Winston Churchill’s command of the English language was arguably one of the greatest weapons in his arsenal.
It was integral not only in strengthening the resolve of the British public, but in sending out a clear message to enemies and allies alike on the global stage.
In a 1906 election speech he is quoted as saying that “Men will forgive a man anything except bad prose.” As Dominique Enright has noted, “Churchill’s love of words revealed itself above all in the way he enjoyed playing with them.”
He could be acid-tongued, cynical, and comical, yet he was the master of delivering stern, hard-hitting monologues evoking both realism and resilience.
Churchill’s June 1940 “We shall fight on the beaches…” speech is one such example of the intense morale-rousing qualities he possessed. Allegedly, he was to turn to a colleague mid-speech, muttering “And we’ll fight them with the butt ends of broken beer bottles because that’s bloody well all we’ve got!”
Commonly used terms “The Few” and “The Battle of Britain” both premièred in Churchill’s speeches.
The following is a small and by no means exhaustive sample of Churchill’s famous oratory, including some perhaps lesser-known diatribes.
10 Winston Churchill Quotes
1. On making speeches:
“I’m going to make a long speech because I’ve not had the time to prepare a short one.”
2. On Hitler’s invasion of Russia, and Britain’s tenuous alliance with Stalin:
“If Hitler invaded Hell I would make at least a favourable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons.”
3. Referencing The First World War, in June 1944:
“I am sure that the mistakes of that time will not be repeated; we should probably make another set of mistakes.”
4. On Neville Chamberlain, shortly after the infamous ‘appeasement’ of Hitler, 29th September 1938, Munich:
“You were given the choice between war and dishonour. You chose dishonour and you will have war.”
5. On Field Marshall Sir Bernard Montgomery:
“Indomitable in retreat, invincible in advance; insufferable in victory.”
Also quoted as:
“In defeat, unbeatable; in victor, unbearable,”
6. Whilst in opposition:
“When I am abroad, I always make it a rule never to criticise or attack the government of my own country. I make up for lost time when I get home.”
7. To reporters after a conference with President Truman at the White House, February 1946.
“I think ‘No comment’ is a splendid expression. I am using it again and again. I got it from Sumner Welles [US Under-Secretary of State, 1937-42].”
8. Of political rival and former Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin:
“He occasionally stumbled over the truth, but hastily picked himself up and hurried on as if nothing had happened.”
9. On Communism:
“Trying to maintain good relations with a Communist is like wooing a crocodile. You do not know whether to tickle it under the chin or beat it over the head. When it opens its mouth, you cannot tell whether it is trying to smile or preparing to eat you up.”
10. On his legacy:
“I have not always been wrong. History will bear me out, particularly as I shall write that history myself.”
Many more quotes, from subjects as diverse as drink, politics and animals can be found in The Wicked Wit of Winston Churchill, compiled by Dominique Enright (Michael O’Mara Books Ltd, 2001)
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