Their Finest Hour by Winston Churchill

All the winds that blew…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

The second volume in Churchill’s massive, Nobel Prize-winning, six-volume history of the Second World War, this one covers two distinct stages – the fall of France and the Battle of Britain. Churchill gives each volume a theme, and this one seems particularly pointed towards our so-called allies who sat on their hands while Britain stood alone against the mighty German war machine:

HOW THE BRITISH PEOPLE
HELD THE FORT
ALONE
TILL THOSE WHO HITHERTO HAD
BEEN HALF BLIND WERE
HALF READY

Just as in the first volume, this is a wonderful mix of military detail, including many tables showing troop and equipment statistics, and political manoeuvring, as Churchill continued his patient and immensely frustrating attempts to get the US to stand by its supposed allies with something a bit more useful than warm words. Meantime, the rush was on in Britain to intensify munitions manufacture so that the armed forces and especially the air forces would be able to defend against the expected German invasion. We hear much about the many people who were encouraged to use their inventive technical skills to give us any possible military or intelligence edge, and about the support given by the Dominions and Colonies throughout the Empire.

But what makes Churchill such an outstanding Titan in history is that, despite us being forced to stand alone with France fallen and the US procrastinating, despite the massed armies of Hitler gathering on the French shore looking our way, despite the bombs falling devastatingly on our cities night after night, Churchill never considered that we might be defeated. He worked on the assumption that we would win the coming Battle of Britain despite all odds, and so simultaneously made plans for how, our defensive work still ongoing, Britain should move into the offensive stage that would drive Germany and its major ally Italy back, liberating the countries they had invaded and destroying their military might. While all eyes were on the skies above Britain, his gaze was also directed towards Egypt and N. Africa. While all efforts were made to increase production of planes and train pilots to fight the ongoing Battle of Britain, Churchill was also demanding tanks – “Tanks for Africa!”

….The prize was worthy of the hazard. The arrival of our vanguard on the sea at Buq Buq or thereabouts would cut the communications of three-quarters of Marshal Graziani’s army. Attacked by surprise from the rear, they might well be forced as a result of vigorous fighting into mass surrenders. In this case the Italian front would be irretrievably broken. With all their best troops captured or destroyed, no force would be left capable of withstanding a further onslaught, nor could any organised retreat be made to Tripoli along hundreds of miles of coastal road.
….Here, then, was the deadly secret which the generals had talked over with their Secretary of State. This was what they had not wished to telegraph. We were all delighted. I purred like six cats. Here was something worth doing. It was decided there and then, subject to the agreement of the Chiefs of Staff and the War Cabinet, to give immediate sanction and all possible support to this splendid enterprise, and that it should take first place in all our thoughts and have, amid so many other competing needs, first claim upon our strained resources.

It is as thrilling as any adventure story, but so much more than that – his foresight and that of the military men and politicians who worked with him in an attitude of mutual determination didn’t simply save Britain from invasion, but kept hope alive that the spirit of democracy and freedom from tyranny would one day rise again across Europe.

By the end of this volume the Battle of Britain has been won, the threat of invasion is over, the Axis advance in North Africa has been halted, and America has finally signed up to lend-lease which, if it will still not put American skin in the game, will at least provide (for a fee that Britain would still be paying back sixty years later) equipment and the necessities of life to those who are doing the fighting. And here, at the end of 1940, the writing is already on the wall for the eventual defeat of the Axis powers, though it would be many years and see many millions of deaths before that defeat was final.

And now this Britain, and its far-spread association of states and dependencies, which had seemed on the verge of ruin, whose very heart was about to be pierced, had been for fifteen months concentrated upon the war problem, training its men and devoting all its infinitely-varied vitalities to the struggle. With a gasp of astonishment and relief the smaller neutrals and the subjugated states saw that the stars still shone in the sky. Hope, and within it passion, burned anew in the hearts of hundreds of millions of men. The good cause would triumph. Right would not be trampled down. The flag of Freedom, which in this fateful hour was the Union Jack, would still fly in all the winds that blew.

Amazon UK Link

49 thoughts on “Their Finest Hour by Winston Churchill

  1. Such a wealth of insight and a look at history here, FictionFan! Churchill takes his share of criticism, but the man could write. And it’s especially helpful that he was there, and had a writer’s eye for the things that were going on around him. It makes you see, too, how he felt about the UK’s resolve – such faith!

    Liked by 2 people

    • So many talents, and he seemed to be inexhaustible too! I imagine he must have been a nightmare to live with… 😉 But it’s such a wonderful gift to history to have such a detailed first person account from the top man. Not sure I can think of another world leader who’s written so effectively about the events they were involved in, except Trotsky. And I don’t think either of them would like that comparison!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree with Margot, the man could write! Churchill’s language skills brought all the popular literary devices into a history book and that makes it such impressive reading experience.
    I remember a jotted down a quote from the book (read in 2014) written so many years ago but seems very relevant today! “Power for the sake of lording it over fellow-creatures (Putin)…is rightly judged base. But power in a national crisis when a man believes he knows what orders should be given is a blessing (Zelenskiy).”

    Liked by 2 people

    • You know, I nearly changed every mention of Britain to Ukraine and Germany to Russia throughout my review, just to highlight how similar the situations are in many ways. Churchill was such a great writer and although he’s obviously biased, he happened to be on the right side of history so his bias feels right in this case. What a wonderful gift to history to have such a brilliant first person account from the ultimate insider!

      Liked by 1 person

      • History does repeat itself!
        While watching the UKR-RUS conflict… I think I’ll try
        reading The Art of War by Sun Tzu. I am fascinated watching 21st C war playing out. UKR soldiers are nimble, can better adapt and react with initiative whereas you see that the RUS forces fight like it is still WW II!

        Liked by 1 person

        • Very true, and I think also we’re really seeing the difference between people voluntary fighting in defence of their own nation and people conscripted to fight in an aggressive war they don’t really want to be part of. We can but hope that the end result will be the neutering of Russia as an aggressive force in the world – a century of this behaviour is more than long enough!

          Like

  3. I do have these on my list to read one day – I’m a bit put off by the sheer scale, but they sound wonderful, and the excerpts you quote suggest that Churchill wrote beautifully (quite apart from getting his unique perspective on things). And yes, that is an *extremely* pointed theme he gave this volume…

    Liked by 1 person

    • They’re so well written that they’re actually a pleasure to read despite their size. I genuinely think he could have been a great thriller writer if he hadn’t been busy with other things! I tend to skip over the detailed tables about how many planes were manufactured every month and so on, but he can make even that dry stuff interesting just because he passes on his own enthusiasm to the reader. Haha, he doesn’t really try to hide his opinion of America’s procrastination… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Good that Hitler didn’t possess half of the strategical genius of Churchill and that the UK still had its imperial dominions they could squeeze to provide for the war effort. The latter bounced back once the war was over. Part of the price the British paid for winning the war was to lose their colonial empire.

    Like

    • They’re so well written that they really read almost like a thriller, although of course deadly serious. But his total belief in Britain is oddly refreshing now that our national sport is to run ourselves down. I think your father would thoroughly enjoy these if he’s an admirer of Churchill – they’ve certainly made me admire him even more than I already did!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Wonder why we didn’t read these in History class? Or Literature? Sounds like an enlightening group of books. It’s plain that Churchill was a brilliant military man, and I’m still giggling over his statement, “I purred like six cats.” Isn’t that grand?? What a way to describe happiness!

    Liked by 1 person

    • We didn’t read them in history either, but the more I read the more I realise how influential they must have been on the way the war was perceived and taught in British schools – they chime exactly with what I was being taught in the 1970s. I must say that they seem to me remarkably honest – he doesn’t flinch from criticism where it’s due, or try to minimise the mistakes that were made. Haha, I loved the purring like six cats line too! He really knew how to write! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Someday I will pull these books off our shelf. I think they would be perfect for dipping in and out of as I have the time. I don’t think I could just sit and read them like a novel. I trust you’ll read the next volume in 2023.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Honestly you might find you get hooked – I genuinely think he could have had a career as a thriller writer if he hadn’t been busy doing other things! He builds up all the tension of a thriller, even though we already know who won the Battle of Britain and what happened at Dunkirk and so on. Great stuff! And yes, I’ll be reading volume three soon! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, the right man at the right time, and how often does that happen? I wonder how different it would all have been if anyone else had been in charge. He’s such a great writer though – I genuinely think he could have had a career as a thriller writer if he hadn’t been busy doing other things…

      Liked by 1 person

  7. The Neutrality Act that Congress passed several years earlier tied President Roosevelt’s hands. He disagreed with it and he and his administration found interesting ways to push the limits and get aid and supplies to France and England (before Land-Lease), but there was a strong feeling in the country against getting involved in another European war, which the President had to contend with. Churchill certainly had a way with words and used them deftly to tell his story. A leader for his time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I suspect this question looks different depending on which side of the Atlantic you’re on – or where your parents were when the bombs were dropping and America was refusing to help. If you think I sound bitter about the US’s behaviour, you’re lucky you never heard my dad on the subject! 😉 Churchill is a real instance of the right man at the right time. Politically I wouldn’t have agreed with him on much, but without his leadership I suspect the war would have taken a very different course.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hmm, I don’t think it’s quite that clearcut. Maybe he felt almost as angry as many Czechs and Poles felt about the appeasement policies and slow response of their English and French allies? There were many in the U.S. who weren’t happy with Congress’s stance, some who felt strongly enough to enlist early elsewhere, and the President, who circumvented the law by funneling aid through Canada and via other means, but of course it wasn’t until Pearl Harbor that he could finally throw the full weight of the U.S. into the war, not only in Asia, but Europe.

        If only the Soviet Union hadn’t helped Germany re-arm and if only we had all reacted much earlier and more firmly when Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland were warning us, as my relatives on the Scandinavian-Polish side of the family never tired of pointing out… But ironically, it was an uncle on the Irish-Scottish-French-English side of my family who enlisted elsewhere and was killed early on.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Certainly, and no one was angrier about how we let down the Czechs than Churchill, who argued against appeasement for years. But we’ll simply have to agree to disagree, I think. I accept that the situation internally in the US was complex – when isn’t it? – but from the perspective of those who were being bombed it was simple. We asked for help and we didn’t get it for over a year, and then when we did we got presented with a bill for the assistance we were finally given, which fell far short of what we needed. I’m sincerely hoping that neither Britain nor the US are going to bill Ukraine for the weapons we’ve provided in lieu of actual help. I doubt they’d have been left fighting alone if Churchill was alive and in charge.

          Liked by 1 person

    • The history aspect is excellent, of course, but it’s his writing and use of language that makes them such a great read. He really makes you feel swept up in the events, like the best kind of thriller!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I feel like I have to point out that Canada was very much involved with the war at this point! Though maybe Churchill didn’t consider us much of an independent force! These do sound like very worthwhile reading though and one day I hope to tackle Churchill’s writing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ha, blame me, not Churchill! I will admit that I accidentally lost my notes to this book – I think I may have thrown out the notebook in an excess of tidying up one day! So I had to write this from vague memory, and while I know he said quite a lot about the contribution of Canada, Australia and New Zealand, plus some of the Colonies, all I could come up with was a vague acknowledgement… 😂 That’ll teach me a) not to leave reviews so long and b) not to do housework… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      • The Canadian role in both world wars is very heavily emphasised in school here! It’s particularly engrained that we were involved from early on (way before the Americans!) but that we also made our decision independently from England.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Yes, Churchill made it clear that the decision to send troops was very much up to the Dominions – the colonies were a bit different, but even there he suggests that their contribution was mostly voluntary and generous. Thank goodness, given America’s attitude! Was Canada in the African campaign? I seem to remember him saying that either Canada or Australia provided loads of troops there especially in the early days, when Britain was still having to defend itself from invasion.

          Liked by 1 person

            • I think there were Canadians in England too, supporting the defence in the Battle of Britain. Churchill has a tendency to speak of the “English-speaking nations” – he clearly felt there was an unbreakable bond between us, based on our historical ties.

              Liked by 1 person

            • There were! My grandfather was one of them – he served in the RCAF (Royal Canadian Air Force) and spent most of the war in England as a mechanic. I think that feeling of connection existed in Canada too. A lot more people then saw England as our “mother country”.

              Liked by 1 person

            • I feel we’re still pretty close as countries but on a much more equal footing now – more siblings or cousins than parent/child. The common language makes it easier to understand each other’s culture, I think, and we’re all still pretty close in terms of our core principles and so on. I don’t know if young Brits feel the same way, though – I think they look towards Europe more than my generation did.

              Liked by 1 person

            • We often think of ourselves more linked with the USA now but culturally I think we still have a lot in common with Britain. Queen Elizabeth’s death brought a lot of those connections to the forefront recently, I think.

              Liked by 1 person

  9. Wow, six volumes! How many pages in all FF? Not sure I would ever pick this one up, but I love hearing about it secondhand. It’s another one of those “I should really know what this book is about and be able to speak about it intelligently” volumes 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hmm, must be around 2000, I think. Thank goodness he split it up! I wouldn’t even be able to lift a book that size!! Ha, I feel I should have read it forty years ago – my ignorance about WW2 is ridiculous given what a huge impact it has had on British culture and view of ourselves!

      Liked by 1 person

    • I know, and he managed not just to keep up his own spirits but to make that kind of plucky optimism the national spirit, even during the Blitz. I wouldn’t have agreed with him on a lot of political issues, but he was certainly the right man in the right place during the war!

      Liked by 1 person

Please leave a comment - I'd love to know who's visiting and what you think...of the post, of the book, of the blog, of life, of chocolate...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.