Seventy years ago Winston Churchill was six weeks into his Premiership and had weathered some major Allied forces disasters.
But the successful evacuation of some 335,000 troops, munitions and equipment from the beaches of Dunkirk appeared to steel the Prime Minister further.
But events in France, involving the collapse of Paris to German forces and the replacement of the French Prime Minister on June 17th 1940, required Churchill to steel the country.
His speech on the 18th June 1940 aimed to do just that; steel the country and provide the required will and determination to fight on.
His speech was a thorough assessment of the invidious position of the British, their allies, Dominion and Commonwealth forces. Strengths were highlighted in equal measure to the known weaknesses. In the circumstances, it was a thorough analysis…tinged with some humour:
“It would not be a good idea for me to go into details of this. It might suggest ideas to other people which they have not thought of, and they would not be likely to give us any of their ideas in exchange.”
That spirit of defiant humour pervaded much of the speech given first in the House of Commons and then on the BBC wireless service:
“We are also told that the Italian Navy is to come out and gain sea superiority in these waters…I shall only say that we shall be delighted to offer Signor Mussolini a free and safeguarded passage through the Strait of Gibraltar in order that he may play the part to which he aspires.”
The speech gave Churchill the opportunity to note the tough times ahead. The country was left in no doubt:
“The enemy is crafty and there is no dirty trick he will not do.”
But the speech also provided a vision for the future; goals to which the people should struggle:
“If we can stand up to him (Hitler), all Europe may be free and the life of the World may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands….
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.'”
And because he provided the vision and leadership at this time of crisis, this speech that introduced the term, ‘the Battle of Britain’, is remembered.
The Principal Trainer at training business Time to Market. Based in Oxford, I run presentation and public speaking training courses, coaching sessions and seminars throughout the UK. Andrew Ivey on Google+