The Last Lion: Volume 1

Winston Churchill: Visions of Glory, 1874 - 1932


By William Manchester

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The first volume in William Manchester’s masterful, magnum opus account of Winston Churchill’s life. The Last Lion: Visions of Glory follows the first fifty-eight years of Churchill’s life–the years that mold him into the man who will become one of the most influential politicians of the twentieth century.

In this, the first volume, Manchester follows Churchill from his birth to 1932, when he began to warn against the re-militarization of Germany. Born of an American mother and the gifted but unstable son of a duke, his childhood was one of wretched neglect. He sought glory on the battlefields of Cuba, Sudan, India, South Africa and the trenches of France. In Parliament he was the prime force behind the creation of Iraq and Jordan, laid the groundwork for the birth of Israel, and negotiated the independence of the Irish Free State. Yet, as Chancellor of the Exchequer he plunged England into economic crisis, and his fruitless attempt to suppress Gandhi’s quest for Indian independence brought political chaos to Britain.

Throughout, Churchill learned the lessons that would prepare him for the storm to come, and as the 1930’s began, he readied himself for the coming battle against Nazism–an evil the world had never before seen.


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Lieutenant Winston S. Churchill, Subaltern of Horse, Fourth Hussars, 1896


Lieutenant Winston S. Churchill, 1896

Churchill among the ruins of the House of Commons

Churchill family genealogy

Lord Randolph Churchill at the time of his marriage

Lord Randolph in his prime

Invitation to a shipboard dance

Mrs. Jerome and her daughters

Jennie as drawn by John Singer Sargent

Blenheim Palace

Jennie in Ireland

Mrs. Everest

Two of Winston's first letters

Winston at Harrow

Lord Randolph in later years

Jennie and two of her lovers

Lieutenant Winston Churchill in India

Jennie in her prime

Churchill in Cairo, 1898

Pamela Plowden

Churchill in his first campaign for Parliament

The armored-train ambush

From Churchill's later version of the escape

Reward notice

Churchill addressing the crowd at Durban

Spy cartoon

Joseph Chamberlain

Arthur Balfour

Churchill in 1904

Clementine Hozier

Churchill and David Lloyd George

Winston and Jennie, 1912

Churchill and Kaiser Wilhelm

Churchill at British army maneuvers

Churchill and Lord Fisher

Churchill and Asquith

Churchill in pilot's gear

A morning ride

F. E. Smith

Churchill at Antwerp

"Winston's Folly"

Roger Keyes, John de Robeck, and Ian Hamilton

Lieutenant Colonel Churchill, 1916

Churchill in the summer of 1916

Sir Douglas Haig

Churchill in Egypt with T. E. Lawrence

Eamon de Valera and Arthur Griffith

Michael Collins

Churchill and Sir Henry Wilson

Austen Chamberlain, Stanley Baldwin, and Churchill

Churchill playing polo with the Prince of Wales

Churchill with the Duke of Sutherland at Deauville

Winston having fun at the beach

Churchill with Mary at Chartwell

Two views of Chartwell

Churchill building a wall

Churchill building a snowman

Churchill in the garden at Chartwell

Work: In London

Play: At Chartwell

Churchill visits with Charlie Chaplin

Churchill entering the political wilderness

Adolf Hitler

Churchill leaving Lenox Hill Hospital


The British Empire at Its Peak

Egypt and the Sudan, 1898

South Africa, 1899

Churchill’s Escape Route, 1899

Europe, 1914

The Western Front, August 25 to September 1, 1914

The Turkish Theater, 1915

Naval Attack on the Dardanelles, March 18, 1915

The Western Front, Late 1915

The Western Front, June 1916

The Western Front, July 1917

The Western Front, 1918

Europe, November 11, 1918

Anti-Bolshevik-Occupied Territories, 1919 and 1920

The Palestine Mandate

Ireland after Partition

The Indian Empire, 1929

Europe, 1931


1874   WSC born November 30 at Blenheim
1886   His father becomes chancellor of the Exchequer
    His mother is now a great Victorian courtesan
1888   WSC enters Harrow; gets lowest marks in school
1893   Admitted to Sandhurst on third try
1894   Commissioned cavalry subaltern, Fourth Hussars
1895   His father dies
    WSC covers the guerrilla warfare in Cuba
1896   Educates himself in India; discovers Macaulay and Gibbon
    Writes first book
1897   Sees heavy fighting in Khyber Pass
1898   Omdurman: WSC in the last cavalry charge
1899   WSC runs for Parliament; loses
    Captured in the Boer War
    His sensational escape
1900   Recommended for VC
    Elected to Parliament
    Tours United States, Canada
1901   Queen Victoria dies
    WSC's maiden speech
1904   Quits Tories for Liberals
1905   Becomes colonial under secretary
1907   Tours East Africa
1908   Promoted to cabinet
    Marries Clementine Hozier
    His alliance with Lloyd George
    They declare war on House of Lords
1910   WSC becomes home secretary
    His welfare-state programs
1911   Battle of Sidney Street
    WSC becomes first lord of the Admiralty
    Father of the tank
1912–14   Irish Home Rule crisis
1913   WSC learns to fly, founds Royal Naval Flying Corps
1914   Outbreak of the Great War
    WSC commands defense of Antwerp
1915   The Dardanelles tragedy
    WSC dismissed from the Admiralty
    Learns to paint
    Commissioned and sent to the front
1916   As a lieutenant colonel, leads a battalion in trenches
1917   Cleared by the Dardanelles Commission
    Rejoins cabinet
    His tanks in action on the western front
1918   WSC in the trenches again
    Germany surrenders
1919   WSC becomes secretary for war and air
    Chief supporter of Russian anti-Bolsheviks
1920   Black and Tans in Ireland
1921   WSC becomes colonial secretary
    Lawrence of Arabia his adviser
    Founds Jordan, Iraq
    Supports Jewish homeland
    The Chanak crisis
    WSC founds Irish Free State
    Death of Marigold Churchill
1922   WSC buys Chartwell
1922–24   Loses three elections
    Turns Tory, wins
    Becomes chancellor of the Exchequer
1924   Warns of danger in Germany
1925   Returns Britain to the gold standard
1926   General strike
    WSC publishes British Gazette
1929   Tours United States
    Loses fortune in Wall Street
1931   Quits Tory leadership over India
    Manhattan auto accident
    WSC sounds alarm over Nazis
1932   Enters the political wilderness




THE French had collapsed. The Dutch had been overwhelmed. The Belgians had surrendered. The British army, trapped, fought free and fell back toward the Channel ports, converging on a fishing town whose name was then spelled Dunkerque.

Behind them lay the sea.

It was England's greatest crisis since the Norman conquest, vaster than those precipitated by Philip II's Spanish Armada, Louis XIV's triumphant armies, or Napoleon's invasion barges massed at Boulogne. This time Britain stood alone. If the Germans crossed the Channel and established uncontested beachheads, all would be lost, for it is a peculiarity of England's island that its southern weald is indefensible against disciplined troops. In A.D. 61, Queen Boudicca of the Iceni rallied the tribes of East Anglia and routed the Romans at Colchester, Saint Albans, and London (then Londinium), cutting the Ninth Legion to pieces and killing seventy thousand. But because the nature of the southern terrain was unsuitable for the construction of strongpoints, new legions under Paulinus, arriving from Gaul, crushed the revolt, leaving the grief-stricken queen to die by her own hand.

Now the 220,000 Tommies at Dunkirk, Britain's only hope, seemed doomed. On the Flanders beaches they stood around in angular, existential attitudes, like dim purgatorial souls awaiting disposition. There appeared to be no way to bring more than a handful of them home. The Royal Navy's vessels were inadequate. King George VI has been told that they would be lucky to save 17,000. The House of Commons was warned to prepare for "hard and heavy tidings."1 Then, from the streams and estuaries of Kent and Dover, a strange fleet appeared: trawlers and tugs, scows and fishing sloops, lifeboats and pleasure craft, smacks and coasters; the island ferry Gracie Fields; Tom Sopwith's America's Cup challenger Endeavour; even the London fire brigade's fire-float Massey Shaw—all of them manned by civilian volunteers: English fathers, sailing to rescue England's exhausted, bleeding sons.

Even today what followed seems miraculous. Not only were Britain's soldiers delivered; so were French support troops: a total of 338,682 men. But wars are not won by fleeing from the enemy. And British morale was still unequal to the imminent challenge. These were the same people who, less than a year earlier, had rejoiced in the fake peace bought by the betrayal of Czechoslovakia at Munich. Most of their leaders and most of the press remained craven. It had been over a thousand years since Alfred the Great had made himself and his countrymen one and sent them into battle transformed. Now in this new exigency, confronted by the mightiest conqueror Europe had ever known, England looked for another Alfred, a figure cast in a mold which, by the time of the Dunkirk deliverance, seemed to have been forever lost.

England's new leader, were he to prevail, would have to stand for everything England's decent, civilized Establishment had rejected. They viewed Adolf Hitler as the product of complex social and historical forces. Their successor would have to be a passionate Manichaean who saw the world as a medieval struggle to the death between the powers of good and the powers of evil, who held that individuals are responsible for their actions and that the German dictator was therefore wicked. A believer in martial glory was required, one who saw splendor in the ancient parades of victorious legions through Persepolis and could rally the nation to brave the coming German fury. An embodiment of fading Victorian standards was wanted: a tribune for honor, loyalty, duty, and the supreme virtue of action; one who would never compromise with iniquity, who could create a sublime mood and thus give men heroic visions of what they were and might become. Like Adolf Hitler he would have to be a leader of intuitive genius, a born demagogue in the original sense of the word, a believer in the supremacy of his race and his national destiny, an artist who knew how to gather the blazing light of history into his prism and then distort it to his ends, an embodiment of inflexible resolution who could impose his will and his imagination on his people—a great tragedian who understood the appeal of martyrdom and could tell his followers the worst, hurling it to them like great hunks of bleeding meat, persuading them that the year of Dunkirk would be one in which it was "equally good to live or to die"—who could if necessary be just as cruel, just as cunning, and just as ruthless as Hitler but who could win victories without enslaving populations, or preaching supernaturalism, or foisting off myths of his infallibility, or destroying, or even warping, the libertarian institutions he had sworn to preserve. Such a man, if he existed, would be England's last chance.2

In London there was such a man.

Now at last, at last, his hour had struck. He had been waiting in Parliament for forty years, had grown bald and gray in his nation's service, had endured slander and calumny only to be summoned when the situation seemed hopeless to everyone except him. His youngest daughter, seventeen-year-old "Mary the Mouse"—her family nickname—had been sunning herself at Chartwell, their country home in Kent, during the first hours of the German breakthrough, when the music on her portable radio had been interrupted by a BBC bulletin: "His Majesty the King has sent for Mr. Winston Churchill and asked him to form a government." Mary, who adored her father, prayed for him and assumed that he would save England. So, of course, did he. But among those who fully grasped the country's plight, that was a minority view. The Conservative party leadership, the men of Munich, still controlled the government—Lord Halifax, Sir Horace Wilson, Sir Kingsley Wood, Sir John Simon, Sir Samuel Hoare, and, of course, Churchill's predecessor as prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, who detested him and everything he represented. Even George VI hadn't wanted Chamberlain to quit No. 10 Downing Street; he thought his treatment had been "grossly unfair." The King suggested Halifax as his successor. Labour's erratic Stafford Cripps had already come out for Halifax. That suited the Tory hierarchy, but only a coalition could govern the nation, and the National Executive of the Labour party, meeting in a basement room of the Highcliff Hotel in Bournemouth, sent word that they would serve under no Conservative except Churchill. So Chamberlain persuaded the reluctant King to choose the man neither wanted.3

Not that it seemed to matter much. Churchill had said that "the Germans are always either at your throat or at your feet," and as a hot May melted into a hotter June it appeared that their stranglehold was now unbreakable. Hitler was master of Europe. No one, not even Caesar, had stood so securely upon so glittering a pinnacle. The Führer told Göring: "The war is finished. I'll come to an understanding with England." On May 28, the first day of the Dunkirk evacuation, Halifax, speaking for the Conservative leadership, had told Churchill that a negotiated peace was England's only alternative. Now, as the new prime minister's foreign secretary and a member of his War Cabinet, the Yorkshire nobleman was quoted by the United Press as inviting "Chancellor Hitler to make a new and more generous peace offer." It was, he said, the only reasonable course, the only decision a stable man of sound judgment could reach.4

He was quite right. But Winston Churchill was not a reasonable man. He was about as sound as the Maid of Orleans, a comparison he himself once made—"It's when I'm Joan of Arc that I get excited." Even more was he an Elijah, an Isaiah; a prophet. Deep insight, not stability, was his forte. To the War Cabinet he said, "I have thought carefully in these last days whether it was part of my duty to consider entering into negotiations with that man," and concluded: "If this long island story of ours is to end at last, let it end only when each one of us lies choking in his own blood upon the ground." He spoke to them, to the House, and then to the English people as no one had before or ever would again. He said: "I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat." Another politician might have told them: "Our policy is to continue the struggle; all our forces and resources will be mobilized." This is what Churchill said:

Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous states have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, 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.

"Behind us," he said, "… gather a group of shattered states and bludgeoned races: the Czechs, the Poles, the Danes, the Norwegians, the Belgians, the Dutch—upon all of whom a long night of barbarism will descend, unbroken even by a star of hope, unless we conquer, as conquer we must, as conquer we shall." That was the language of the Elizabethans, and of a particular Elizabethan, the greatest poet in history: "This England never did, nor never shall, / Lie at the proud foot of a conqueror."5

Now, fired by the conviction which could only belong to one who had faced down inner despair, Churchill defied the "celestial grins" of Britain's enemies, said peace feelers would "be viewed with the greatest disfavor by me," and said he contemplated the future "with stern and tranquil gaze." Free Englishmen, he told his people, would be more than a match for the "deadly, drilled, docile, brutish mass of the Hun soldiery plodding on like a swarm of crawling locusts." But he warned his family to prepare for invaders. His son's bride Pamela protested: "But Papa, what can I do?" He growled: "You can always get a carving knife from the kitchen and take one with you, can't you?" To the demoralized French he declared: "Whatever you may do, we shall fight on forever and ever and ever." General Maxime Weygand replied by asking what would happen if a hundred Nazi divisions landed at Dover. Churchill told him: "Nous les frapperons sur la tête"—they would be hit on the head as they crawled ashore. Visiting Harrow, he heard the boys sing an old school song rewritten in his honor:

Not less we praise in darker days

The Leader of our Nation,

And Churchill's name shall win acclaim

From each new generation.

He suggested a change. "Darker," he said, should be "sterner." These were no dark days, he told them. Indeed, they would be remembered as great days, provided this "island race" followed his watchword: "Never, never, never, never give in."6

And so he saved Western civilization when men considered its redemption worth any price. The Nazi stain was spreading into the Balkans, into the Middle East, into Brazil; the German-American Bund was staging mass rallies in Madison Square Garden; the New York Times reported in front-page headlines: URUGUAY ON GUARD FOR FIFTH COLUMN, NAZIS TAKE BOLD TONE IN ECUADOR, and ARGENTINE NAZIS RALLY. Men who think of themselves as indispensable are almost always wrong, but Winston Churchill was surely that then. He was like the lion in Revelation, "the first beast," with "six wings about him" and "full of eyes within." In an uncharacteristically modest moment on his eightieth birthday he said: "It was the nation and the race dwelling all round the globe that had the lion's heart; I had the luck to be called upon to give the roar." It wasn't that simple. The spirit, if indeed within them, lay dormant until he became prime minister and they, kindled by his soaring prose, came to see themselves as he saw them and emerged a people transformed, the admiration of free men everywhere.7

At the height of the Battle of Britain, when Hitler tried to win in the air over London what he had expected to gain in a negotiated peace, the prime minister's headquarters lay in a drab brick bunker two blocks south of Downing Street, beneath a stone government building which bears the plaque CABINET OFFICE / CENTRAL STATISTICAL OFFICE. The bunker is still there—nothing in it, not even the pins in the maps, has been changed since V-E Day—and you can descend a cellar stair into the past, emerging into what was known as "the Annexe," or "the CWR," short for "Cabinet War Room." In fact there are many rooms, including a rather barren cell containing a desk bearing the microphone which the prime minister used for his broadcasts and the bed into which his wife could tuck him at night. All messages reached him here through the No. 10 switchboard; an aide could be put through anywhere in England by dialing the magic number: Rapid Falls 4466.


  • "Absolutely magnificent . . . a delight to read . . . one of those books you devour line by line and word by word and finally hate to see end."—Russell Baker
  • "Bedazzling."—Newsweek
  • "Manchester has read further, thought harder, and told with considerable verve what is mesmerizing in [Churchill's] drama. . . . One cannot do better than this book."—Philadelphia Inquirer
  • "An altogether absorbing popular biography . . . The heroic Churchill is in these pages, but so is the little boy writing forlorn letters to the father who all but ignored him."—People
  • "Superb . . . [Manchester] pulls together the multitudinous facets of one of the richest lives ever to be chronicled. . . . Churchill and Manchester were clearly made for each other."—Chicago Tribune
  • "Adds a grand dimension . . . rich in historical and social contexts.—Time

On Sale
Nov 6, 2012
Page Count
992 pages

William Manchester

About the Author

William Manchester was a hugely successful popular historian and biographer whose books include The Last Lion, Volumes 1 and 2, Goodbye Darkness, A World Lit Only by Fire, The Glory and the Dream, The Arms of Krupp, American Caesar, The Death of the President, and assorted works of journalism.

Learn more about this author