspicuously in the South African War. His adventures in that campaign and his dispatches to the Morning Post brought him into the limelight. As First Lord of the Admiralty he helped to prepare the Royal Navy for World War I. The ups and downs of politics tossed him about for the next few years. With marked success he turned his hand to writing-his masterpiece was the life of his ancestor, the great Duke of Marlborough-to painting in oils, and even to bricklaying on his property in Westerham. From the early days of flying Churchill took a keen interest in this new development. Dur ing the years of appeasement he continuously demanded a great expansion of the RAF to meet the German menace; but his warnings were unheeded. As Prime Minister he took every opportunity of identifying himself with the boys of the RAF and of visiting their messes. He was appointed honorary Air Com modore of RAF 615 Fighter Squadron Unit. On August 20, 1940, when speaking of the small band of fighter pilots defending England, Churchill used these memorable words: "The gratitude of every home in our island, in our Empire, and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, goes out to the British airmen, who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of world war by their prowess and by their devotion. Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few!" For the crowning mercy of the victory of the Battle of Britain, humble and hearty thanks were rendered throughout the entire English speaking world. It was Winston Churchill who heartened people to win that victory.