Face of the day

Churchill patting Rommel, a cocker spaniel owned by General Sir Bernard Montgomery (Monty) in Normandy in August 1944.

Churchill patting Rommel, a cocker spaniel owned by General Sir Bernard Montgomery (Monty) in Normandy in August 1944.

Yesterday was the anniversary of Winston Churchill’s death. He is a historical figure that I admire because he symbolises to me the determination and tenacity of the underdog. Britain was not winning the war when he became Prime Minister and he had to deal with defeat and failure but he never gave up. His speeches are still quoted today because of the way he used the spoken word to inspire and to energise the British people. One line from one of his speeches is as relevant today for the UK as it was back in 1940.

You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.

The pre-eminent British statesman famously said of his approach to death: “I am prepared to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter.”

Known to be self-assured, headstrong and ambitious, his audacious and stubborn character put him at odds with many, although it was these characteristics which earned him his reputation.

As Britain’s prime minister during World War II, he rallied his people against the tyranny of Hitler, steeling them for air raids and possible invasion during the Blitz and the Battle of Britain.

It is said by many that his tenacity inspired the Allies in a final push to victory.

We shall not fail or falter; we shall not weaken or tire … Give us the tools and we will finish the job.

Winston Churchill

But it was also Churchill who gave the signal to launch the disastrous Gallipoli campaign in his position as Britain’s First Lord of the Admiralty.

The debacle earned him a reputation for rashness and bad judgement with the lives of men which he never lived down.

He served his country as a soldier and politician for over 70 years and remains one of the United Kingdom’s most polarising figures.

“He created history and will be remembered as long as history is read,” British prime minister Harold Wilson said on hearing of Churchill’s death in 1965.

Much has been written about Churchill and his well-publicised quotes but what else is there to know about this man who shaped the 20th century?

He had unique personal style

Known to have worn pink silk underwear, Churchill developed a unique style of dress involving polka-dot bow ties, hats and a custom-made wartime siren-suit which he wore at all times to be prepared for anything. He also loved to take baths.

A book on Churchill reports that he drinks too much and wears silk underwear. He dictates messages in the bath or in his underpants, a startling image which the Führer finds hugely amusing.

Diary entry of Joseph Goebbels, May 3, 1941

He unwittingly shaped the language of modern teens

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, Churchill received the first known use of the expression OMG in a letter from a friend.


Letter from Admiral John Arbuthnot Fisher, dated September 9, 1917.


He escaped from a POW camp

While fighting in the second Boer War, he was captured at gunpoint by future South African president Louis Botha, but managed to escape.

I am an optimist. It does not seem too much use being anything else.

Winston Churchill
Churchill at his desk photographed by Cecil Beaton in the Cabinet Room at No 10 Downing Street (1940-1945).

Churchill at his desk photographed by Cecil Beaton in the Cabinet Room at No 10 Downing Street (1940-1945).

He smoked an estimated 4,000 cigars per year

His cigar smoking was a habit developed when serving in Cuba with Spanish forces in 1895, but he only ever smoked about half of each one.

He started the habit at a young age and by the time he was 20, a doctor warned him that unless he gave up cigars and champagne, he would be dead in five years.

I never saw the Guv’nor finish a cigar. He used to leave about half in the ash-tray. But those cigar-ends were never wasted. I had special orders about them. No matter where we went – anywhere in the world – I had to collect all the butts and put them in a special box…The butts were handed to Kearns, one of the gardeners, who used to smoke them in his pipe. And whenever Mr Churchill saw Kearns about the estate, he made a point of checking that he was getting his supplies regularly.

Churchill’s valet, Norman McGowan.
Churchill enjoyed painting in his spare time. This work, Sunset over the Atlas Mountains, was painted by him around 1935.

Churchill enjoyed painting in his spare time. This work, Sunset over the Atlas Mountains, was painted by him around 1935.

He was a painter

Churchill painted boldly with colour, his works almost always landscapes bereft of people.

He was elected to the Royal Academy of Arts, allowing him to submit six paintings a year, even when prime minister.

To avoid attention, he often painted under the pseudonyms “Mr Winter” and “Charles Maurin”.

Churchill said he painted to escape the responsibilities of his work and is reported to have said: “If it weren’t for painting, I wouldn’t live; I couldn’t bear the extra strain of things.”

In the course of my life, I have often had to eat my words, and I must confess that I have always found it a wholesome diet.

Winston Churchill

He made the V-for-Victory sign his own

The letter V became a symbol of resistance in Europe during WWII. Churchill used it often, either with the back of his hand or his palm and occasionally with exotic variations.

He once made the symbol with his legs while lying on a beach in North Africa.

You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.

Speech in the House of Commons, May 13, 1940.
Churchill was the first world leader to fly across the Atlantic. He convinced the pilot to give him the controls of a Boeing 314 flying boat, while he was smoking his cigar.

Churchill was the first world leader to fly across the Atlantic. He convinced the pilot to give him the controls of a Boeing 314 flying boat, while he was smoking his cigar.

He was the first world leader to make a transantlantic flight

In January 1942 he flew from from Bermuda to Plymouth on board a BOAC Boeing 314 ‘Berwick’ flying boat. He took the controls and was allowed by the captain Kelly Rogers, to continue smoking.

“I must confess that I felt rather frightened … I thought perhaps I had done a rash thing that there were too many eggs in one basket,” he said afterward.

“I had always regarded an Atlantic flight with awe. But the die was cast.”

For my own part I have always felt that a politician is to be judged by the animosities which he excites among his opponents. I have always set myself not merely to relish but to deserve thoroughly their censure.

At the Institute of Journalists dinner, November 17, 1906.

By age 26, he had written five books and in 1953 he won the Nobel Prize for literature

This is the type of arrant pedantry up with which I will not put.

Often misquoted, this is as the Wall Street Journal reported the quote on December 9, 1942.

He was granted honorary US citizenship by John F Kennedy

Meeting Franklin Roosevelt was like opening your first bottle of champagne; knowing him was like drinking it.

Winston Churchill

There is an entire museum dedicated to him at the Imperial War Museum, London

The Churchill War Rooms are the secret underground bunkers from where Churchill and his cabinet ran the government during WWII.

We must all turn our backs upon the horrors of the past. We must look to the future. We cannot afford to drag forward cross the years that are to come the hatreds and revenges which have sprung from the injuries of the past.

Speech at Zurich University, September 19, 1946.

He was the first British statesman of the 20th century to be given a state funeral

Sir Winston Churchill died on January 24, 1965 at the age of 90, following a stroke.

His body lay in state for three days in the Palace of Westminster before his funeral on January 30, attended by the largest gathering of world leaders in history at that time.

For my part, I consider that it will be found much better for all Parties to leave the past to history, especially as I propose to write that history.

Speech in the House of Commons, November 11, 1948.

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  • steve and monique

    Great man, and a pity some of our World leaders are not in his league.

  • Korau

    One of my heroes. He was not without faults, but he had a clarity of vision in beating Nazism which enables us to live the lives we have today. Everybody in the free world is in his debt.

    He suffered from depression, and this is still controversial today. For more information google Churchill black dog.

  • Lord Evans

    It’s often cited as a failure, but Churchill’s plan to seize the Dardenelles and claim Constantinople was the only imaginative military strategy at that time. In hindsight, the plan very nearly worked, but for the lack of gumption on the part of naval officers to clear some mines and continue up the straits. Had they seized Constantinople, it would also have halted the progress of Islam advancing into Europe. Today, Churchill’s example of leadership is more relevant than ever.

    • Warren Murray

      I seriously doubt it. I discussed this with Pugsley some years ago. Possibly a novel idea, but never really stood a chance.

      In the unlikely event that Britain and France would have taken Constantinople, the Germans would have sent a force down and taken it back. Bulgaria was a German ally, the Greeks, while neutral had a king who sympathised with Germany. Germany sorted Romania out in a few weeks after it declared war. After abandoning the Dardanelles, Britain and France took Salonika, and simply sat there for most of the duration of the war. Some German general (or it might have been the Kaiser) said it was the largest internment camp in Europe.

      Churchill as PM frequently promoted opening new fronts that couldn’t be supported, Norway and Greece are two examples. Lord Allenbrooke did well to manage him to stop him meddling

      • Lord Evans

        It’s true the plan was risky, but compared with the bloodbath of trench warfare in France, The Dardenelle campaign to the point ships withdrew, was relatively light on casualties. Historians have the benefit of hindsight to construct arguments and it’s a fair conclusion that had the allies actually persevered with the naval assault it may have been unsuccessful. In the heat of battle, decisions are made and leaders are tested – some are found wanting. For example, the naval commander, Admiral Sackville Carden had to stand down due to ‘stress’ and his replacement Admiral John de Robeck, ultimately called off the attack citing bad weather and losses. Other senior Naval officers, disagreed, including the commander of Queen Elizabeth, Commodore Roger Keyes, who felt they had come close to victory. Churchill couldn’t win the war by himself, but his leadership was first rate.

        • Warren Murray

          Agree with much of your comment. I’m not dumping on his dardenelles initiative either. Arguably he was let down by the army and navy. They had some capacity, but lacked the capability to deliver. The potential benefits were very strong.

          Pugsley has commented on what a tremendous job the British did to build up their army so fast, considering Russia, Germany, Austria-Hungry and France had enormous armies c/w the British at the start if the war. He likened the learning curve to Japan winning the Rugby World Cup. When the ANZACs landed, they had almost nil experience, were in the wrong place, facing appalling terrain, against an enemy that had the high ground and had recently been engaged in the Balkan wars.

          Considering how badly the Dardenelles campaign went, the evacuation was outstanding.

          Accepting it was a gamble, and the failure was largely the fault of the military, not Churchill’s, he went on to push for similarly risky ventures in WW2. Again, with Greece, NZ and Australia paid a high price.

  • conwaycaptain

    Very good programme about his early years as PM on the History Channel last night.

  • WeaselKiss

    ‘Never before in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many, to so few.’

  • GoingRight

    I was brought up to know he was a fine man who had done wonders for Great Britain in keeping morale and the troops together in WW2. Just after my Christian confirmation on 24 January, we learnt Winston Churchill had died that day in 1965. The following week along with my older sister and my parents we queued for hours quietly to pay our respects to this great man as he lay in state in Westminster Hall, a moving occasion for me as a teenager with the solemnity of the occasion. I was ticked off by my teachers the next day for being non attentive in class! Years later our precious first grandchild was born on January 24, and yesterday she turned 7 years old, so the date has been special to me for some years with these three important occasions touching my life.

  • Bobb

    The greatest ever Briton. Not all of his decisions were right but the ones that really mattered were.

  • conwaycaptain

    I watched the funeral on TV and all you could hear as the procession moved from Westminster up to St Pauls was the crunch crunch crunch of the boots on the sand laid on the road.
    The sight of a gun carriage being pulled by the RN is one of the most moving sights you can see.
    During the funeral the Cavalry Last Post was played from the whispering gallery.
    If you can find them read the 3 or 4 columns by Cassandra in the Daily Mirror. Almost Churchillian in the prose.

    • Betty Swallocks

      Here’s a clip of the coverage from the British Pathe newsreel. TV coverage was of course still in black & white at the time. I remember the day very well, cold and a hard frost in the morning where we lived in Stockport. None of the spurious outpourings of what passes for grief these days, it was all very dignified.


      • conwaycaptain

        Thhanks Betty

    • Grocersgirl

      For me this occasion brings forth a very vivid recollection. As a young woman of 21 (girls, we still called ourselves in those days) I had just sailed from New Zealand to the UK – five and a half weeks on the Northern Star – and arrived at Southampton on 15 January 1965. I can’t recall when we saw a newspaper with news of Churchill’s illness, nor can I recall how we actually heard of his death a week or so later – it must have been by radio or newspaper as we had no access to TV in our boarding house of course.

      Anyway we decided that it would be good to experience the lying in state in Westminster Hall which took place over the three days before the state funeral, and then find somewhere to watch the funeral itself on TV. As I recall the queue stretched 12 or 15 people wide, right along the Embankment to Lambeth Bridge, across the river and back up the other side to Westminster Bridge and so along to Westminster Hall. It was piercing cold but we were much impressed by the stoicism of the Poms in the queue, just chatting quietly among themselves as we moved slowly along. It was so impressive entering the great hall, silent except for the shuffling of feet, with the Union Jack-covered catafalque on a dais in the middle, guarded by four Household Cavalrymen in their shiny breastplates and plumed helmets. Also impressive was to observe Britons pay their respects. The men removed their hats and caps and saluted or bowed to the coffin – this was only 20 years after the end of the war and there were more than a few men and women unashamedly weeping as they briefly paused by the coffin before moving

      What was most impressive to me however was the awareness that I was actually experiencing history. I already knew that some important events had taken place under this imposing roof – the Coronation banquet of Henry VIII in 1509 and that of Anne Boleyn in 1533, the trial of Thomas More, the trial of Guy Fawkes in 1606 and of Charles I in 1649. I knew that in the hall’s very early days they held jousting tournaments here, and that this was where royalty lay in state before their funeral. I found out later that Churchill was only the second commoner (after Gladstone in 1898) to be honoured with a lying in state in this historic place.

      It was all very awe-inspiring and I have always thought how lucky I was to find myself actually experiencing such a unique occasion. But strangely enough in all these years I have never met another New Zealander who attending the lying in state.

  • pisces8284 .

    I watched the funeral on tv as well, very sombre. My mother also had an LP of his speeches, I wonder if one day they will do that for Obama??

    • conwaycaptain

      Churchill wrote his own speeches and he also knew his history which modern day pollies dont

      • Wallace Westland

        That’s because most of them can’t spell never mind write.

  • PsychoKea

    You know you have left an impression when they name a champagne in your honor


  • Eiselmann

    The right man at the right time , oh to see his kind again.

  • colin herbertson

    He was the ideal wartime leader, he had huge life experience and was well familiar with war as a soldier and commander,He had also fought wars within himself, with depression and the bottle, While his abilites as a military leader are debatable, as a motivator and leader of people he was the best, he was tough and knew how to win and Britian wouldn’t have survived without him.

  • conwaycaptain

    The Funeral was on the Saturday. I joined my first ship in KGV Dock on the Monday

  • Bob D

    He was captured during the Boer War by none other than General Louis Botha, who went on to become Prime Minister of South Africa.

    Has there ever been a case before where one future Prime Minister captured another in battle?

    I didn’t realise that in order to escape, Churchill had to go all the way from Pretoria to Mozambique! That’s quite some distance, especially during wartime and not being able to speak the local language.


    Churchill, for all his failings, was just what Britain needed in the War. He had unwavering purpose, and you can’t win wars without that.