Winston Churchill and His Leadership in World War II
by The Honorable Celia Sandys, Author, and Granddaughter of Sir Winston Churchill
My grandfather knew that victory in the Second World War depended in the end on the American armed forces. His confidence in them was clearly expressed in a letter he wrote to General Marshall just after he had inspected American troops in training at Camp Jackson in South Carolina:
I have never been more impressed than I was with the bearing of the men I saw. The undemonstrative, therefore grim, determination which was everywhere manifest not only in the seasoned troops but in the newly-drafted, bodes ill for our enemies.
After his death in 1965, Winston Churchill, the colossus of the 20th Century, became an historical figure who fewer and fewer people could actually remember. Then, following the tragic events of September the 11th, he walked straight out of the pages of the history books and back onto the international stage.
Recently, on the anniversary of 9/11, Rudolph Giuliani quoted my grandfather from World War II:
Rebuild the Ruins. Heal the wounds. Comfort the broken and broken-hearted. There is the battle we now have to fight. There is the victory we now have to win. Let us go forward together.
Mayor Giuliani told me that my grandfather had been a great source of inspiration and strength to him following the tragic events of that day. The speeches of President Bush and Prime Minister Blair rang with Churchillian tones.
All this confirms without a doubt that Churchillâ€™s inspiring example is as relevant today as it was during the war.
There can be few more telling declarations than Churchillâ€™s description of his emotions as he went to bed nine hours after becoming Britainâ€™s Prime Minister in its darkest hour. Continental Europe had been overrun by Germany. Britain was ill prepared and stood alone. This is how he remembered that moment:
I felt as if I were walking with destiny, and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and this trial.
Although Churchill is remembered best for the manner in which he rallied Britain in World War II, leadership was something he had exercised from his earliest days, even as a school boy. Within a year of leaving the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst his letters from the North West Frontier of India show that he had already established the main pillars of his leadership: courage, vision and communication.
There is no doubt that the prime characteristic was courage, of which he later wrote:
Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees all others.
Churchill led from the front from the moment he became Prime Minister. Everyone responded to the courage he displayed. In his first six weeks in office with Britain in a desperate state he still made time to fly to France five times while attempting to put steel into a French government teetering on the edge of capitulation.
These were hazardous journeys. On one occasion German fighters flew beneath his small plane; fortunately the pilots did not look up, as they were more concerned with shooting up shipping in the English Channel.
Churchill seemed to be exhilarated by danger. In terms of wartime leadership it gave him a definite edge. In 1896 he had written to his mother from India saying: