"We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, 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." — Winston Churchill, 1940
Winston Churchill was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1940 to 1945, during most of World War II. He is credited with leading his country to victory in the devastating war and inspiring the nation with his stirring speeches. Churchill served as Prime Minster again from 1951 to 1955. He was also a soldier, journalist, and orator. A prolific author, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953. President Kennedy named him the first honorary citizen of the United States in 1963.
Using These Resources
These resources take you through the life and work of Churchill, with a focus on his younger years and the 1940s. The lesson plans are appropriate for units on World War II or historical leaders. The websites, books, and films can be used in class or supplied to students conducting research projects.
In addition, the Why Study Winston Churchill? video from the Churchill Centre explains the lasting impact of this great world leader. As historian Michael Beschloss says in the film, "anyone alive today, and especially younger people in the 21st century, has to know that if it were not for Winston Churchill, there's a very good chance that Western Civilization wouldn't exist."
- The Life of Winston Churchill Introductory Workbook (PDF)
Designed for the elementary grades, this 16-page introductory activity booklet includes text and photographs, a lesson on family trees, memorization and code-breaking, and a crossword puzzle. Meet Churchill as soldier, correspondent, statesman, orator, author and inspirational leader.
- Winston Churchill: Characteristics of His Leadership (PDF)
Using Churchill’s “War Speech” from September 3, 1939, this lesson examines two characteristics of his leadership: resolution and magnanimity. American History teacher Mark Ellwood designed the lesson for grades 9 to 12, but it is adaptable for middle school.
- Winston Churchill’s Efforts to Unify Britain From 1940-1941
Look what high school students can do! Sarah Howells’ research paper won first prize in The Churchill Centre’s annual research paper competition. The paper, including footnotes and bibliography, can serve as a model for your own students and may even inspire them to research a topic of interest.
- Winston Churchill: Topical and Essential Questions
Once your students have learned about Churchill’s life, share these questions from the Churchill Centre for them to contemplate and further their understanding. A quote from Churchill applies to each question.
- The Churchill Centre
The Churchill Centre site is the most comprehensive website about the iconic leader. It includes news and current events; facts and speeches; and even a section on Churchill myths. Use the search feature to navigate hundreds of articles about Churchill. This site is recommended for students working on research projects.
- Churchill and the Great Republic: A Library of Congress Exhibit
This Library of Congress exhibition examined the life and career of Churchill with an emphasis on his lifelong links with the United States, which he called “the great republic.” The exceptional site covers the Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied France on D-Day, as well as the death of Winston Churchill.
Explore Churchill’s leadership, actions, and impact, as well as his special connection to New York, in this website that includes excellent video and audio specifically designed to attract young people to the 2012 exhibit “Churchill: The Power of Words” at The Morgan Library and Museum in New York City.
- Churchill: The Evidence; A Chronicle of the Life and Times of Sir Winston Churchill With Educational Resources
The Churchill Archives Centre and the National Library of Scotland provide a basic outline of Churchill’s life, using photographs and primary documents.
- National Churchill Museum
The National Churchill Museum in Missouri is on the site where Churchill gave his famous "Iron Curtain" speech. The museum focuses on the 1946 speech, as well as Churchill during World War II.
- The Churchill Archive
This archive holds more than a million Churchill documents previously only available at The Churchill Archive Centre on the campus of Churchill College, Cambridge, United Kingdom. It is the largest collection of primary source material of any individual leader of the 20th century. A selection of documents and lesson plans is available for free, but complete access is only available to libraries and other institutions by paid subscription.
- Winston Churchill: Defender of Democracy
This website from the BBC gives a summary of Churchill during World War II, including how he exited political wilderness in the 1930s to become a statesman of international renown.
Video, Movies, Television
- Why Study Winston Churchill?
And what makes him relevant in the 21st century? Members of the Churchill family and the Churchill Centre answer these questions in this 2.5-minute video.
- Young Winston
This biography from 1972 examines Churchill’s early life. Narrated by Churchill, the film follows his school days and family life, his time as a soldier and war correspondent, and his first years as a member of Parliament.
- The Gathering Storm
This film covers roughly 1934 to 1939, as Hitler rose to power in Germany. Churchill was out of favor with both his fellow politicians and large segments of the public at the time, and his efforts to warn against Hitler and to urge greater rearmament in Britain fell on deaf ears. The movie compels viewers to speculate on why the world didn’t listen and suggests many reasons why.
- "Churchill and the Cabinet War Rooms"
This documentary offers an introduction to Churchill’s leadership during World War II. Archival film from the Imperial War Museum shows war-torn London, including firsthand accounts of life on the home front, and also gives a brief overview of some military campaigns. The footage showcases Churchill’s oratory and his meetings with Roosevelt and Stalin, too. This film is part of the three-part series The History Channel Presents: Winston Churchill.
- Sir Winston Churchill: The War Years
This unique film shares highlights from 10 of Churchill’s war speeches. The audience responses give a keen sense of the mood of the times. The film is augmented by newsreel footage.
- My Early Life, by Winston Churchill
At the age of 55, Churchill wrote a memoir of his early life, covering his birth in 1874 to his first few years in Parliament in the early 1900s. Modern historians have established that he took certain liberties with episodes in his autobiography, but none of this affects his tales of true-life adventure in Cuba, the Northwest Frontier of India, the Sudan, and South Africa.
- Churchill and His Woeful Wars by Alan MacDonald
This graphic novel is a good introduction to World War I and World War II, especially for younger readers who may not have been exposed to history or biography. Entries from Churchill’s fictional “lost diary” put complex events in words understandable to young readers.
- Winston Churchill by Fiona Reynoldson
This colorful and inventive biography includes excellent photographs, cartoons, maps, and posters. A timeline covers key players in Churchill's era; the book also includes an explanation of how the British government works, as well as a glossary and sources for further research.
- Winston Churchill by Kevin Theakston
This short, picture-filled biography of Churchill gives many perspectives on the man who would go on to change the world.
Perhaps the most revealing statement in the essay was that Churchill believed a strong oratory could be developed. This was probably because Churchill did not see himself as a natural speaker, but rather one who worked hard to hone his craft.
So he did, and he did it well. His speeches are powerful and had a major impact on world affairs when they were spoken. The following list is a collection of Churchill’s most influential speeches - not just during the war but throughout his lifetime.
10: Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat
(May 13, 1940; The House of Commons)
You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: 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.
In Churchill’s first speech as Prime Minister, he told Parliament he was putting politics aside and forming a national government which included all parties to wage war against Germany. He said he would tell them what told his new ministers: “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.”
9: The Liberties of Britain
(January 10, 1910. Friends’ Institute, Birmingham)
[The House of Lords] regards all our liberties and political rights as enjoyed and enjoyable only so long as they choose to let us go on having them. But once we touch reality, once we touch their interests and privileges - [kicks his platform] Out!
This speech represents Churchill’s most liberal phase in the early 1900s. In it, he told his Brummie audience that: “The hereditary veto of the House of Lords not only over finance but over legislation must be swept away.” One year later, it was.
8: The Few
(August 20, 1940; The House of Commons)
The great air battle which has been in progress over this Island for the last few weeks has recently attained a high intensity.
On August 15, 1940, the battle of Britain reached a crisis point. All the resources of Fighter Command in the South were used. Churchill gave a stirring tribute to the RAF fighter pilots who were fighting in air above Britain. “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”
7: The United States of Europe
(September 19, 1946, University of Zurich)
If at first all the States of Europe are not willing or able to join the Union, we must nevertheless proceed to assemble and combine those who will and those who can.
Churchill’s speech in Zurich calling for “a kind of United States in Europe” remains one of his most prophetic statements. Perhaps even more controversial - especially in 1946 - was his claim that the “first step in the re-creation of the European family must be a partnership between France and Germany”. In 1951, the treaty of Paris was signed creating European Coal and Steel Community which became a foundation block for the modern EU.
6: We Shall Fight on the Beaches
(June 4, 1940; House of Commons)
“We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air...
Though there was national euphoria and relief at the unexpected deliverance at Dunkirk, the peril facing Britain was now universally perceived. But Churchill told the world that Britain would stand firm:
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...
5. Never Despair
(March 1, 1955; House of Commons)
The hydrogen bomb has made an astounding incursion into the structure of our lives and thoughts.
This might be regarded as Churchill’s farewell address to the House of Commons and established Britain’s approach to nuclear weapons. Churchill, wary of nuclear weaponry, set out to warn the House of their destructive power. He even flirts with the idea of disarmament, but rules it out owning to the international context of the Cold War. He paints a grim picture of the effects of the Hydrogen bomb, but then abruptly changes tone. The Churchillian optimism shrines through in his conclusion:
The day may dawn when fair play, love for one’s fellow-men, respect for justice and freedom, will enable tormented generations to march forth serene and triumphant from the hideous epoch in which we have to dwell. Meanwhile, never flinch, never weary, never despair.”
4. Speech addressing a joint session of the US Congress
(December 26, 1941; U.S. Congress)
In the days to come the British and American peoples will for their own safety and for the good of all walk together side by side in majesty, injustice and in peace.
This was such a major speech because it helped convince the US government to focus on the European theatre of war thus helping Britain, rather than focusing on the pacific theatre. Churchill highlighted the common culture and language and his own American lineage by saying: “I cannot help reflecting that if my father had been American and my mother British, instead of the other way round, I might have got here on my own.”
3. Sinews of Peace
(March, 5, 1946; Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri)
From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent.
This speech made famous the notion of the “Iron Curtain”. Furthermore it defined the parameters of the Cold War. So powerful were Churchill’s words that President Truman had to distance himself from his remarks amid their international notoriety. Yet the speech also outlined the rationale for the “Special relationship” between Britain and the United States. Together, Britain and the US adopted a deep opposition to Communism and, and as a result, it virtually shaped the rest of the rest of the 20th century.
2. Finest Hour
(June 18, 1940; House of Commons)
This is one of Churchill’s most powerful and stirring speeches. France had just capitulated and Churchill had to explain the dire situation while remaining positive and willing to confront the Nazis. Churchill said:
What General Weygand called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin...
Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.
Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, “This was their finest hour.”
1. Speech on Trade Unions and Trade Disputes Bill
(22 April 1904; House of Commons)
It lies with the Government to satisfy the working classes that there is no justification...er... [long silence]
This speech is one of the most important speeches of Churchill’s life - and yet, it is often overlooked.
Churchill had been speaking on trade unions in the House for a better part of an hour, when he suddenly lost his train of thought. He stalled for time, but could not finish his speech. He thanked the House for listening to him and sat down and put his head in his hands.
He had been in the habit of totally memorising his speeches. But from this point forward, Churchill decided to forge a system of speech writing that employed copious notes and several revisions. It was this system which helped create the powerful and awe inspiring oratory which Churchill had envisioned as a 23-year-old in 'The Scaffolding of Rhetoric’ and for which Churchill has become famous. So in many ways, it was from this small failure that day in the House of Commons that Churchill’s amazing oratory was born.
Telegraph Tours: Churchill's Morocco
Follow in Churchill's footsteps with this exclusive tour of Morocco in the company of the Telegraph’s defence editor, Con Coughlin - from Casablanca and the Atlas mountains to Marrakesh, which Churchill called the "nicest place on Earth to spend an afternoon"