Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Churchill Series - Aug. 14, 2008

(One of a series of weekday posts about the life of Winston S. Churchill.)

Below are the first sentences of a BBC radio address Churchill delivered on April 27, 1941. Russia and America were not yet in the war. Britain had endured eight months of heavy bombing. Bombing casualty estimates to that time included 30,000 killed. No one knew when the bombing would cease.

Churchill began - - -

I was asked last week whether I was aware of some uneasiness which it was said existed in the country on account of the gravity, as it was described, of the war situation.

So I thought it would be a good thing to go and see for myself what this “uneasiness” amounted to, and I went to some of our great cities and seaports which had been most heavily bombed, and to some of the places where the poorest people had got it worst.
I have come back not only reassured, but refreshed.

To leave the offices in Whitehall with their ceaseless hum of activity and stress, and to go out to the front, by which I mean the streets and wharves of London or Liverpool, Manchester, Cardiff, Swansea or Bristol, is like going out of a hothouse on to the bridge of a fighting ship.

It is a tonic which I should recommend any who are suffering from fretfulness to take in strong doses when they have need of it. …

What we’ve just read won't find its way into a collection of Churchill’s most magisterial speeches. But the beginning of that April 1941 radio address surely belongs in a collection of his most psychologically effective statements.

Faced with needing to brace the morale of the British people through a long ordeal the end of which many could not see, Churchill in a few sentences does the following:

He tells the people he’s heard of “some uneasiness” (really theirs but he doesn’t say that) and lets them know he checked it out.

They needn’t worry. Based on what he saw – he details some of it – the Prime Minister assures the country he returned to Whitehall “not only reassured, but refreshed.”

The people understand his perfectly chosen “bridge of a fighting ship” figure of speech refers to them.

For those suffering from “fretfulness” Churchill recommends the “tonic “ you get on the “bridge of a fighting ship.”

Little wonder the British people carried on when the way to victory was still uncertain.
The text cited here is found of pg. 97 of His Finest Hours: The War Speeches of Winston Churchill. Introduction by Graham Stewart. (Querus, 2007)