This past week I went to see the movie “Darkest Hour.” It deals with the war years Winston Churchill served as Prime Minister. It renewed my thoughts about Churchill. From the time I was ten years old he had been my hero. He continues to be a hero to me.
I saw him only once in person. It was December, 1944. I was in the army and was in London waiting to be shipped to Europe as an infantry replacement. I was standing on a street looking down Downing street. I could see number 10 Downing Street, the residence of the Prime Minister. A limousine stopped in front of the residence and a man got out, not just a man, THE man. The man who a European leader a few years earlier had called,”the indispensable man.” It was a thrill for me then and the memory of it lingers with me.
In so many ways he was an unusual politician. He spent his life in politics and yet he seldom knew what the ordinary voter was thinking. Their lives remained apart from his. He was a Victorian but the age of Victoria had come and gone. He lived in a time of great change and change tended to make him angry. It was not so much that change was undesirable but in his eyes it was improper. It seems incredible that a man so aloof, so out of touch with the times could have won the heart of a democracy. It took a World War to bring it about.
He was a truthful politician. In his first speech to the House of Commons after becoming Prime Minister he said, “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil , tears and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many months of struggle and suffering.” He was right.
Let me share a personal feeling. After I had joined the company I was assigned to just after the Battle of the Bulge had ended a group of us were talking when one of our commissioned officers joined us and told us President Roosevelt and Prime minister Churchill were planning to meet. I was amazed at the reaction of the men to the news. I was new to the company, I knew nothing about the politics of the men but the trust the men placed in those two leaders filled me with confidence that they trusted those two leaders to make the correct decisions to bring about the victory the free world craved . In the words of a later television commercial, they felt they were in good hands.
There was something in him not to be found in many others. There was an extraordinary concentration in him on one purpose, almost an obsession, on victory, whatever it cost. “You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word. It is victory. Victory at all costs – victory in spite of all terrors, victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival.”
It was to victory that he led England. More than that it was to victory that he led the free world. Let me end with some of my favorite words spoken by this indispensable man: “Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and to bear ourselves that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will say, ‘This was their finest hour.”
He was, he is, he always will be one of my heroes.