In-depth Guides

Written by experts in the field, these essays offer comprehensive explorations of specific topics in relation to Churchill, including the Cold War, airpower, Empire and women amongst many others.

Take advantage of the additional resources – slides, primary sources and further reading selections – to structure your teaching, seminars and research.

Churchill and Women

Paul Addison, University of Edinburgh

Churchill owed much to the three most important women in his life, his nurse Mrs Everest, his mother Lady Randolph Churchill and his wife Clementine. Neither a misogynist nor a womaniser, he enjoyed the company of women socially, delighted in feminine beauty, and greatly valued the work of women secretaries in the organisation of his literary and political life. However, he absorbed in youth the values of a male-dominated world in which women were still excluded from politics and his attitudes towards the enfranchisement of women were ambivalent. It was the role played by women, not least his own daughters, in the Second World War, that persuaded him to revise his opinions – if only to a limited extent.

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Churchill as Strategist in World War Two

Jeremy Black, University of Exeter

Churchill’s reputation as war leader is less secure in strategy and policy than in politics and polemic, and notably in the United States where Britain’s wartime strategy is frequently criticized. He had a difficult hand to play, not least because of the views of the United States and the Soviet Union, but sought to advance national interests and to protect the Empire, and did so with much greater success than could have been anticipated in 1941, let alone 1940. [ 1 ]

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The Birth of the Anglo-American 'Special Relationship'

David Woolner, Roosevelt Institute

The political relationship between Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt is one of the most celebrated in British and American history. The two men are widely credited with crafting the Anglo-American 'special relationship' that helped propel the Allies to victory during the Second World War. Yet, as this article shows, the relationship between the two men - and their two nations - was not without its difficulties. There were tensions; tensions over a host of issues from wartime strategy to the make-up of the post-war economic order. Nor did the two men always see eye to eye on the question of how best to deal with the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, the bonds that were established between Churchill and Roosevelt would not only survive the stress of war, but also lay the basis for the strong ties that still exist between the British and American people.

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Churchill and Nuclear Weapons

Kevin Ruane, Canterbury Christ Church University

In 1898, as a young soldier in the Sudan, Winston Churchill participated in the Battle of Omdurman and witnessed one of the last cavalry charges in British military history. Such was the longevity of his subsequent political career that, half a century later, as Prime Minister of his only peacetime administration, he had to deal with the implications of the hydrogen bomb, a weapon of such vast destructive power that it could lay waste to entire cities, killing hundreds of thousands, even millions, of people in the process. In the popular memory Churchill remains the classic Cold Warrior, determined to stand up to Soviet power, but in truth, by the time he retired in 1955, he had transformed himself into a committed advocate of détente. Still a firm anti-communist, he had become convinced that in nuclear war, unlike the battle of Omdurman, there would be no winners, only losers.

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Winston Churchill and the Cold War

Kevin Ruane, Canterbury Christ Church University

In the popular perception, Winston Churchill is widely regarded as the original Cold Warrior – the man who popularized the term ‘iron curtain’ in 1946 and urged firm resistance to the Soviet Union in Europe and elsewhere. This might have been the Churchill of the late 1940s, but to define him as a wholly unremitting Cold Warrior on the basis of his ‘iron curtain’ speech is to overlook the fluidity and evolving nature of his outlook. Back in power in 1951, and now deeply troubled by the prospect of nuclear war, he dedicated much of the final phase of his long political career to trying to bring about a top-level East–West summit that would help reduce international tensions. Although his quest for a summit failed, the fact remains that the so-called original Cold Warrior had become, by the mid-1950s, a committed advocate of détente.

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Churchill as Chancellor of the Exchequer (1924–9) and the Return to the Gold Standard

Peter Catterall, University of Westminster

The general election of 29 October 1924 saw Winston Churchill return to Parliament as Constitutionalist MP for Epping after two years in the political wilderness. It also saw Stanley Baldwin swept back to Number 10 on a Conservative landslide. Speculation about whether Baldwin would cement Churchill’s drift from the Liberal fold by offering him office surfaced during the election campaign. Churchill nevertheless thought ‘it very unlikely that I shall be invited to join the Government, as owing to the size of the majority it will probably be composed only of impeccable Conservatives’. [ 1 ] Because of his anti-socialist credentials, his ability to reassure wavering Liberals through his opposition to protectionism – dropped by Baldwin after its rejection in the 1923 general election – and concern he could prove a rallying point for backbench malcontents, there was however much to commend giving Churchill a post. To his surprise, Baldwin offered Churchill the long-coveted office of Chancellor of the Exchequer, briefly held by his father before his ill-conceived resignation in 1887. Having arranged a meeting with his Labour predecessor, Philip Snowden, about outstanding business the new Chancellor set to work. Marking his political transition, a few days later Churchill resigned from the National Liberal Club.

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Churchill: The Young Statesman, 1901-1914

David Thackeray, University of Exeter

This essay analyses the early years of Winston Churchill’s parliamentary career. Having been elected as a Conservative MP, he defected to the Liberal party in 1904 and quickly established himself as a rising star in political life. Following the Liberals’ landslide election victory in 1906, Churchill held a succession of offices. As President of the Board of Trade he became one of the main architects of the New Liberal social reform programme. Promotion to the position of Home Secretary followed. Churchill’s tenure was notable for a number of controversies including the escalation of suffragette militancy and outbreaks of industrial unrest. As First Lord of the Admiralty from 1911 he oversaw an expansion of the British fleet in response to the growing challenge of Germany. With its colourful and varied trajectory, Winston Churchill’s early political career provides a unique opportunity to explore the tumultuous course of Edwardian politics between 1901 and 1914.

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Churchill and Empire

Richard Toye, University of Exeter

Churchill’s youth coincided with the high-water mark of Victorian imperial optimism. He reached political maturity at a time when the British Empire was coming under increasing strain, and the final decade of his active career saw major steps towards its dissolution, very much against his will. Yet although he is remembered as a ‘die-hard’ defender of the Empire, examination of the documentary record shows that this image – which he himself cultivated in the years after 1918 – cannot be taken wholly at face value.

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Churchill and Airpower

Richard Overy, University of Exeter

Churchill was an enthusiast for the military use of aircraft throughout his long public career and a keen amateur aviator. This module explores his relationship with military aviation from the early days of the naval air force established when he was First Lord of the Admiralty in 1914, through his role as Minister of Munitions in 1917–18 and then Air Minister in 1919–20, and his eventual position in the Second World War as Prime Minister and Minister of Defence when he could play a full part in shaping Royal Air Force strategy and development. The major question remains Churchill’s part in approving and sustaining the bombing of German cities and civilians, and particularly the controversial question of Dresden. The module explores Churchill’s wavering support for bombing and his eventual view that it was useful as a political tool as much as a strategic necessity. The moral implications of bombing, including the atomic attacks, played little part in his calculations.

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Winston Churchill as First Lord of the Admiralty, 23 October 1911 - 24 May 1915

Martin Thornton, University of Leeds

Working at the Admiralty prior to the First World War, Winston Churchill exhibited a number of positive and negative attitudes towards Germany. He admired much about Germany's modernisation and social reform programmes, but saw their naval expansion as a direct threat to peace. In calling for a two to one battleship construction programme in favour of Great Britain, Churchill also mooted the idea of a 'holiday' in construction - an idea not taken seriously by Germany. At the Admiralty, Churchill appeared to be in his element, both as a micromanager and a strategic thinker. In turn, the First World War justified many of his concerns about Germany and made him a man for his times. However, his tenure at the Admiralty became beset with difficult news at sea and culminated with the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign. An issue like Ireland concerned Churchill deeply, even as First Lord of the Admiralty, but it is dealt with in other studies.

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Churchill and Labour

Chris Wrigley, Nottingham University

Churchillʼs political career coincided with the considerable growth of the British labour movement in the first half of the twentieth century. Churchill was very hostile to communism and to militant trade unionism. His attitude to the Labour Party was mixed. He depicted it as a major threat to the social order during the period of red revolution in Europe after the First World War. By the later 1930s he was ready to work with Labour supporters of rearmament and the Labour Party was a major partner in his Second World War coalition government. While hostile to militant trade unionism, he generally saw moderate trade unionism as a respected element of British democracy. He had a paternalistic concern for the wellbeing of the underdogs in British society, and he showed this in practical measures such as minimum wages in sweated trades (under his Trades Board legislation before the First World War).

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Winston Churchill and the Islamic World

Warren Dockter, University of Cambridge

This essay examines Winston Churchill's relationship with the Islamic world by deconstructing misconceptions regarding Churchill's views of Islam. It takes a fresh look at Churchill's relationship with British India and the Middle East, and considers how Churchill's early experiences as a junior officer in India and Sudan shaped his perceptions and policies as a statesman. Moreover, the essay evaluates Churchill's relationship with the leaders of the Ottoman Empire, prominent British Muslims such as Waris Ali and British Arabists such as T. E. Lawrence. It reveals the extent to which Churchill was engaged with the Islamic world and suggests that his views on Islam were more complex than has generally been thought.

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Churchill and the Conservative Party

Stuart Ball, University of Leicester

This essay explores Winston Churchill’s complex relationship with the Conservative Party. He began his political career as a Conservative MP but became a rebel and left to join the Liberal Party in 1904. As a rising figure in the Liberal ranks and a radical reformer, he was detested by his former party. It was at Conservative insistence that Churchill was removed from the Admiralty in 1915, and his return to office under David Lloyd George in 1917 was in the teeth of vehement Conservative protests. After the fall of Lloyd George in 1922, Churchill’s opposition to socialism led him back to the Conservatives, and he served as Chancellor of the Exchequer in Stanley Baldwin’s government of 1924–29. He went ‘into the wilderness’ in the 1930s, leading rebellions against the Conservative leaders over India and appeasement, and many thought that his career was over. Instead, he became Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader in 1940, and led the Conservatives for fifteen years through both electoral disaster and recovery, finally returning to the premiership in 1951–55. Churchill is often seen as being outside the normal run of party politics – an unorthodox individualist and an unrepentant coalitionist, always seeking new combinations. In fact, his whole political life was shaped by his connection with the Conservative Party, and it was a continuous and central element in the ups and downs of his political career.

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Churchill and the General Strike

Peter Catterall, University of Westminster

Churchill made clear his concerns about the constitutional challenge posed by a general strike long before the events of May 1926. However, his role in the run-up to those events was largely confined to agreeing the subsidy for the mining industry in July 1925 which postponed the conflagration. Churchill's profile, not least through involvement with the British Gazette, nevertheless led to some exaggeration of his part in events, though not of his hostility to a general strike. The coal dispute which helped to spark it, was however for him a very different matter, and Churchill tried hard if unsuccessfully to resolve this during the autumn of 1926.

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