7 Things You Didn’t Know About Winston Churchill

March 02, 2024
By: Historyfacts.com

Winston Churchill is widely regarded as one of the greatest leaders of the 20th century, especially for his role in guiding Britain and the Allies to victory in World War II. Born in 1874 to an aristocratic family that included his prominent politician father, Lord Randolph Churchill, and American socialite mother, Jennie Jerome, Churchill spent his childhood largely in the care of a nanny and in boarding school, where he struggled to keep up academically. At age 18, he enrolled in the Royal Military College, a major achievement for the young boy who had an early interest in the military and also saw it as a distinct path into politics. After a four-year stint serving as both a soldier and war correspondent around the world, Churchill resigned from the army in 1899 to focus on his career as a writer and politician.

Churchill went on to hold a variety of political positions in both the Liberal and Conservative parties, including first lord of the admiralty, chancellor of the exchequer, secretary of state for war, and, of course, prime minister of the United Kingdom. He also became a prolific and celebrated writer and a renowned orator, whose powerful speeches, such as his famous “We shall fight on the beaches” address, inspired both his country and people around the world. Churchill was known for his eloquence, courage, wit, and vision, but he wasn’t without his faults, and his controversial views on imperialism, race, and social reform remain an equally entrenched part of his legacy. Churchill died in 1965 at the age of 90, remaining to some one of the greatest Brits of all time.

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Churchill Did a Stint as a War Correspondent

Churchill struggled through his school years in nearly every subject, history and English being the exceptions. His father steered him away from academics and toward a military career, where it took Churchill three attempts to get into the Royal Military College at Sandhurst (now the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst). In 1895, he joined the 4th Queen’s Own Hussars cavalry unit, and made his first army trip to Cuba — but not for combat. Churchill took a short leave to report on the Cuban War of Independence for London’s Daily Graphic. In 1896, his regiment was deployed to India, where he served as both a soldier and a journalist; his dispatches were later compiled into The Story of the Malakand Field Force, his first of many published nonfiction works. His journalism even led Churchill to a notable moment in his young career. While covering the Boer War in South Africa for The Morning Post, he and members of the British army were captured and taken to a prisoner-of-war camp. He escaped by scaling a wall in the dark of night, returning a hero.

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He Was Awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953

Churchill’s war reporting marked the beginning of an esteemed literary career. His first major work following his war dispatch collections was a 1906 biography of his father, titled Lord Randolph Churchill; he also wrote a four-volume biography of his ancestor, the Duke of Marlborough. Churchill’s most famous works, however, are his histories of the two world wars, which he both witnessed and shaped. The World Crisis covers the First World War and its aftermath, while The Second World War, throughout six volumes, details the global conflict that made him a legendary leader. Churchill also published several collections of speeches and essays, as well as a book on his hobby of painting, Painting as a Pastime. In 1953, his work earned him the Nobel Prize in literature, awarded “for his mastery of historical and biographical description as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values.” As high an honor as it was, it’s believed that what Churchill truly wanted was the Nobel Peace Prize.

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He Was the First Official Honorary Citizen of the United States

On April 9, 1963, President John F. Kennedy declared Churchill an honorary citizen of the United States, making the former British prime minister the first person to officially have the distinction. “In the dark days and darker nights when England stood alone… he mobilized the English language and sent it into battle,” Kennedy said of Churchill during the ceremony. “The incandescent quality of his words illuminated the courage of his countrymen… By adding his name to our rolls, we mean to honor him — but his acceptance honors us far more.”

Despite the surety of Kennedy’s words at the time, granting Churchill the title was an arduous process. American journalist Kay Halle had pushed for the honor as early as 1957, but a debate dragged on, and Kennedy eventually informed Halle in 1962 that such a move would be unconstitutional (he proposed naming a Navy ship after Churchill instead). Some progress was made later that year, but the matter languished in legislative limbo. In early 1963, with concerns about the aging politician’s health, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution making the distinction constitutional, and just seven days later, Churchill’s honorary citizenship ceremony took place.

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He Was the First British Prime Minister to Top the Pop Music Charts

Churchill’s life and career was rife with accolades, but one of his more unusual accomplishments was being the first British prime minister to earn a spot on the pop music charts — not once, but twice. The first time was in 1965, shortly after his death, when a recording of his speeches called The Voice Of reached No. 6 on the Official U.K. Albums Chart. The second Top 10 hit came in 2010, when the Central Band of the Royal Air Force released an album called Reach for the Skies, commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. The album featured some of Churchill’s World War II speeches set to music, and it sat on the charts alongside contemporary acts including Mumford and Sons, KT Tunstall, and the Killers frontman Brandon Flowers.

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He Served as Prime Minister Two Separate Times

Despite proving himself to be a popular prime minister who led his country to victory during World War II, Churchill was defeated in the 1945 general election by the Labor Party leader Clement Attlee. The Labor Party at the time was strongly influenced by the Beveridge Report, a 1942 government document that outlined the need for greater social support for Brits following the war, including an emphasis on social security, affordable housing, and health care. In contrast, Churchill’s Conservatives focused on lowering taxes and maintaining defense spending. The need for social reform weighed on the minds of voters, and they gave the Labor Party a landslide victory at the polls. Six years later, however, after the party failed to fully deliver on promises of radical social and economic change, Churchill was voted back into office. Just shy of his 77th birthday at the time, the leader had already begun to experience strokes, and suffered several more during his second run as PM. On April 5, 1955, the 80-year-old Churchill finally retired.

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He Was a Member of a Bricklayer’s Union

Churchill famously wore many hats, including politician, writer, painter, master orator — and bricklayer. He could often be found building walls for his garden and he constructed a cottage for his daughters at his Chartwell estate in Kent. He once described the physical labor as a “delightful” contrast to his intellectual work, committing to putting down “200 bricks and 2,000 words a day.” In 1928, a photo of Churchill working at his property appeared in the press; his skills were criticized by some, but encouraged by James Lane, the mayor of Battersea and the organizer of the local chapter of the Amalgamated Union of Building Trade Workers (AUBTW). Lane invited Churchill to join, and after some initial hesitation, on October 10, 1928, Churchill was inducted into the union. His membership card read: “Winston S. Churchill, Westerham, Kent. Occupation, bricklayer.”

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The First Known Use of “OMG” Was in a Letter to Churchill

The now-ubiquitous “OMG,” an abbreviation meaning “Oh my God,” started popping up in text messages and online chats in the 1990s and early 2000s, but the first known use of the term was actually in a letter to Winston Churchill during World War I. Sent by retired British navy Admiral John Arbuthnot Fisher, the letter was in reaction to newspaper reports at the time, as Fisher criticized Britain’s WWI strategies. At the end of his letter, Fisher snarkily wrote, “I hear that a new order of knighthood is on the tapis” (meaning “on the table”). “O.M.G. — Oh! My God! Shower it on the Admiralty!!” The retired admiral in all his sarcasm was already in his 70s at the time, but his quip laid the groundwork for an entire youth linguistic revolution.


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