Study on Winston Churchill’ speech “We shall fight on the beaches”

Filed under: 0. Cover Page — epies2 at 12:39 am on Sunday, November 7, 2010


Subject: #14206 Literatura Anglesa i Discurs Polític –  grup A

Student´s name: Piera Escrivá, Eva

Title of the paper: Study on Winston Churchill’ speech “We shall fight on the beaches

Author or topic: Winston Churchill

Winston ChurchillAbstract: After introducing the reader into the socio-historical context (Battle of France, 1940, World War II), the speech We shall fight on the beaches, delivered by Winston Churchill in the House of Commons just after the evacuation carried out during the Operation Dynamo, has been analysed.

The central part of the essay deals with a detailed study on the content he transmits to his audience: the explanation of the complicated situation of the moment (France is about to surrender and Germany will probably invade Britain). Furthermore, the essay also analyses the stylistic resources that Churchill used to keep the British people together and make them participate in the victory of the nation.

Some English experts from University College London have proved that it was Churchill’ speech defect itself that made him such a great speaker. This will be developed in the essay too. Besides this, another study will be presented. It informs us that Churchill’s We shall fight on the beaches underwent a computerised marking system and got an “F of Failure”. Different adaptations of this speech in other genres will be provided.


Bibliography, URL’s



Academic year 2010/2011
© a.r.e.a./Dr.Vicente Forés López
© Eva Piera Escrivá

1. Introduction

Filed under: 1. Introduction,FIRST PAPER — epies2 at 11:11 pm on Saturday, November 6, 2010

Winston ChurchillSir Winston Churchill served his country as prime minister twice, from 1940 to 1945 and then again from 1951 to 1955 and is regarded as one of the greatest and influential leaders of the 20th century, he is today seen as a national hero and icon of Great Britain.

Winston Churchill enjoyed one of the longest and most interesting lives of any person who has ever lived. From his birth at Blenheim Palace on November 30th, 1874, to his death at Hyde Park Gate in London on January 24, 1965, his life was one of action, controversy, setback and achievement. It was never dull. That is one of the reasons why I have decided to deal with some of the facts and myths that have been surrounding him since the very beginning of his appearance as a public figure.

Being Prime Minister of one of the great powers of the world during the World War II  was not the only fact that made him so peculiar among other politicians, not only during that time but also among other celebrities of the century. He received the Novel Prize of Literature in 1953 an it was not because of his greatness as orator but thanks to the excellent number of speeches that he wrote for many occasions.

In this essay, it is going to be paid particular attention to his speech “We shall fight on the beaches“. It will be analysed firstly regarding to its content and Churchill’s purpose, and then from the stylistic analysis view. Finally we will point out a couple of myths that some experts have broken and will deal with our own conclusions about the matter.

2. Socio-Historical Context

Filed under: 2. Socio-Historical Context,FIRST PAPER — epies2 at 11:09 pm on Saturday, November 6, 2010

In 1919, Treaty of Versailles was signed. Harsh peace terms took place to make war state end between Germany and the Allied Powers (United Kingdom, France and Russian Empire). However, in 1936, Germany broke the agreement German control spread over Europe. Neville Chamberlain, British Prime Minister of that moment, adopted a policy of appeasement making concessions to Germany in conflict and it encouraged Germany to expand its power. In 1930s, Britain was one of the great powers of the world but that policy allowed Germany, Italy and Japan to expand until war was inevitable. The feeling of the British people was the one of avoiding war at all costs but it was too late. Britain promised to defend Poland. In September 1939, Germany invaded Poland and Britain entered the war. Few people realised how strong Germany army really was.

Neville’s initiative caused a profound popular discontent with the government and Winston Churchill became Prime Minister in 1940. The appeasement feeling disappeared with the entrance of the new government that seemed to have a strong leadership since the very beginning.

Dunkirk 1940In the battlefield, the position of the B.E.F. (British Expeditionary Force) had now become critical. Broken down the Belgian battle front, the only exit for the B.E.F. was to fight until arriving at Dunkirk, in the coast of the English Channel (Churchill, W.S, 2005 Pg.244). As a result of a most skilfully conducted retreat and German errors, the bulk of the British Forces reached the Dunkirk bridgehead. The peril facing the British nation was now suddenly and universally perceived. On May 26, “Operation Dynamo“, the evacuation from Dunkirk began. The seas remained absolutely calm. The Royal Air Force fought vehemently to deny the enemy the total air supremacy which would have wrecked the operation. (Olsen, J.D, 2010). Operation Dynamo finally ended on June 2, although Ramsay continued to evacuate French troops until June 4. A total of 693 vessels, including the famous fleet of “little ships” manned by volunteers, had rescued 338,000 men from the beaches at Dunkirk. The Government had hoped originally that 43,000 men might be saved. (Campbell, S. 2010).

That same day, June 4 of 1940, Mr. Churchill persuaded the nation that it was a victory of courage and determination at Britain’s darkest hour by means of his speech “We shall fight on the beaches”. However, he tempered his admiration for the success of Operation Dynamo with the following words: “Wars are not won by evacuations”.

He said there was no doubt in his mind that the last few weeks had been a “colossal military disaster“. The B.E.F had to leave behind all its heavy armour and equipment. (BBCnews, 2005).

3. Speech: We shall fight on the beaches

Filed under: 3. Speech: We shall fight on the beaches,FIRST PAPER — epies2 at 11:01 pm on Saturday, November 6, 2010

3.1 Content

3.2. Stylistic Analysis

We shall fight on the beaches

Audio – Recorded

Video – Recorded

3.1. Content

Filed under: 3.1. Content,FIRST PAPER — epies2 at 10:56 pm on Saturday, November 6, 2010

Winston Churchill

During the time the Battle of France was being carried out, three important speeches were delivered by Winston Churchill; Blood, toil, tears, and sweat, (May 13th), We shall fight on the beaches (June 4th) and This was their finest hour (June 18th). We shall fight in the beaches was the second speech he addressed to the nation from the House of Commons and it is considered the defining speech of the World War II and furthermore, one of the finest addressed in history. Although initially this speech did not get a warm reception among the population, the speech has gone down in history because of its clarity and honest explanation of the complicated situation of the moment.

First of all, Churchill gave reasons of the recent military disaster and of the terrified withdrawal of the British troops and so he decided to turn that escape into a rescue, but trying to transmit that, acting in that way will not make Britain win the war. At the same time, he uses this opportunity to praise the work that the RAF had been doing because he knew very well, the Air-Force would be the protagonist of the war after a few days and wanted people to feel safe and trust the army.

Wars are not won by evacuations. But there was a victory inside this deliverance, which should be noted. It was gained by the Air Force.”

Churchill showed his skills as politician with such a tribute to the RAF. He was aware of the distrust feeling that many of the rescued soldiers in Dunkirk had towards the RAF. They accused the Air Force of having abandoned them in France. Churchill knew he had to turn the pilots into the heroes of the English Battle to change the popular opinion.

Secondly, he warned population of a very probable German attempt of invasion of Great Britain and, at the same time, he tried to prepare British people for the imminent falling of France into Hitler’s dominion.

Then, the speech challenges for the first time United States to become part of the fight against Nazism by means of insisting on the main idea of his previous speech: the British aim is to achieve victory at all costs.

At the end of the speech, Churchill gets inside his audience’s mind. At that moment, British people were wandering about their future if France surrendered. Churchill drew a map showing the British resistance towards Germany:

“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.”

Finally he explains they would fight in France, and whenever France succumbed, they would defend themselves from the sea (with the Royal Navy) and with the R.A.F in the air “with growing confidence and growing strength in the air”. If Germany decided to start with the invasion, British would fight them in every single piece of land: in the beaches, in the R.A.F aerodrome, to continue in the fields and in the streets. And if all those measures were not enough, their last resource would be from the hills, as it had been happening since the beginning of the times.

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;

Germany could not wait for any surrender; British people would die defending every piece of land of their island.

we shall never surrender

3.2. Stylistic Analysis

Filed under: 3.2. Stylistic Analysis,FIRST PAPER — epies2 at 10:54 pm on Saturday, November 6, 2010

For those who had heard the speech whether personally or in the radio, the speech was less touching than the one he pronounced in his first time in the House of Commons, Blood, toil, tears, and sweat some weeks before. The second speech was a longer and involving one and written with a complex prose. Churchill dealt with many different topics and it was read during half an hour. His defective diction, less evident in his first speech for being shorter and more concrete, was noticed by his audience and even more exaggerated from the radio. Undoubtedly, the Prime Minister was a great virtuous in writing but a deficient speaker, especially by the speaking fault mentioned above. However, he was a very down-to-earth person and he knew that apart from the House of Commons, people from lower classes were going to hear his words and so he used a natural and daily language to make every British know which his purposes were.

The most representative characteristic that Churchill left in this speech was the peroration, commonly used in his speeches, renowned in this case for making his audience feel confident towards war.

At the end of the speech, he radically changes the type of speech, now in verse, and uses different stylistic resources to fix in his audience’s mind the most legendary lines of his speech. It is a more prepared text, written with detail, to cause impact in whoever listened to it.

To start with, he uses anaphora, an effective stylistic figure consisting on the repetition of the first words of the line;

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,

In the paragraph before the mentioned above, he already had started to change his language by introducing some sort of stylistic resources to prepare people’s mind before the final part arrived. One of these resources consisted on using the first part of the structure of a conditional sentence three different times in the same sentence, only separate by a comma:

I have, myself, full confidence that if all do their duty, if nothing is neglected, and if the best arrangements are made(…)

The he uses the same procedure but this time introducing three phrases by “to”:

we shall prove ourselves once again able to defend our Island home, to ride out the storm of war, and to outlive the menace of tyranny

He also used asyndeton, characterized by putting together a series of phrases without joining them with any conjunction;

At any rate, that is what we are going to try to do. That is the resolve of His Majesty’s Government-every man of them. That is the will of Parliament and the nation.

4. Contrary to what is commonly assumed

Filed under: 4. Contrary to what is commonly assumed,FIRST PAPER — epies2 at 10:48 pm on Saturday, November 6, 2010

Many people agree Churchill was a great writer, that is the reason why he won a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953. People also believe Churchill to be a bad orator, particularly because of his speech defect. However, two articles written by both experts from the University College of London and from the Chartered Institute of Educational Assessors (CIEA) assure the opposite; that Churchill’s speech defect made him a great orator and that his speech “We shall fight them on the beaches” obtained a mark of F after being checked by a new computerized marking system.

On the one hand, experts from University College of London (UCL) subjected the Second World War leader’s most famous speeches to phonetic and voice patterning analysis and examined his combination of an aristocratic accent, Shakespearean allusions and down-to-earth metaphors. The programme suggests that the language defects which made Churchill a caricaturist’s gift, also made his voiceprint so distinctive.

Researchers concluded that his slight lisp, erratic pauses and constant, low tone gave his voice a uniquely recognizable quality, while his allusions to classic English literature and down-to-earth metaphors struck a chord with listeners. (Boztas, S., 2005)

On the other hand, following the study of the Chartered Institute of Educational Assessors (CIEA), Winston Churchill’s “We shall fight on the beaches” speech would not, it seems, have flourished under the computerised marking system slowly being introduced to grade exams in the UK. When the speech was submitted to a computerised system set up to mark English literature papers, it was awarded an “F for failure”.

The computer particularly disliked Churchill’s use of repetition, as in: “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields, we shall fight in the hills.” His use of the word “might”, as in “the might of the Army”, was also picked out as an erroneous use of a verb instead of a noun.

Churchill was not the only famous person to fall foul of the electronic marking system – the computer also dismissed the works of Ernest Hemingway and William Golding. It decided that Hemingway was not careful enough in his choice of verbs, while Golding was found to resort to ungrammatical usage in the dramatic final scene of Lord of the Flies, in which Ralph flees from the rest of the children. (Garner, E., 2009)

5. Different adaptations

Filed under: 5. Different adaptations,FIRST PAPER — epies2 at 10:42 pm on Saturday, November 6, 2010

Winston Churchill

Because of the impact that it caused and how known has become “We shall fight on the beaches” speech, different music groups, TV channels or TV series have used it as a part of a song, advertisement or even in a given episode. For instance:

–   The heavy metal band Iron Maiden used a short part of the speech as an introduction to the song Aces High in live performances and in the song’s video.

–   Patriotic boxer Ricky Hatton uses the most famous lines of the speech as part of his ring entrance.

–   Excerpts from the recorded speech are included in the 2002 television advertisement Go On Lad.

–   In the animated sitcom Futurama, in the episode “Birdboy Of Ice Catraz“, Bender tells a group of penguins “We will fight them on the beaches. We will fight them on the glaciers.

–   The Pirate Bay has posted an adaption of the speech directed towards the defence of the Internet freedom. (Wikipedia, 2010).

6. Conclusion

Filed under: 6. Conclusion,FIRST PAPER — epies2 at 10:36 pm on Saturday, November 6, 2010

It is thought that to become a good politician excellent oral and written skills have to be acquired. People from the streets need to understand what those who have power are trying to say. According to Roman Ingarden, one of the most representative members of the Reader-Response Criticism, for an aesthetic object to be understood it has to be read by a competent reader, however, if the reader is not competent enough or the message is not as clear as it should, the communicative function will not be achieved. Winston Churchill delivered three different speeches during the course of the Battle of France, among them, the most important, “We shall fight on the beaches”, where he explained people the delicate situation of the moment, the inevitable surrender of France and the possibility of Germany attacking Britain.

He needed people to be a competent audience to understand how ready they must be and that is why he used such a plain and down-to-earth language. Many people think his speech defect did not match up to his written skills, however, as mentioned before, a group of experts from the University College London considered his speech defect made him a great orator. Furthermore, this is not the only myth that has been broken in this essay. After this speech was corrected by a computerised marking system, Churchill got an “F of Failure”, the machine disliked his repetitions. This also happened to Golding and Hemingway.

Winston Churchill is a figure of the past that does not become out of date. There are always new studies that make us get surprised with new facts.  That is why I have decided to deal with this topic, because there is always something new to add. He is considered a figure of reference, as it has been mentioned in point 7, part of his “We shall fight on the beaches” have been included by different music groups, TV series or advertisements in their works.

This essay has given me the opportunity to study deeper those issues that surrounded Churchill, not only his political life but also his personality, that made him write in such a different way from other politicians. That is why I considered the idea of study him by means of one of his speeches, analysing his content, his purposes and the slylistic resources that he used. Because in the end, we are what we say, and in this case, what we write.

7. Bibliography

Filed under: 7. Bibliography — epies2 at 8:23 pm on Saturday, November 6, 2010

Primary Sources:

Churchill, Winston S.  “¡No nos rendiremos jamás! : los mejores discursos de Winston S. Churchill / seleccionados y presentados por su Nieto Winston S. Churchill”;. Madrid: La Esfera de los Libros, 2005.

The Churchill Centre and Museum At the Churchill War Rooms. London. John David Olsen. The Churchill Centre. Web 29th October 2010. <>

Gardner, Richard.” Testing and assessment: We will fail him on the beaches”. The Independent. 12th November 2009. 29th October 2010. <>

“1940: Dunkirk rescue is over – Churchill defiant”. BBC Home. 29th October 2010. <>

Campbell, Sophie.” Operation Dynamo: Reliving the miracle of Dunkirk”. 4th May 2010. 29th October 2010 <>

Boztas, Senay. “Speech defects made Churhcill a great orator. Analysis Shows.” The Sunday Herald. 16th January 2005. 29th October 2010. <>

“The Nobel Prize in Literature 1953″. 2 Nov 2010 <>

“We shall fight on the beaches”. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 29th October 2010. <>

Secondary sources:

Johnson, Daniel. “Why the World Needs a Younger Winston”. Standpoint. October 2010. 29th October 2010. <>

Lukacs, John. Churchill: visionary, statesman, historian. New Heaven: Yale University Press, 2002

Muller, James W. Churchill as peacemaker. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997