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Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom - World Leaders in History

The British Prime Minister during World War II, Churchill's influence in maintaining the morale of the UK and an alliance against the Axis was wholly significant.

5. Early Life

Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill was born on the 30th of November, 1874 at the Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, England. As a Conservative Party member, he served as UK prime minister twice, from 1940 to 1945, and again from 1951 to 1955. Churchill was raised by a nanny, and his early education began at St. George’s School, Ascot near Brighton, when he was 7 years old, then went on to Brunswick School and eventually Harrow School. At school, he was indifferent to his studies, and earned poor grades though he was very bright. According to the Lehrman Institute, the young Churchill, in contrast to his portrayal as an adult, was considered a brat, prankster, and non-conformist. From a young age Churchill was fascinated with the military, and enrolled at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, when he was in his early twenties.

4. Rise to Power

Churchill's political career began in 1900, after a stint as a soldier and a journalist, in which capacities he travelled to such countries as Cuba, Afghanistan, Egypt, and South Africa. He was elected as a Member of Parliament for Oldham, but in 1904 defected to the Liberal Party, where for a decade he rose to ever higher ranks. With the Liberal Party in power, Churchill was one of the architects of the First World War's botched Gallipoli Campaign (1915-1916), wherein 44,000 Allied troops died. Disgraced, Churchill resigned. By the time the Second World War broke out, in 1939, Churchill's warnings about the danger of Hitler when he was out of politics were proven to be correct. He then succeeded Neville Chamberlain as Prime Minister in 1940, after being appointed in the House of Commons by an all-party coalition government.

3. Contributions

As Prime Minister, Churchill inspired the UK and her allies to fight against Hitler’s Nazism from 1940 to 1945 during World War II. He forged the UK’s alliance with Josef Stalin, the Soviet Union's leader, and Franklin Roosevelt, the US President, in order to fight Hitler’s Nazi Germany and its fellow Axis nations' armies. During the war, his inspirational and powerful speeches explained the necessity of war, forbade defeatist talk, and gave hope to a nation under siege. When London was bombed by German Luftwaffe warplanes, Churchill remained, and regularly visited the bombed sites. This endeared him to the people, who increasingly saw their leader as one of them.

2. Challenges

After becoming Prime Minister in 1940, Churchill’s main challenge was keeping the morale of the nation high, especially after the British Army had escaped capture at Dunkirk. To win against Nazism, Churchill had the arduous task of convincing Roosevelt and Stalin to join the British in fighting Germany. The US and the Soviet Union were not allies beforehand, and Churchill was said to be the glue holding together this three-nation grand alliance.

1. Death and Legacy

Winston Churchill died on the 24th of January, 1965, from complications related to a stroke. His valor during World War II etched him into pictures of greatness amongst ordinary Britons, historians, and other world leaders alike. In 2002, a poll conducted by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) saw Churchill voted as the "Greatest Briton" of all time, ahead of such names as Oliver Cromwell, John Lennon, Horatio Nelson, Queen Elizabeth I, Isaac Newton, Princess Diana, and Charles Darwin. Churchill’s powerful rhetoric distinguished him from other politicians of his day. Even when out of Parliament in the late 1930s, he warned against the practice of the British appeasement of Hitler. Churchill advocated for democratic ideals, and forged a special Anglo-American relationship across the pond. He wasn’t shy when it came time to make difficult decisions, such as ordering the destruction of the French fleet so that it wouldn’t fall into German hands in 1940. However, he did receive much criticism in his time for what some said were overly conservative economic stances, and for complying with Stalin's demand for control over Eastern Europe in return for not having Greece fall under the sphere of Soviet influence.

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