CHURCHILL, Sir Winston Spencer (1874-1965). Typescript with copious autograph emendations of his famous speech in the House of Commons on the war situation during the Battle of Britain (KNOWN AS 'THE FEW'), [Chequers/London, 18/19 August 1940], the emendations in red and (subsequently) black ink to every page, comprising MORE THAN 250 WORDS IN CHURCHILL'S HAND, including extensive cancellations and a number of abandoned variants, 9 pages, 4to (approx 240 x 190mm), intermittently numbered in typescript ('2', '3') and pencil ('C.', 'C.1', 'C.2'), on paper with embossed letter head 'G.R.' to upper left corner (red ink faint but legible on later pages, punch holes to upper left filled in, some discolouration to margins), mounted, framed and glazed. Provenance: Sir John Colville (1915-1987, Churchill's Assistant Private Secretary 1940-41), and by descent (Colville's autograph note to label on verso of frame); on loan at Chequers, the official country residence of British Prime Ministers, at which Churchill wrote much of the speech, between 1982 and 2007.
CHURCHILL IN THE MIDST OF THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN: THE ONLY SURVIVING DRAFT OF ONE OF THE GREAT SPEECHES OF THE 20TH CENTURY
'Almost a year has passed since the war began ... ': Churchill's magisterial summary of the war situation in the darkest hours of the Battle of Britain. Churchill begins with a comparison of the first year of the war against Nazi Germany with the first year of the Great War ('It is natural for us therefore to pause on our journey at this milestone, and survey the dark, wide field'), comparing the greater loss of life in the earlier war with the incomparably more dramatic events at the outset of the second war: 'We have seen great countries with powerful armies dashed out of coherent existence in a few weeks. We have seen the French Republic and the glorious French Army beaten into complete and total submission ... Although up to the present the loss of life has been mercifully diminished, the decisions reached in the course of the struggle are even more profound upon the fate of nations than anything which has ever happened since barbaric times ... a fearful game of chess proceeds from check to mate by which the unhappy players seem to be inexorably bound'. At the same time, the civilian populations are on this occasion fully implicated: 'not only soldiers, but the entire population, men women and children. The fronts are everywhere. The trenches are dug in the towns & cities. Every village is fortified. Every road is barred. The front line runs through the factories'.
The draft omits the paragraphs present in the final version which deal with the blockade of continental Europe, and reopens with a consideration of the changing situation in the quarter of a year since his government took power, considering first the 'cataract of disaster' of those months, with the fall of Holland, Belgium and France, the near loss of the British Expeditionary Force and the establishing of the Luftwaffe 'so close to our Island that ... the hostile bombers not only reach our shores in a few minutes, and from many directions, but can be escorted by the Fighters'. But, in a movement typical of Churchill, this consideration of all that threatens Britain becomes a stimulus to pride, that 'at the end the end of such a period of terror and disaster, we should stand erect, sure of ourselves, masters of our fate, and with the conviction of final victory burning unquenchable in our hearts'.
Churchill's situation review concludes with a consideration of the factors in favour of Britain, not only in terms of morale ('Our people are united and resolved as they have never been before'), but in military preparation, not least thanks to support from the United States: 'We have rearmed and rebuilt our Armies, in a degree which would have been deemed impossible a few months ago. We have ferried across the Atlantic, thanks to our friends over there, an immense mass of munitions of all kinds ... all safely landed without the loss of a gun or a round ... More than two million determined men have rifles and bayonets in their hands to-night ... The whole Island bristles against invaders from the sea or from the Air'.
The last section of the present draft, and the peroration of the opening section of Churchill's speech, is one of his great rallying calls:
'Why do I say all this? ... I say it because the fact that the British Empire stands invincible & that Nazism can still be resisted will kindle again the spark of hope in the breasts of hundreds of millions of downtrodden and despairing men and women throughout Europe, and far beyond its bounds, and that from these sparks there will presently come a cleansing and devouring flame'.
The draft comprises the substance of the first half (paragraphs 1-12 of 24 in Hansard) of the speech as delivered, though omitting the majority of paragraphs 3-7 which concerned the food blockade: the second half, not present here, comprised a consideration of 'the great air battle which has been in progress over this Island for the last few weeks' including the famous tribute to the RAF ('Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few'), reflections on the broader situation in the Empire and the former French colonies, a refusal to elaborate on an eventual peace settlement, and a justification of the 'Destroyers for Bases' deal with the United States, ending with a view of the intertwined future of 'these two great organisations of the English-speaking democracies'.
The speech on Tuesday 20 August, just when the Battle of Britain was reaching its most furious intensity, was Churchill's first to the House since 4 July. He prepared for it over the weekend at Chequers and on his return to London on the Monday, when Sir John Colville records in his diary reading 'the first edition' of it at 10 Downing Street -- very probably the present draft. With the sittings of the House now taking place earlier in the day in order to avoid air raids, Churchill delivered the speech at 3.52pm, speaking for nearly 50 minutes. Colville noted that 'It was less oratory than usual' and that the speech was accorded a rather torpid reception, which he attributed to the House's being unaccustomed to August sittings. He accompanied Churchill in his car back to Downing Street, with the ebullient Prime Minister, inspired by his reference to the Mississippi at the end of the speech, singing 'Ole Man River' out of tune all the way.
After the preparation of a full prose text, as here, Churchill's speeches were typically reduced to abbreviated 'speech notes' for the actual delivery. The speech notes in the present case are preserved at Churchill Archives, Cambridge, together with related source notes and correspondence with private secretaries about the speech. The present manuscript, retained by Sir John Colville, appears however to be the only surviving draft for the speech, and gives an unrivalled insight into the process of preparation of the speech, beginning with a dictated typescript and subjected to two layers of revision in Churchill's hand: it provides an unrivalled opportunity to witness Churchill in the full fury of creativity, fashioning one of his greatest utterances.