The Power of Words


By Winston Churchill

Edited by Martin Gilbert

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A collection of the best and most quoted speeches and writings of Nobel Prize-winner Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill knew the power of words. In speeches, books, and articles, he expressed his feelings and laid out his vision for the future. His wartime writings and speeches have fascinated generation after generation with their powerful narrative style and thoughtful reflection.

Martin Gilbert, Churchill’s official biographer, has chosen passages that express the essence of Churchill’s thoughts and describe-in his own inimitable words-the main adventures of his life and the main crises of his career. From first to last, they give insight into his life, how it evolved, and how he made his mark on the British and world stage.


The Appeasers (with Richard Gott)
The European Powers, 1900 – 1945
The Roots of Appeasement
Children's Illustrated Bible Atlas
Atlas of British Charities
The Holocaust: Maps and Photographs
The Jews of Arab Lands: Their History in Maps
The Jews of Russia: Their History in Maps
Sir Horace Rumbold: Portrait of a Diplomat
Jerusalem: Rebirth of a City
Jerusalem in the Twentieth Century
Exile and Return: The Struggle for Jewish Statehood
Israel: A History
The Story of Israel
Auschwitz and the Allies
The Jews of Hope: The Plight of Soviet Jewry Today
Shcharansky: Hero of Our Time
The Holocaust: The Jewish Tragedy
Kristallnacht: Prelude to Destruction
The Boys: Triumph over Adversity
The First World War
Somme: The Heroism and Horror of War
The Second World War
The Day the War Ended
Empires in Conflict: A History of the Twentieth Century, 1900 – 1933
Descent into Barbarism: A History of the Twentieth Century, 1934 – 1951
Challenge to Civilization: A History of the Twentieth Century, 1952 – 1999
Never Again: A History of the Holocaust
The Jews in the Twentieth Century: An Illustrated History
Letters to Auntie Fori: The 5,000-Year History of the Jewish People and Their Faith
The Righteous: The Unsung Heroes of the Holocaust
In Ishmael's House: the 1,400-Year History of Jews under Muslim Rule
In Search of Churchill
Churchill and America
Churchill and the Jews
The Will of the People: Churchill and Parliamentary Democracy


Volume III: The Challenge of War, 1914 – 1916 Document Volume III (in two parts)
Volume IV: World in Torment, 1917 – 1922 Document Volume IV (in three parts)
Volume V: The Coming of War, 1922 – 1939
Document Volume V: The Exchequer Years, 1922 – 1929
Document Volume V: The Wilderness Years, 1929 – 1935
Document Volume V: The Coming of War, 1936 – 1939
Volume VI: Finest Hour, 1939 – 1941
Churchill War Papers I: At the Admiralty, September 1939 – May 1940
Churchill War Papers II: Never Surrender, May – December 1940
Churchill War Papers III: The Ever-Widening War, 1941
Volume VII: Road to Victory, 1941 – 1945
Volume VIII: Never Despair, 1945 – 1965
Churchill: A Photographic Portrait
Churchill: A Life


Atlas of American History
Atlas of the Arab – Israeli Conflict
Atlas of British History
Atlas of the First World War
Atlas of the Holocaust
Historical Atlas of Jerusalem
Atlas of Jewish History
Atlas of Russian History
Atlas of the Second World War


Britain and Germany between the Wars
Plough My Own Furrow: The Life of Lord Allen of Hurtwood
Servant of India: Diaries of the Viceroy's Private Secretary, 1905 – 1910
Surviving the Holocaust: The Kovno Ghetto Diary of Avraham Tory
Winston Churchill and Emery Reves: Correspondence 1937 – 1964

President John F. Kennedy, in making Winston Churchill an Honorary Citizen of the United States in April 1963, said of him: 'He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.'
Churchill died in 1965, a few weeks after his ninetieth birthday. Throughout his six decades in the public eye and in public life, he understood and wielded the power of words. In his speeches, books, and newspaper and magazine articles, he expressed his feelings and laid out his vision for the future. From his first experiences of war between 1895 and 1900, his vivid narrative style and thoughtful reflections were read with fascination in Britain and beyond. While still in his twenties, he was a much sought-after speaker in Britain and the United States.
I have chosen 200 extracts from his books, articles and speeches that seem to me to express the essence of his thoughts, and to describe – in his own words – the main adventures of his life, the main crises of his career, his main parliamentary interventions and initiatives, and his philosophy of life and human existence. These extracts range from his memories of his childhood and schooldays to his contributions, during more than fifty years, to debates on social policy and on war. They cover his contributions to the discourse and events of two world wars, and his hopes and efforts to see the world emerge a better place.
Churchill used words for different purposes: to argue for moral and political causes, to advocate courses of action in the social, national and international spheres, and to tell the story of his own life and that of Britain and its place in the world. He was the author of fifty-eight books: seven books of memoirs, sixteen volumes of history (which contained within them his personal memories of both world wars), twenty-two volumes of his own speeches, four selections of his newspaper and magazine articles, two volumes of essays, six biographical volumes (four about his illustrious military ancestor John Churchill, first Duke of Marlborough, and two about his father Lord Randolph Churchill) and one novel (from which the first reading in this collection is taken).
Churchill's newspaper and magazine articles have never been published in book form in their totality. He wrote 842 articles in all, 212 of them his eye-witness reports from theatres of war in Cuba, the North-West Frontier, Sudan and South Africa. The first, sent from Cuba, was published in London on 13 December 1895, two weeks after his twenty-first birthday.
Churchill was an accomplished storyteller. He loved the ebb and flow of narrative, and in many of his books, and also in his speeches, portrayed the dramatic events that he had witnessed, and had often been a part of. His summary of Britain's role in the Second World War, in his broadcast on 13 May 1945, six days after the German surrender, is a masterpiece of concision combined with emotion.
The extracts that I have chosen are my favourites; ones through which I came to see the range and impact of Churchill's interests, concerns, and contributions to British life and to the international conflicts and hopes of the first half of the twentieth century. I began collecting this material in 1962, the year in which I first began work on the Churchill biography as a young research assistant to Churchill's son Randolph, whom I succeeded as biographer on his death in 1968.
I have put the extracts in chronological order, and in their context, so that, read sequentially, they form a biographical narrative. Read in whatever order, they give a flavour of Churchill's wide-ranging interests and involvement in national and world events, both as an observer and as a participant, often at the centre of government or at its head as Prime Minister. His broadcast of 16 June 1941 to the United States is published here in full, with a note of the words and phrases he changed.
Churchill's published writings span every aspect of his life and career, in peace and in war. His speeches, in Parliament and in public, reflect the conflicts and controversies with which he was involved during his long years of public life. 'If I found the right words', he told those gathered in Westminster Hall to celebrate his eightieth birthday in 1954, 'you must remember that I have always earned my living by my pen and by my tongue.'
As one of the highest-paid journalists of his generation, and as a candidate – five times unsuccessfully – at twenty-one parliamentary electoral contests between 1899 and 1955, Churchill could write amid the storm of the battlefield and in the calm of his study, and speak in the cut and thrust of vigorous public and parliamentary debate. Words were his most persuasive weapon. Each of the extracts in these pages adds to our understanding of Churchill's life and thought, and provides an insight into how he made his mark on the British and the world stage. I hope you enjoy reading – and re-reading – them as much as I have.
Martin Gilbert
10 January 2012

These readings are taken from a range of sources in which one can find Churchill's actual words, written or spoken; details of these sources are given in the 'Sources for each of the readings' at the end of the book.
The largest single number of Churchill's speeches – those that he made in the House of Commons between 1901 and 1955 – are to be found in Hansard (the verbatim record of debates in the House of Commons). His speeches elsewhere were mostly printed in contemporary national and local newspapers, in his own collected volumes of speeches, and in Winston S. Churchill: His Complete Speeches, 1897 – 1963, edited by Robert Rhodes James (eight volumes, 1974). Churchill's speech to the officers of his battalion in Flanders in 1916 is in a letter that he wrote to his wife on the following day; this letter, and his speech notes on the 'terrible' twentieth century, are in the Churchill Papers at the Churchill Archives Centre, Churchill College, Cambridge. His speech of 4 October 1901 is from a press cutting in the Churchill Papers. His speech notes for his broadcast of 16 June 1941 to the United States are from a private collection.
Many of Churchill's own published books contain his personal memories and reflections. Among these books are The Story of the Malakand Field Force (1898), The River War (1899), London to Ladysmith via Pretoria (1900), The World Crisis (five volumes, 1923 – 31), My Early Life (1930) and The Second World War (six volumes, 1948 – 53).
Churchill's letter of resignation in November 1915 was published in the British national newspapers at the time. His description of a commander-in-chief on the Western Front in the First World War – a little-known portrayal of Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig – is tucked discreetly away in Volume Two of his four-volume biography, Marlborough: His Life and Times.
Churchill's retort to Ambassador Kennedy's defeatism on the eve of war in 1939 was recorded by two of those present, Harold Nicolson and Walter Lippmann, in their diaries. His remarks in 1942 about General de Gaulle in a Secret Session speech in the House of Commons – remarks that Churchill decided to omit from the speech when it was published after the war – are in the Churchill Archives Centre at Churchill College, Cambridge, as are the recollections of Sir Murland de Grasse Evans of a conversation with Churchill at Harrow in 1891.


Winston Churchill was born on 30 November 1874, in Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire. His father, Lord Randolph Churchill, was the son of a duke, and had political ambitions: first entering Parliament in the year of Winston's birth, he rose in eleven years to Cabinet rank, eventually serving as Chancellor of the Exchequer. His mother was American, born Jennie Jerome in Brooklyn. From the age of two until the age of seven, Churchill was looked after by his nurse, Mrs Everest, who was devoted to him, and to whom he was in turn devoted. His mother, he wrote in My Early Life, 'shone for me like the Evening Star. I loved her dearly – but at a distance . . . My nurse was my confidante. Mrs Everest it was who looked after me and tended all my wants. It was to her I poured out my many troubles.' Mrs Everest remained a welcome source of support and advice to Churchill until his teens. In the only novel that he wrote, Savrola, published in 1900, he described a moment when the hero's nurse enters the room:
His thoughts were interrupted by the entrance of the old woman with a tray. He was tired, but the decencies of life had to be observed; he rose, and passed into the inner room to change his clothes and make his toilet.
When he returned, the table was laid; the soup he had asked for had been expanded by the care of his housekeeper into a more elaborate meal. She waited on him, plying him the while with questions and watching his appetite with anxious pleasure.
She had nursed him from his birth up with a devotion and care which knew no break. It is a strange thing, the love of these women. Perhaps it is the only disinterested affection in the world. The mother loves her child; that is maternal nature. The youth loves his sweetheart; that too may be explained. The dog loves his master; he feeds him; a man loves his friend; he has stood by him perhaps at doubtful moments. In all there are reasons; but the love of a foster-mother for her charge appears absolutely irrational. It is one of the few proofs, not to be explained even by the association of ideas, that the nature of mankind is superior to mere utilitarianism, and that his destinies are high.
The light and frugal supper finished, the old woman departed with the plates, and he fell to his musings again.

Four weeks before his eighth birthday, Churchill's parents sent him to a boarding school, St George's, Ascot, outside London. He recalled his time at that school in his book My Early Life:
How I hated this school, and what a life of anxiety I lived – there for more than two years. I made very little progress at my lessons, and none at all at games. I counted the days and the hours to the end of every term, when I should return home from this hateful servitude and range my soldiers in line of battle on the nursery floor.
The greatest pleasure I had in those days was reading. When I was nine and a half my father gave me Treasure Island, and I remember the delight with which I devoured it. My teachers saw me at once backward and precocious, reading books beyond my years and yet at the bottom of the Form. They were offended. They had large resources of compulsion at their disposal, but I was stubborn. Where my reason, imagination or interest were not engaged, I would not or I could not learn. In all the twelve years I was at school no one ever succeeded in making me write a Latin verse or learn any Greek except the alphabet. I do not at all excuse myself for this foolish neglect of opportunities procured at so much expense by my parents and brought so forcibly to my attention by my Preceptors. Perhaps if I had been introduced to the ancients through their history and customs, instead of through their grammar and syntax, I might have had a better record.

As a young boy Churchill suffered from repeated bouts of ill-health, so much so that the family doctor advised that he should leave St George's (which Churchill called St James's in his memoirs) and go to a school by the sea. This was a boarding school at Brighton, of which Churchill later wrote in My Early Life:
I fell into a low state of health at St. James's School, and finally after a serious illness my parents took me away. Our family doctor, the celebrated Robson Roose, then practised at Brighton; and as I was now supposed to be very delicate, it was thought desirable that I should be under his constant care. I was accordingly, in 1883, transferred to a school at Brighton kept by two ladies.
This was a smaller school than the one I had left. It was also cheaper and less pretentious. But there was an element of kindness and of sympathy which I had found conspicuously lacking in my first experiences. Here I remained for three years; and though I very nearly died from an attack of double pneumonia, I got gradually much stronger in that bracing air and gentle surroundings. At this school I was allowed to learn things which interested me: French, History, lots of Poetry by heart, and above all Riding and Swimming. The impression of those years makes a pleasant picture in my mind, in strong contrast to my earlier schoolday memories.

Churchill's next school was Harrow, chosen for him by his parents – again on their doctor's advice – as it was set on a hill and thus considered healthier than Eton, by the River Thames. Churchill lived at Harrow as a boarder, from 1888, when he was thirteen, until he was eighteen, in 1892. There he excelled at History and English, and won both the Harrow School and Public Schools fencing championships. As he wrote in My Early Life:
I first went to Harrow in the summer term. The school possessed the biggest swimming bath I had ever seen. It was more like the bend of a river than a bath, and it had two bridges across it. Thither we used to repair for hours at a time, and bask between our dips, eating enormous buns, on the hot asphalt margin. Naturally it was a good joke to come up behind some naked friend, or even enemy, and push him in. I made quite a habit of this with boys of my own size or less.
One day when I had been no more than a month in the school, I saw a boy standing in a meditative posture wrapped in a towel on the very brink. He was no bigger than I was, so I thought him fair game. Coming stealthily behind, I pushed him in, holding on to his towel out of humanity, so that it should not get wet. I was startled to see a furious face emerge from the foam, and a being evidently of enormous strength making its way by fierce strokes to the shore. I fled; but in vain. Swift as the wind my pursuer overtook me, seized me in a ferocious grip and hurled me into the deepest part of the pool. I soon scrambled out on the other side, and found myself surrounded by an agitated crowd of younger boys. 'You're in for it,' they said. 'Do you know what you have done? It's Amery; he's in the Sixth Form. He is Head of his House; he is champion at Gym; he has got his football colours.'
They continued to recount his many titles to fame and reverence, and to dilate upon the awful retribution that would fall upon me. I was convulsed not only with terror, but with the guilt of sacrilege. How could I tell his rank when he was in a bath-towel and so small? I determined to apologise immediately. I approached the potentate in lively trepidation. 'I am very sorry,' I said. 'I mistook you for a Fourth Form boy. You are so small.' He did not seem at all placated by this; so I added in a most brilliant recovery, 'My father, who is a great man, is also small'. At this he laughed, and after some general remarks about my 'cheek' and how I had better be careful in the future, signified that the incident was closed.
I have been fortunate to see a good deal more of him, in times when three years' difference in age is not so important as it is at school. We were afterwards to be Cabinet colleagues for a good many years.

In 1891, while at Harrow, the sixteen-year-old Churchill would often speak about his future with the other boys, one of whom, Murland (later Sir Murland) de Grasse Evans – who was Churchill's age, and lived to see him become Prime Minister – later recalled a conversation one Sunday evening after chapel: 'We frankly discussed our futures. After placing me in the Diplomatic Service, perhaps because of my French descent from Admiral de Grasse who was defeated by Lord Rodney in the Battle of the Saints, 1782; or alternatively in finance, following my father's career, we came to his own future':
'Will you go into the army?' I asked.
'I don't know, it is probable, but I shall have great adventures beginning soon after I leave here.'
'Are you going into politics? Following your famous father?'
'I don't know, but it is more than likely because, you see, I am not afraid to speak in public.'
'You do not seem at all clear about your intentions or desires.'
'That may be, but I have a wonderful idea of where I shall be eventually. I have dreams about it.'
'Where is that?' I enquired.
'Well, I can see vast changes coming over a now peaceful world; great upheavals, terrible struggles; wars such as one cannot imagine; and I tell you London will be in danger – London will be attacked and I shall be very prominent in the defence of London.'
'How can you talk like that?' I said; 'we are for ever safe from invasion, since the days of Napoleon.'
'I see further ahead than you do. I see into the future. This country will be subjected somehow, to a tremendous invasion, by what means I do not know, but (warming up to his subject) I tell you I shall be in command of the defences of London and I shall save London and England from disaster.'
'Will you be a general then, in command of the troops?'
'I don't know; dreams of the future are blurred but the main objective is clear. I repeat – London will be in danger and in the high position I shall occupy, it will fall to me to save the Capital and save the Empire.'

Churchill was to have several narrow escapes from death during his life: at school when he almost succumbed to pneumonia, in the Army, while flying, in the water, and while crossing the street in New York. The second of these escapes – following the pneumonia – took place early in 1893, when he was eighteen, as he described in My Early Life:
My aunt, Lady Wimborne, had lent us her comfortable estate at Bournemouth for the winter. Forty or fifty acres of pine forest descended by sandy undulations terminating in cliffs to the smooth beach of the English Channel. It was a small, wild place and through the middle there fell to the sea level a deep cleft called a 'chine'. Across this 'chine' a rustic bridge nearly 50 yards long had been thrown. I was just 18 and on my holidays. My younger brother aged 12 and a cousin aged 14 proposed to chase me. After I had been hunted for twenty minutes and was rather short of breath, I decided to cross the bridge. Arrived at its centre I saw to my consternation that the pursuers had divided their forces. One stood at each end of the bridge; capture seemed certain. But in a flash there came across me a great project. The chine which the bridge spanned was full of young fir trees.
Their slender tops reached to the level of the footway. 'Would it not' I asked myself 'be possible to leap on to one of them and slip down the pole-like stem, breaking off each tier of branches as one descended, until the fall was broken?' I looked at it. I computed it. I meditated. Meanwhile I climbed over the balustrade. My young pursuers stood wonder-struck at either end of the bridge. To plunge or not to plunge, that was the question! In a second I had plunged, throwing out my arms to embrace the summit of the fir tree. The argument was correct; the data were absolutely wrong. It was three days before I regained consciousness and more than three months before I crawled from my bed.
The measured fall was 29 feet on to hard ground. But no doubt the branches helped. My mother, summoned by the alarming message of the children, 'He jumped over the bridge and he won't speak to us,' hurried down with energetic aid and inopportune brandy. It was an axiom with my parents that in serious accident or illness the highest medical aid should be invoked, regardless of cost. Eminent specialists stood about my bed.
Later on when I could understand again, I was shocked and also flattered to hear of the enormous fees they had been paid. My father travelled over at full express from Dublin where he had been spending his Christmas at one of old Lord Fitzgibbon's once-celebrated parties. He brought the greatest of London surgeons with him. I had among other injuries a ruptured kidney. It is to the surgeon's art and to my own pronounced will-to-live that the reader is indebted for this story. But for a year I looked at life round a corner.

Churchill's next narrow escape from death came eighteen months later, in the summer of 1894, when he was once again on holiday, this time with his brother Jack, on Lake Geneva. Churchill, then nineteen, was an army cadet at Sandhurst. He described what happened in My Early Life, not mentioning that the 'boy a little younger than myself' was his brother:
I went for a row with another boy a little younger than myself. When we were more than a mile from the shore, we decided to have a swim, pulled off our clothes, jumped into the water and swam about in great delight. When we had had enough, the boat was perhaps 100 yards


  • "Will give the reader great insight into the history of Britain during the time of Churchill and Churchill's own development into the leader during their 'finest hour.' Highly recommended especially in this age of politics over character."—Sacramento Book Review
  • "With 200 extracts well chosen by historian and Churchill biographer Martin Gilbert, this book isn't just informative and entertaining. It's inspiring."—Charleston Post and Courier
  • "What makes this particular volume stand out is the expert's encyclopedic knowledge about the subject--and his keen eye in choosing the most exceptional works of a man who wrote and spoke so many of them. Mr Gilbert has long been Churchill's greatest champion, but he wisely takes a secondary role to simply provide brief thoughts on each excerpt's historical significance. In doing so, Churchill's astonishing mastery of the English language can thereby do all the talking...a superb volume of Churchill's writings and speeches."—Washington Times
  • "A masterful book and a history worth buying and reading and paying attention to."—Veterans Reporter
  • "Winston Churchill's speeches...sing in a way English language statesmen and politicians have tried unsuccessfully to match ever since. This volume has them all, and in chronological order, often with brief lead-ins to supply context, so it can be read as a history of the British Empire during the first half of the 20th century, or used as an anthology of Churchillian quotations...Kudos to Sir Gilbert for the service he has performed in packing the best of Churchill into one comprehensible volume."—Buffalo News

On Sale
Jun 5, 2012
Page Count
536 pages
Da Capo Press

Winston Churchill

About the Author

Sir Martin Gilbert was one of Britain’s leading historians. He authored more than eighty books and was an Honorary Fellow of Merton College, Oxford.

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