Study on Winston Churchill’ speeches delivered during the Battle of France

Filed under: 0. Cover Page,SECOND PAPER — epies2 at 9:45 pm on Sunday, December 12, 2010


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

Student´s name: Piera Escrivá, Eva

Title of the paper: Study on Winston Churchill’ speeches delivered during the Battle of  France

Author or topic: Winston Churchill


After and introduction on the on the topics that are going to be dealt with in this essay and providing a brief socio-historical introduction on the context of the Battle of France (May 13 to June 25, 1940), its backgrounds, who participated, what happened and the final number of casualties, the reader will be guided towards the three speeches delivered by Winston Churchill during that period.

As we have already studied on Churchill’s “We shall fight on the beaches” in the previous paper, it will be taken for granted that readers already know about the Dynamo operation in Dunkirk and every matter it concerned.

That is the reason why in this study only the speeches delivered in 1949 on May 13, Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat and June 18, The Finest Hour” will be analysed paying attention to their content and providing a stylistic commentary on the hidden aspects of the named speeches.


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

1. Introduction

Filed under: 1. Introduction,SECOND PAPER — epies2 at 9:42 pm on Sunday, December 12, 2010

On May 10, 1940, Winston Churchill became Prime Minister of Great Britain. He had been warning the world about the dangers of Nazism for almost a decade. By the time Churchill became Prime Minister, the British had seen Nazis overrun Poland, Denmark, and Norway. Churchill was watching helplessly as the German Army routed the combined armies of France, Britain, Holland, and Belgium.

The new prime minister did not just face the fury of Hitler’s hordes. Stalin had been a close and effective ally of Hitler since August 1939. Mussolini would quickly pounce and join with Germany against Britain. Japan menaced Commonwealth democracies and British interests in the Pacific. Enemies were everywhere, however, throughout this essay we are going to point out just the period of the Battle of France. Churchill delivered a great deal of speeches during his long political life and here we will deal with the three he addressed to the British people during this six-week period.

– “Blood, toil, tears, and sweat” speech of 13 May, given 3 days after the start of the German offensive in the West; his first speech to Parliament as Prime Minister, reporting the formation of a an all-party coalition government implacably resolved to fight on to ultimate victory

– “We shall fight on the beaches” speech of 4 June, reporting the success of the Germans in overrunning Holland, Belgium and France north of the Somme, and the evacuation of the BEF from Dunkirk, and preparing the British to fight on if necessary alone.

– “Their Finest Hour”This speech, made to the House of Commons after France had sought an armistice on the evening of 16 June

As we have already studied on Churchill’s “We shall fight on the beaches” in the previous paper, it will be taken for granted that readers already know about the Dynamo operation in Dunkirk and every matter it concerned. That is the reason why in this study only the speeches delivered on May 13 and June 18 of 1940 will be analysed.

2. Socio-historical context

Filed under: 2. Socio-historical context,SECOND PAPER — epies2 at 9:39 pm on Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Battle of France during World War II was initiated by the German Army attack over the French territory and the Low Countries territories in May 10, in 1940, lasting until France surrendered in June 25, one month and a half later.

  • Background

After the German invaded Poland in 1939, England and France declared war on Germany. Despite this, the Western side kept calm for seven months, period that received the name of Phoney War. During this time, Hitler invaded Norway and Denmark. England had a failed tentative of helping Norway.

On the other side, France withdrawn behind the Maginot Line and allied with the British set up a defence line between France and Belgium, initially declared as neutral. Both in London and Paris there was a feeling of trust in the German defeat although after Germany defeated Poland and Norway this feeling started to decay.

  • Who participated?

On paper, the German and Allied forces were roughly evenly matched. The Germans offensive fielded 136 divisions against 94 French divisions, and the 10 British divisions of the British Expeditionary Force. 22 Belgian and 9 Dutch divisions were also involved. It was only in the air that the Germans enjoyed massive superiority: 2500 aircraft against a few hundred British, and largely obsolete French aircraft.

Britain and France had been largely unprepared for war. The French conscripts were more badly trained still. Fortunately, the small British Expeditionary Force had many professional troops rather than recent conscripts.

By contrast, the Germans side had much more intensive and elaborate training. Accurate, full-scale mockups of crucial fortifications were built in Germany, and troops rehearsed their attacks until perfect.

  • How did it start?

The battle consisted of two main operations. In the first, Fall Gelb (Case Yellow), German armoured units pushed through the Ardennes, to cut off and surround the Allied units that had advanced into Belgium. During the fighting, the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and many French soldiers were evacuated from Dunkirk in Operation Dynamo. The 4th of June 1940, after the successful operation, Winston Churchill delivered his second speech during the named battle, “We shall Fight on the Beaches”, calming down British people for their victory and warning them Germany more than probably would attack Britain in a short period of time.

In the second operation, Fall Rot (Case Red), executed from 5 June, German forces outflanked the Maginot Line and pushed deep into France. Italy declared war on France on 10 June and soon afterwards the French government fled to the city of Bordeaux. France’s capital of Paris was occupied on 14 June. On the 17 June, Philippe Pétain publicly announced France would ask for an armistice. On 18th of June, Churchill made a speech to Parliament. “The battle for France is over,” he warned. “The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us”.

“The Battle of Britain is about to begin.”

On 22 June, an armistice was signed between France and Germany, going into effect on 25 June. For the Axis Powers, the campaign was a spectacular victory.

  • Casualties

On the 22nd of June France surrendered to the Germans. Fighting continued for a few days before dying out. German casualties were only 27,000 dead, 100,000 wounded. French military casualties about 100,000 dead, 200,000 wounded. Worse was to come for the French: about 400,000 civilians would die in bombings and in forced-labour camps under the German occupation, and another 100,000 military would die during and after the liberation. In the cruellest cut of all, 1,147 French sailors would be killed by their British allies at Mers-El-Kebir on the 3rd of July, when the British decided they would destroy the French fleet themselves, rather than risk it falling into German hands.

3. Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat

Filed under: 3. Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat,SECOND PAPER — epies2 at 9:37 pm on Sunday, December 12, 2010

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MP3 file and text

3.1. Content

Filed under: 3.1. Content,SECOND PAPER — epies2 at 9:36 pm on Sunday, December 12, 2010


The leadership of Neville Chamberlain proved insufficient during the war, and in May 1940, Winston S. Churchill was appointed Prime Minister of an all-party government.

In this speech, he presents himself as the new Prime Minister and tells the audience he has been appointed by the King with the camera support. He is proposing to create a government in which all parties are represented and a new administration to organize every preparatory given that, the air fight is constantly taking place and the wars in Norway and Holland require some matters to be manufactured in Britain.

We are in the preliminary stage of one of the greatest battles in history (..) That we are in action at many points, in Norway and in Holland, that we have to be prepared in the Mediterranean. That the air battle is continuous, and that many preparations have to be made here at home.”

He encourages people to be ready and fight because only victory will make of them survivors. He also tells British citizens to defend the world and allow it to keep going towards its objective which is always improvement, not defeat and disaster.

You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival. Let that be realised; no survival for the British Empire, no survival for all that the British Empire has stood for, no survival for the urge and impulse of the ages, that mankind will move forward towards its goal.”

Churchill proved to be an inspiring leader in the fight with Germany. When he met his Cabinet on May 13 he told them that “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.” He repeated that phrase later in the day when he asked the House of Commons for a vote of confidence in his new all-party government. The response of Labour was heart-warming; the Conservative reaction was luke-warm. They still really wanted Neville Chamberlain. For the first time, the people had hope but Churchill commented to General Ismay: “Poor people, poor people. They trust me, and I can give them nothing but disaster for quite a long time.”

Churchill described in Into the Storm the achievement as his “walk with destiny” — a destiny for which he believed he had spent all his life in preparation. He was one of the great statesmen of world history. (cited in Churchill, 2005)

3.2. Stylistic analysis

Filed under: 3.2. Stylistic analysis,SECOND PAPER — epies2 at 9:34 pm on Sunday, December 12, 2010

This famous speech is a great example of a clear address using excellent text to persuade and inspire the audience by a natural leader and motivator. It is an example of a great oration and clear dialogue. It provides an illustration of, the famous events of the era. This speech is famed for its powers of verbal communication making good use of the words and language to illustrate the subject. Whether this address can be described in the category of powerful, persuasive, motivational or inspirational speeches the excellent powers of oration which are used makes it a famous short speech.

It is interesting to point out the length of this speech. Churchill’ speeches were characterised by its perorations. Long speeches full of repetitions and allusions to matters already dealt with but not this speech. Actually, Churchill apologises for its brevity and the lack of formality but as it required the situation, he just dedicated time to the key point.

“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. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering.”

The phrase “I have nothing to offer but Bood, Toli, Tears and Sweat” was not spontaneous, he had already spoken it to the War Cabinet that morning. Nor was it entirely original; Garibaldi, Churchill almost certainly knew, had in 1849 told his followers that he could offer “hunger, thirst, forced marches, battles and death” in the impending battle for Rome. Nor was the speech even broadcast to the nation; it was merely summed up that evening by the BBC. Although the phrase was important because it was so sincere. Churchill knew even better than his compatriots that the United Kingdom’s situation was dire and that even in the long term, victory was uncertain. But he also understood, again better than his compatriots that with Hitler there could simply be no compromise worth accepting.

He was conscious about how devastated was Britain and that is why he had to put an effort on motivating and inspiring his audience to make things go better. Even if it is a technical language, people could understand it all and since he was talking to thousands of people and he was looking for approval, to be understood was primordial.

He uses a lot of rhetoric but without dramatizing, because he wanted people to be calm and serenely. By saying again and again the same point, he would get people to focus on it and to hammer in the mass. At that point, he obviously did not know they were going to win (thanks to the United States help) so he was just a very down-to-earth person, very factual, business after business. He was not an idealistic but a realistic person. And so he worked it out.

4. The Finest Hour

Filed under: 4. The Finest Hour,SECOND PAPER — epies2 at 9:32 pm on Sunday, December 12, 2010

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MP3 file and text


Filed under: 4.1.Content,SECOND PAPER — epies2 at 9:30 pm on Sunday, December 12, 2010

The speech was delivered to the Commons at 3:49 pm, and lasted 36 minutes. Churchill, as was his habit, made revisions to his 23 page typescript right up to and during the speech.

This episode took place in one of the considered darkest in European. The prime minister of Great Britain addressed the House of Commons of a nation that seemed to stand alone against Nazi tyranny in Europe.

“Finest hour” came to characterize Churchill’s speech at Westminster on June 18, 1940, and they were words of challenge. But what preceded them were words of defiance, seldom quoted but nonetheless forming a passage of verbal mastery that reminds us of what lay ahead for Britain:

“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, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.”

The Finest Hour” aimed to motivate 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 upland(…) 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.

4.2. Stylistic Analysis

Filed under: 4.2. Stylistic Analysis,SECOND PAPER — epies2 at 9:28 pm on Sunday, December 12, 2010

Winston Churchill was said to be gifted person as regarding to his facet as orator despite his speech defect as we dealt in the previous paper. He needed few time to revise his speeches and sometimes he did it at the same time he was delivering it in front of his audience. However, something very similar happened to this speech “The Finest Hour”. It was a delicate situation for the British population and so he had the responsibility to inform and encourage people to be ready because a new eras was about to start, and it was going to be even more difficult than the Battle of France.

Sam Jones reports in his article Churchill: The blood sweat and tears behind his finest hour speech that an examination of the speech held at Cambridge University’s Churchill Archives Centre reveals that he drafted and redrafted the speech until he felt his words did justice to the situation.

The archive’s director, Allen Packwood, noticed the revisions as he and the historian Max Arthur re-examined the material before the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. Even the first draft, said Packwood, offers evidence of frantic editing. “The page is covered with his handwritten annotations in red and blue ink,” he said. “It highlights how much care and attention Churchill put into this speech. He knew how much was riding on this. The country was facing a huge national crisis. France had capitulated and Britain was facing the prospect of invasion.”

A glance through the final notes that Churchill made for the speech to parliament also revealed that the new Prime Minister Churchill was chopping, changing and forging phrases until the last moment before he made the speech to in parliament. “You can imagine him sitting on the front bench of the Commons spotting an error and making a quick change,” said Packwood.

5. Conclusion

Filed under: 5. Conclusion,SECOND PAPER — epies2 at 9:24 pm on Sunday, December 12, 2010

According to Richard N. Story article, World War II could have been called the Orator’s War. Four of its six major leaders; Benito Mussolini, Adolf Hitler, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston S. Churchill used their gift of oratory to mobilize and lead their nation. But it was Churchill who led the rallying cry of freedom when the fascist powers appeared certain to triumph over Europe. His great speeches became the voice of resolve and determination among Britain and its Commonwealth allies to stop the spread of totalitarianism.

Throughout this essay we have been dealing with the speeches Churchill delivered during the Battle of France. From its beginning, “Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat” in May 13 when he just become Prime Minister to  “The Finest Hour”, addressed to the British people in June 18, the same day the Battle of France had finished with the French surrender and announcing the Battle of Britain was about to start.

It is ironical how Winston Churchill could have written such inspirational words under this situation. In resisting the Nazis, he produced some of the richest prose-poetry in defence of freedom and democracy ever written.

And that is one of the reasons he has been remembered and studied throughout history, not only as a politician but as a good writer, orator and artist. This is one of the reasons why I have decided to make this study on his speeches. It has not been that difficult to find information about Churchill. Since he was one of the most important characters of the British history, a great deal of books, articles, and biographies have been written about him but when dealing with his speeches the kind of information available was different and I had to look for specifically articles that had been written by experts on the matter.

His speeches reveal all the aspects of his character. What we can hear in his speeches is his self-belief, his determination, his humanity, that leads the British country on to final victory.

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