Voted greatest Britain of all time, this titan of the British identity had some less than stellar moments
Winston Churchill, not only a hero of the Right, but a national hero for bravely leading the nation against the fearsome Nazi Germany. His orating inspired (which was stinted in his youth by a lisp) a country to carry on the fight during its darkest hours.
His legacy has endured generations and he is still a well regarded and often quoted political leader. Including that quote about Socialism, which is constantly repeated by people who don’t understand what Socialism is and can’t seem to give you a definition of it (And it annoys me greatly).
But would we remember Churchill the same if it was not for the rise of Nazism across Europe? Here are four things you might not have known about him:
He swapped parties. Twice.
Often characterised as a loyal individual, the British bulldog was quick to jump ship when his political career was on the line. Tory from 1900-04, then he crossed the Chamber to the Liberals for twenty years, before returning back to the Conservatives. He also managed to hold an impressively large amount of Cabinet posts, including the Minister of Munitions and the Secretary of State for the Colonies.
He supported sterilisation for the “feeble minded”.
Like many at the time, Churchill was interested in the Social Darwinian theories, and helped draft a bill in 1913 that would have seen the mentally disabled sterilised, though through argument and compromise, he accepted a more dignified approach (of locking them up in asylums). Interestingly, Nazi Germany introduced a legislation allowing for forced sterilisation of ‘undesirables’ shortly after attaining power.
He was a lover of chemical weapons.
As the Russian Civil war started, Churchill, a committed anti communist, pushed for the British government to start using a newly made chemical weapon, although a coughing agent was already being dropped on the Bolsheviks forces, Winston believed the newer, much more deadlier weapon should be used. The Cabinet thankfully counselled caution and no such action was sanctioned. He also supported the use of gas during the Second World War, in Iraq and against northern tribes in India.
Created the Black and Tans.
During the early 1910s tension in Ireland, still owned by the United Kingdom, was growing. In 1916 the Easter Uprising failed and many leading Irish Nationalists were executed. Realising that conventional warfare would never lead to a Free Ireland, Michael Collins started the long history of the IRA guerrilla fighting. With the civilian police struggling against these new attacks, and amid growing unrest following post war unemployment, Churchill decided to kill two birds with one stone. Winston formed the Black and Tans, a paramilitary force of former soldiers, brutalised on the Western Front then let loose on the public. Unsurprisingly, they quickly became known for their violence and crimes against civilian populace that only fuelled the Irish Nationalist flame. The Black and Tans remain a controversial and hated groups in many areas pipping Oliver Cromwell for the dubious title of the most hated symbol of British rule.
Other interesting bits:
1) Using Navy research funds, he helped to fund the design and testing of the tank, which was seen as a squandering of military resources, at the time.
2) He was half American, which is something to bring up the next time the BNP slap him on a poster.
3) He set up the Labour Exchanges, to help unemployed people to find work – the early versions of the Jobcentre+.
4) He was an accomplished painter, writer and historian, authoring the renowned four-volume History of the English-Speaking Peoples.
5) Being an amateur bricklayer, he joined the Amalgamated Union of Building Trade Workers, but was thrown out due to being a member of the Conservative Party.
Gareth Shanks can be followed on Twitter. Find him @GarethShanks