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.

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