Winston Churchill ‘agonised’ over finest hour speech, papers reveal

To many, it was Winston Churchill’s finest hour.

Richard Alleyne
The Telegraph [UK]
18 June 2010

The address he made to the British nation as it stood alone against the Nazi war machine is one of the most celebrated speeches in history.

Full of passion and Shakespearesque language, his appeal for fortitude and courage was credited with re-galvanising the country in its darkest hour.

But a new examination of his papers shows how he agonised over every famous phrase – even adding one at the last minute – and how his private secretary was secretly unimpressed by his efforts.

The “finest hour” speech was made on June 18, 1940, during one of the lowest and most uncertain moments of the Second World War.

The Battle of France was lost, the Battle of Britain was about to begin and the country stood alone against the might of a German offensive that had swept much of Europe before it.

The speech he delivered, first to parliament and then over the radio to the nation, was to become one of the most celebrated of the war – and his career…

…Mr Packwood said: “It highlights how much care and attention Churchill put into this speech. He knew how much was riding on this. The country was facing a huge national crisis.

“France had capitulated and Britain was facing the prospect of attack and invasion.

“The ‘all shall be restored’ quote is the kind of phrase that makes the hairs stand up on the back of your neck.

“These papers show the evolution of some of the greatest phrases in the English language.”

He said they also show the incredible strain he was under.

“He was a man of 65 operating under incalculable pressure,” he said. “Things are about as bad as they possibly could be but he is able to craft the oratory in this moment of extreme stress.

The entire article is at The Telegraph where you can also see images of the drafts of Churchill’s speech.

BBC School Radio


Sir Winston Churchill (1874 – 1965) became Prime Minister in 1940, leading an all-party war coalition. He was to lead the country throughout the war years, until after victory in Europe had been secured.

Churchill was a master at both writing and delivering speeches. The many memorable speeches he made during the war – ‘blood, sweat and tears’, ‘we shall fight them on the beaches’, ‘their finest hour’, ‘the few’ – have been credited with galvanising national spirit and helping to inspire eventual victory.

Churchill had only recently become Prime Minister when he made this speech on 18 June 1940. In it he prepares the nation for the Battle of Britain to come.


‘What General Weygand has called the Battle of France is over: the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilisation. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be freed and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duty and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say: “This was their finest hour” ‘.

Video embed H/T TrochilusTales

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