Yesteryear Europe, June – Churchill and the Finest Hour

30 Jun,2016 By jagabond

Those who know me realize I wasn’t super excited about my London trip last year. I enjoyed it, but it was what I thought it would be…big city feel…like a European New York. The only two solid items on my ‘to do’ list – 1) Visit Baker street of Sherlock Holmes fame; and 2) Get my picture taken next to the Winston Churchill statue.

I took care of the first one easily. Yes, I really took this picture, I just used a different effect on my camera…so it does look a bit fake. I always loved the bird flying in…that was not planned, of course. If you’re wondering where the inspiration for the Jagabond logo came from, this is it.

sherlock holmes statue in london

Now let’s talk about the other item on my list. I can’t remember exactly when and where I first heard a Churchill speech, but it was long after my school days, as I never paid that much attention in history class. I’m thinking it was on a political talk radio station – we have a lot of those in San Diego. I recall it being around the mid-2000’s, when the U.S. conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan were starting to sputter and overall morale was declining. I was thinking to myself, imagine if we had a speaker like this in charge! Churchill didn’t give cheerleading speeches, but his matter of fact delivery and honesty in front of the House of Commons was able to foster national pride and keep soldiers focused on their duties. I always feel pressure before giving a speech, but I can’t imagine the pressure Churchill faced in June, 1940 as he prepared to speak.

This was before the USA had entered the war, and the Germans were advancing across Europe. The previous month had been very bad, as Hitler secured Luxembourg, Holland and Belgium…and just days before this speech, France had surrendered as well. This was a gut-check point for the British, as all eyes of the enemy were squarely pointed towards a takeover of their island. The speech opened with a detailed account of what had gone wrong in the war to that point, and some pretty specific reasons as to why…I can’t imagine this much being released in the media these days. He’s quick to point out that he’s summarizing for descriptive purposes only, and to focus on the future, while letting historians deal with the rest. He then details how he thinks the British military stacks up against the Germans…and he exudes a realistic confidence in his words. Finally, he closes with the most famous part of the speech, which still gives me chills when I hear it…transcribed below.

June 18, 1940 – House of Commons

“What General Weygand called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. 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 free 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 duties, 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.”

I can’t imagine any politician of the last few decades delivering a rousing, winning and rallying speech like that. Churchill was right, as the Germans ordered a British invasion only three months later. Many cities were leveled by German bombing campaigns, and London faced nightly attacks during the two-month Blitz offensive. Through it all, Churchill kept talking, and kept the country believing. Eventually, the Germans reprioritized their forces to fight Russia, essentially abandoning their efforts to take England.

Oh yes, and I did get my picture next to Churchill…or below him, at least.

me with churchill statue in london

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