The inspirational life and times of Churchill

Sir Winston Churchill during the Second World War, circa 1940.

Sir Winston Churchill during the Second World War, circa 1940. - Credit: PA

There are many lessons that can be learned simply by looking at the life and career of Winston Churchill.

Admittedly, Churchill’s story is most emphatically not a rags to riches tale. He was born to a life of immense privilege in 1874. He was a descendant of the 17th and 18th-century war hero, John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough and the son of the Victorian politician, Randolph Churchill.

Despite this, Winston’s life got off to a difficult start. He struggled badly at school, disappointing his parents. He would turn out to be one of only four future Prime Ministers of the 20th century never to go to university. The other three: David Lloyd George, James Callaghan and John Major were all from much poorer backgrounds than Churchill was.

Like his father, he would become an MP and was elected for Oldham in 1900. Yet he is also a good example of someone who had a life outside politics. He was a soldier and a journalist before becoming an MP and had a lifelong love of painting. He also enjoyed success as an author and won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953.

He is also a good example of an MP who twice did what some politicians never recover from doing once: switching sides. In 1904, he left the Tories and became a Liberal, later serving as Home Secretary in Herbert Asquith’s government. But in the early 1920s, he went back to the Tories and was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer when the party returned to office in 1924. “Anyone can rat, but it takes a certain amount of ingenuity to re-rat,” Churchill said.

His career saw him achieve a series of remarkable political comebacks. In 1915, his career seemed to lie in ruins after the bloody failure of the Gallipoli landings which he had overseen. Crushed, he resigned both as First Lord of the Admiralty and as an MP and enrolled in the Army where he served in the trenches of the First World War. Yet he would return to politics later.

Churchill also suffered periodically from depression throughout his long life which he dubbed “my black dog”. It’s arguably impossible to think of anyone who achieved more than Churchill did or whose life was as full. Yet even he suffered from depression sometimes.

Ultimately, one of the most important lessons which can be drawn from Churchill is that it’s never too late. For much of the 1930s, a period he later described as his ‘wilderness years’ Churchill was out of favour largely because he was opposed to the popular policy of appeasement towards Italian Fascists or German Nazis. But by 1939, appeasement itself had been discredited and Churchill returned to the government. In 1940, he himself became Prime Minister. He was 65 years old. He would later become Prime Minister again eventually relinquishing office in 1955 when he was 80 years old.

By May 1940, Britain was in a position of extreme peril. With most of western Europe now under Nazi rule, a German attempt to invade seemed inevitable. But it was as if Churchill’s experiences during his entire life up until that time had been preparing him for that moment. His unique combination of military and political experience combined with his ability to boost public morale through stirring and awe-inspiring rhetoric made him the perfect person to lead the nation at that point and ultimately ensure victory.