Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill was a British statesman, army officer, and writer. He was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1940 to 1945, when he led the country to victory in the Second World War, and again from 1951 to 1955. Apart from two years between 1922 and 1924, Churchill was a Member of Parliament from 1900 to 1964 and represented a total of five constituencies. Ideologically an economic liberal and imperialist, he was for most of his career a member of the Conservative Party, as leader from 1940 to 1955. He was a member of the Liberal Party from 1904 to 1924.
Of mixed English and American parentage, Churchill was born in Oxfordshire to a wealthy, aristocratic family. He joined the British Army in 1895, and saw action in British India, the Anglo-Sudan War, and the Second Boer War, gaining fame as a war correspondent and writing books about his campaigns. Elected an MP in 1900, initially as a Conservative, he defected to the Liberals in 1904. In H. H. Asquith's Liberal government, Churchill served as President of the Board of Trade, Home Secretary, and First Lord of the Admiralty, championing prison reform and workers' social security. As First Lord during the First World War, he oversaw the Gallipoli Campaign; after it proved a disaster, he resigned from government and served in the Royal Scots Fusiliers on the Western Front. In 1917, he returned to government under David Lloyd George and served successively as Minister of Munitions, Secretary of State for War, Secretary of State for Air, and Secretary of State for the Colonies, overseeing the Anglo-Irish Treaty and British foreign policy in the Middle East. After two years out of Parliament, he served as Chancellor of the Exchequer in Stanley Baldwin's Conservative government, returning the pound sterling in 1925 to the gold standard at its pre-war parity, a move widely seen as creating deflationary pressure and depressing the UK economy.
Out of office during the 1930s, Churchill took the lead in calling for British rearmament to counter the growing threat of militarism in Nazi Germany. At the outbreak of the Second World War he was re-appointed First Lord of the Admiralty. In 1940 he became prime minister, replacing Neville Chamberlain. Churchill oversaw British involvement in the Allied war effort against the Axis powers, resulting in victory in 1945. After the Conservatives' defeat in the 1945 general election, he became Leader of the Opposition. Amid the developing Cold War with the Soviet Union, he publicly warned of an "iron curtain" of Soviet influence in Europe and promoted European unity. Re-elected Prime Minister in 1951, his second term was preoccupied with foreign affairs, especially Anglo-American relations and, despite ongoing decolonisation, preservation of the British Empire. Domestically, his government emphasised house-building and developed a nuclear weapon. In declining health, Churchill resigned as prime minister in 1955, although he remained an MP until 1964. Upon his death in 1965, he was given a state funeral.
Widely considered one of the 20th century's most significant figures, Churchill remains popular in the UK and Western world, where he is seen as a victorious wartime leader who played an important role in defending Europe's liberal democracy from the spread of fascism. Also praised as a social reformer and writer, among his many awards was the Nobel Prize in Literature. Conversely, his imperialist views and comments on race have generated controversy. He has been widely criticised for some wartime events, notably the 1945 bombing of Dresden and the perceived inadequacy of his government's response to the Bengal Famine of 1943.
Childhood and schooling: 1874–1895Churchill was born at his family's ancestral home, Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, on 30 November 1874. As direct descendants of the Dukes of Marlborough, his family were among the highest levels of the British aristocracy, and thus he was born into the country's governing elite. His father, Lord Randolph Churchill, had been elected Conservative MP for Woodstock in 1873. His mother, Jennie, was a daughter of Leonard Jerome, a wealthy American businessman. The couple had married in April 1874, and, according to the biographer Sebastian Haffner, were "rich by normal standards but poor by those of the rich".
In 1876, Churchill's paternal grandfather, John Spencer-Churchill, was appointed Viceroy of Ireland, then part of the United Kingdom. Randolph became his private secretary, resulting in the family's relocation to Dublin. Winston's brother, Jack, was born there in 1880. Throughout much of the 1880s, Randolph and Jennie were effectively estranged, and the brothers were mostly cared for by their nanny, Elizabeth Everest. Churchill later wrote that "she had been my dearest and most intimate friend during the whole of the twenty years I had lived".
Churchill began boarding at St. George's School in Ascot, Berkshire, at age seven but was not academic and his behaviour was poor. In 1884 he transferred to Brunswick School in Hove, where his academic performance improved. In April 1888, aged 13, he narrowly passed the entrance exam for Harrow School. There, his academics proved high but his teachers again complained about his lack of discipline; his poetry appeared in the Harrovian school magazine. His father wanted him to prepare for a military career and so his last three years at Harrow were in the army form. After two unsuccessful attempts to gain admittance to the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, he succeeded on his third attempt. He was accepted as a cadet in the cavalry, starting in September 1893. His father died in January 1895, soon after Churchill finished at Sandhurst; this led Churchill to adopt the belief that members of his family inevitably died young.
Cuba, India, and Sudan: 1895–1899In February 1895, Churchill was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the 4th Queen's Own Hussars regiment of the British Army, based at Aldershot. Eager to witness military action, Churchill used his mother's influence to try to get himself posted to a war zone. In the autumn of 1895, he and Reginald Barnes went to Cuba to observe its war of independence and became involved in skirmishes after joining Spanish troops attempting to suppress independence fighters. He proceeded to New York City, staying with the wealthy politician Bourke Cockran, who became a profound influence. Churchill admired the United States, writing to his mother about "what an extraordinary people the Americans are!" With the Hussars, Churchill then arrived in Bombay, British India, in October 1896. Basing himself in Bangalore, he stayed in India for 19 months, visiting Calcutta three times and joining expeditions to Hyderabad and the North West Frontier.
Churchill began a project of self-education while in India, reading a range of authors including Plato, Adam Smith, Charles Darwin, Henry Hallam, Edward Gibbon, Winwood Reade, and Thomas Babington Macaulay. Interested in British parliamentary affairs, he declared himself "a Liberal in all but name" but added that he could never endorse the Liberal Party's support for Irish home rule. Instead he allied himself to the Tory democracy wing of the Conservative Party, and on a visit home, gave his first public speech for the party's Primrose League in Bath. Mixing reformist and conservative perspectives, he supported the promotion of secular, non-denominational education while opposing women's suffrage.
Churchill volunteered to join Bindon Blood's Malakand Field Force in its campaign against Mohmand rebels in the Swat Valley of north-west India. Blood accepted him on condition that he was assigned as a journalist, the beginning of Churchill's writing career; he filed reports for The Pioneer and The Daily Telegraph. He returned to Bangalore in October 1897 and there wrote his first book, The Story of the Malakand Field Force, which received positive reviews. He also wrote his only work of fiction, Savrola, a roman à clef set in an imagined Balkan kingdom. It was serialised in Macmillan's Magazine in 1899 before appearing in book form.
Despite some reluctance by General Herbert Kitchener, who saw him as a glory-hunter, Churchill leveraged his contacts in London—including Prime Minister Lord Salisbury—to obtain a posting to Kitchener's campaign in the Sudan as a journalist for The Morning Post. Churchill joined the 21st Lancers in Cairo and subsequently took an active part in the Battle of Omdurman. Churchill was critical of Kitchener's actions during the war, particularly the latter's unmerciful treatment of enemy wounded and his desecration of Muhammad Ahmad's tomb in Omdurman. Following the battle, Churchill gave skin from his chest for a graft for an injured officer. He returned to England and wrote The River War, an account of the campaign published in November 1899.
Politics and South Africa: 1899–1901Seeking a parliamentary career, Churchill pursued political contacts and gave addresses at Conservative meetings. He was selected as one of the party's two parliamentary candidates at the June 1899 by-election in Oldham, Lancashire. While campaigning in Oldham, Churchill referred to himself as "a Conservative and a Tory Democrat". Although the Oldham seats had previously been held by the Conservatives, the election was a narrow Liberal victory. During this period, he had courted Pamela Plowden, with whom he remained a lifelong friend, and made a return visit to India, during which he stayed in the home of Viceroy George Nathaniel Curzon. En route home, he spent two weeks in Cairo, where he met the Khedive Abbas II.
Anticipating the outbreak of the Second Boer War between Britain and the Boer Republics, Churchill sailed to South Africa as a journalist for the Daily Mail and Morning Post. In October he travelled to the conflict zone near Ladysmith, then besieged by Boer troops, before heading for Colenso. After his train was derailed by Boer artillery shelling, he was captured as a prisoner of war and interned in a Boer POW camp in Pretoria. In December, Churchill escaped the prison, stowing away aboard freight trains and hiding in a mine to evade his captors. He eventually made it to safety in Portuguese East Africa. His escape attracted much publicity in Britain.
In January 1900 he was appointed a lieutenant in the South African Light Horse regiment, joining Redvers Buller's fight to relieve the Siege of Ladysmith and take Pretoria. He was among the first British troops into Ladysmith and Pretoria. He and his cousin, the Duke of Marlborough, demanded and received the surrender of 52 Boer prison camp guards. Throughout the war, he had publicly chastised anti-Boer prejudices, calling for them to be treated with "generosity and tolerance", and after the war he urged the British to be magnanimous in victory. In July he returned to Britain, where his Morning Post despatches had been published as London to Ladysmith via Pretoria and had sold well.
Churchill rented a flat in London's Mayfair, using it as his base for the next six years. He stood again as one of the Conservative candidates at Oldham in the October 1900 general election, securing a narrow victory to become an MP at age 25. In the same month, he published Ian Hamilton's March, a book about his South African experiences, which became the focus of a lecture tour in November through Britain, America and Canada. MPs were unpaid and the tour was a financial necessity. In America, Churchill met Mark Twain, President McKinley and Vice President Theodore Roosevelt; he did not get on well with Roosevelt. In spring 1901 he gave more lectures in Paris, Madrid and Gibraltar.