Winston Churchill's inspiring wartime speeches in Parliament

  • Published
Winston Churchill giving V-for-victory signImage source, PA

The wartime prime minister Winston Churchill's victorious address to the nation marked the end of the war in Europe, on 8 May 1945.

But his speeches through the course of the war galvanised and heartened those fighting and enduring the dangers and privations of World War II.

"Winston Churchill's words inspired a nation," says the victorious prime minister's great grandson.

"What we want to do is to help inspire a new generation in their struggle against Covid."

As the country - and much of Europe - marks the 75th anniversary of VE Day in the most unusual of circumstances, Randolph Churchill is launching a competition for young people to try their hand at a rousing speech.

The key to writing a galvanising address is to "never give in", he told BBC Breakfast, adding: "They shouldn't be shy, they just crack on and do it, try their best, and if they don't succeed the first time, they should try again and again and again."

And he says it is the "spirit" of the nation that we "always get there in the end".

A glance at some of Churchill's most memorable appearances at the dispatch box provide that extra inspiration.

Here are some examples of the wartime PM's speeches to Parliament, shared by the Commons' Hansard team:

'Strong horses'

When Churchill gave this speech in the Commons, he was yet to become prime minister.

But during a debate on Britain's disastrous campaign in Norway - leading to Neville Chamberlain's ousting from No 10 - Churchill spoke optimistically of the Navy being strengthened by Norway's merchant fleet.

Two days later, he would become PM and form his coalition government.

"Let me say that I am not advocating controversy... On the contrary, I say, let pre-war feuds die; let personal quarrels be forgotten, and let us keep our hatreds for the common enemy.

"Let party interest be ignored, let all our energies be harnessed, let the whole ability and forces of the nation be hurled into the struggle, and let all the strong horses be pulling on the collar."

House of Commons - 8 May 1940

Blood, toil, tears and sweat

After becoming prime minister, Churchill was facing calls from some to make peace with Hitler, as the loss of so many men in World War I was still a recent memory.

But in his first speech in the Commons as the country's new leader, he made it clear the only option for his government was to "wage war".

"I hope that any of my friends and colleagues, or former colleagues, who are affected by the political reconstruction, will make allowance, all allowance, for any lack of ceremony with which it has been necessary to act.

"I would say to the House, as I said to those who have joined this government: 'I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat'."

House of Commons - 13 May 1940

'Finest hour'

As the war raged on, Churchill used speeches to try and lift the spirits of the public, even when having to detail horrific scenarios in the war.

"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, and all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new dark age made more sinister, and perhaps more prolonged, by the lights of a perverted science.

"Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duty and so bear ourselves that if the British Commonwealth and Empire lasts for a thousand years men will still say, 'this was their finest hour'."

House of Commons - 18 June 1940

'We shall fight on the beaches'

This is perhaps Churchill's most famous speech, used in television and film programmes reflecting on the PM's life for decades to come.

It was not an address given live to the nation, but to the Commons, with only MPs and staff able to hear its debut.

However, there is no doubt it will be remembered as one of the most powerful political oratories of all time.

"The British Empire and the French Republic, linked together in their cause and in their need, will defend to the death their native soil, aiding each other like good comrades to the utmost of their strength.

"Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous states have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail.

"We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be.

"We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God's good time, the new world, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old."

House of Commons - 4 June 1940