Sir Winston Churchill is famous for leading Britain through the Second World War as Prime Minister, bringing the country together with his famous rousing speeches and his refusal to give in to the threat of Hitler who had already taken much of Europe. These fascinating facts look at things you may not have known about him, from his favourite hobbies, to some of the things he wasn’t so good at, such as Latin! I hope you enjoy.
#1 Churchill had a speech impediment
One of the most surprising facts about Winston Churchill is that he had a speech impediment, thought to be a lateral lisp, which causes a person to struggle with “s” and “z” sounds in words. This is different to what Jonathan Ross suffers from with his “r” sounds, which is something called Rhotacism. Churchill consulted with a speech therapist in 1897, and was told that practise and perseverance was all that was needed to overcome the issue. He was told later on in a separate occasion by a masseuse that he had a unique ligament attached to his tongue that prevented him from speaking normally. Churchill, as we know, never let the condition affect him, becoming known for his rousing and memorable speeches as he led Britain through its Darkest Hour.
#2 Prisoner of War Great Escape
When Churchill was a working as a war correspondent for The Morning Post in 1899, he was sent to South Africa to cover the Boer War. Whilst there, the armoured train he was travelling on with British troops was ambushed by a Boer commando force, who partially derailed the train and then attacked for over an hour. Churchill helped load the wounded on to the still working train, which then escaped, however, Churchill himself was captured by a Boer, which later was rumoured to be Louis Botha, the future Prime Minister of South Africa. Churchill was taken to Pretoria and held with other British officers, two of which he colluded with to escape to Portuguese East Africa. He watched the guards closely and realised there was a gap routine, and so on 12th December 1899 he made his escape, scaling the wall and landing in some shrubs, where he waited for the other two men. However, they did not follow as the guards had become suspicious, so Churchill was left to make it alone, without the compass and a lot of the rations for the journey. Needless to say, after hiding himself on a train with a vulture, wandering for hours across the unfamiliar landscape, and then through desperation knocking on a door to ask for food (which luckily turned out to be the home of an Englishmen) Churchill eventually made his way to freedom, only to then return to the front to take part in the Battle of Spion Kop. He also, along with his cousin the Duke of Marlborough, rode back into Pretoria, to the prison camp where he had been held, and demanded and received the surrender of the guards, holding his hat aloft to announce to the prisoners that they were now free. This whole adventure and escape made Churchill a celebrity back home and helped his political career considerably.
#3 Churchill was half-American
His father was a statesman who was born in London. However, Churchill’s mum, Jeanette Jerome, was born in Brooklyn, New York.
#4 His paintings are worth millions
A late starter, Churchill didn’t take up painting until the age of 40, however it soon became his favourite hobby and he produced over 500 works of art. He was once quoted as saying “When I get to heaven I mean to spend a considerable portion of my first million years in painting.” Some of his paintings sell for a lot of money, with a collection of 15 of them fetching £11.2 million in 2014.
#5 He won the Nobel Prize in literature
As well as painting, another of Churchill’s great loves was English, which he excelled in at school, along with history. By 1895 he started to do war journalism, covering the Cuban War of Independence, the Siege of Malakand in India, the Mahdist War in Sudan, and also the second Boer War in Africa, which led to his famous escape. However it was after the Second World War after Churchill was voted out of Office during the 1945 election that Churchill returned to writing and along with a team of researchers, produced a six-volume history The Second World War (1948 – 53), which became a best-seller in the UK and I nthe USA. After another spell as Prime Minister after this, his other major work was a four-volume A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, which although started in 1937, was not published until 1956 – 58. It was in 1953 that Winston Churchill was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature - "for his mastery of historical and biographical description as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values". Churchill was a prolific writer, and it has been estimated that he wrote between eight and ten million words, producing books, newspaper articles, and even film scripts, with writing being his main source of income.
#6 Another Winston Churchill
Churchill became aware in 1899 that there was another novelist by the name of ‘Winston Churchill’ over in America. Churchill wrote to him and offered to sign his own works as Winston Spencer Churchill, which later became Winston S Churchill. The two men met on two occasions when over in the other ones country but were never closely acquainted.
#7 He disliked Ghandi
It is well documented that Churchill had a dislike of Mahatma Gandhi, who he saw as a thorn in the side of the British Empire and their interests, as he strongly opposed giving India back their independence, as he saw it could lead to the downfall of the British Empire.
#8 He was very accident prone
It seems Churchill was very accident prone, and I don’t mean in the sense of small accidents either, but the bigger things such as the time he got hit by a car in New York as he looked the wrong way whilst crossing, or the time he jumped off a bridge and ended up concussed and with a ruptured his kidney. Churchill also took flying lessons, and could have easily been killed when in 1919 his aircraft crashed, leaving his instructor seriously injured, though Churchill himself got away with minor injuries. This experience led to Churchill giving up learning to fly.
#9 Born and lived at Blenheim Palace, in Oxfordshire, England
Blenheim Palace is Churchill’s ancestral home and is one of England’s largest houses. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987, and is open to the public and offers a remarkable insight into the great man and his ancestral heritage, as you walk in his footsteps and learn many things about his life.
#10 He was a terrible student!
Apart from English and History, which were both his favourite subjects, Churchill performed poorly in most every other subject, and described in one memoir how, when he took a two-hour Latin test, he left the sheet entirely blank except for his name, the number of the first question, and a blot and several smudges. He also twice failed the entrance exam for the Military College at Sandhurst, finally passing with the help of a military tutor, though only for cavalry class, which had lower standards than the infantry.
#11 Gallipoli Campaign
In World War One, Churchill was First Lord of the Admiralty, and he spearheaded a campaign in Gallipoli which famously failed, ending in his dismissal from his cabinet position. It involved many Australian and New Zealand troops who each year commemorate their participation in the campaign with their national day of remembrance called ANZAC day.
#12 He suffered from depression
His friend Lord Beaverbrook (What a great name!) once said about Churchill that he was always either ‘at the top of the wheel of confidence or at the bottom of an intense depression.’ It has become known as Churchill’s “Black Dog” which is apparently a phrase he used to describe his depression in a letter to his wife Clementine.
#13 Home Guard
Churchill first coined the phrase ‘Home Guard’ during a BBC broadcast to describe the Local Defence Volunteers (LDV) during World War Two.
#14 Iron Curtain
Churchill popularised the term ‘Iron Curtain’ as a Cold War symbol, which he used during a speech on 5th March 1946.
#15 He was Prime Minister Twice
Winston Churchill was twice prime Minister. The first time was between 1940 – 1945, and then again from 1951 to 1955.
#16 State Funeral
A state funeral is an honour reserved for kings and queens, or those of high national importance, and as of 2019 Churchill’s was the last state funeral in the UK. The funeral began at 9:45 with the chiming of Big Ben, which was then muted for the rest of the day. Ninety cannon salutes were fired in Hyde park, one for each year of his life, and the coffin was placed on a gun carriage and draped in the Union Jack Flag. The main service was held at St Paul’s Cathedral, with the Queen in attendance even though she only usually attends funerals of family members or personal friends. Four majors of the Queen’s Royal Irish Hussars were assigned to carry Churchill’s medals, orders and decorations. Guest included French President Charles de Gaulle, and the former US president Dwight D. Eisenhower. After the service, his casket was carried to the Tower of London, and from there it was taken to festival pier and carried aboard MV Havengore and carried up the Thames. In an unrehearsed moment, 36 dockers lowered their crane jibs in a salute as the coffin passed. From Waterloo station, a train carried the coffin to Oxfordshire, where a hearse took him the rest of the way to St Martin’s Churchyard in Bladon, near Woodstock, where he was eventually laid in a grave near to his parents and brother. In 1977, the body of his wife Clementine, was buried next to him in the same tomb.
#17 Churchill was 90 when he died
Sir Winston Churchill was age 90 when he passed away at his home in Hyde Park Gate, London, on 24th January 1965, exactly 70 years after the death of his father.
#18 Churchill's Last Words
Churchill's last words were to his son-in-law Christopher Soames: "I'm so bored with it all" he said. His death was announced at 8:35am by his physician Lord Moran, with the BBC announcing it at 9:00 am.
#19 Operation Hope Not
Planning for Sir Winston Churchill's funeral began 12 years before his death. It was initiated because of a stroke he had in 1953, and was known as Operation Hope Not.
#20 Sir Winston Churchill's Grave
Sir Winston Churchill is buried in the churchyard of St Martin's Church in the village of Bladon, near Woodstock, Oxfordshire, after expressing a wish to be buried there, near to his parents and his brother.
You can visit Churchill's grave by visiting the small village of Bladon which is not far from Blenheim Palace. In fact there is a signposted walk from Blenheim palace to the church should you wish to visit both.