"Blood, Toil, Tears, and Sweat"
"Be Ye Men of Valour"
"Their Finest Hour"
Excerpts from selected speeches delivered in the spring of 1940 Printed in Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat: The Speeches of Winston Churchill Published in 1990
After Adolf Hitler was named chancellor (chief officer) of Germany in 1933, the German government stepped up efforts to expand its territory in Europe. An extremely dangerous leader who seemed to have a spellbinding grasp on his followers, Hitler had spent the previous decade building up the National Socialist German Workers' Party (or Nazi Party for short). The Nazis encouraged the growing nationalist movement in Germany—a movement that glorified all things German and demanded blind devotion to the party's beliefs.
British prime minister Neville Chamberlain (the chief officer of the British government) sought to avoid war between Germany and Britain. To appease Hitler, he gave in to his demands to add the German-speaking sections of Czechoslovakia to his territory. As it turned out, this alone did not satisfy the cunning German leader's appetite for power and land. By March 1939 Germany claimed the rest of Czechoslovakia. It became clear that Hitler could not be trusted. Chamberlain resigned his post and Winston Churchill, unyielding and bold, was appointed prime minister of Britain on May 10, 1940.
Churchill's first job was to form a new British government, called a coalition government. Members of all political parties—the tradition-minded Conservatives, the reform-seeking Liberals, and the workers' Labour Party—would play a role in the new government under Churchill.
World War II had already begun. In September 1939 Germany had invaded Poland. Great Britain and France responded to this aggression by declaring war on Germany. Eventually, the leading powers of the world would align (take sides) with Germany or with England. Germany, Italy, and Japan became known as the Axis Powers, and the forces that fought against Germany—France, Britain, and later the Soviet Union and the United States—were called the Allied Powers.
The Nazis' rise to power was tied directly to the staggering defeat suffered by Germany in World War I (1914-18). The First World War, sometimes referred to as the Great War, was a fight for power and influence. Germany tried to stake its claim as a leading European power through warfare. The long and bloody conflict concluded in 1918 with a full German retreat. World War I came to an official end with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles (named for the French palace where peace negotiations were conducted; pronounced "ver-SIGH") in 1919. The agreement stripped Germany of much of its territory, severely limited the size of its army and navy, demanded that Germany admit responsibility for starting the war, and required the defeated nation to make payments, or "reparations," to the opposing forces—especially to France— for the damage it had caused.
These penalties caused a serious economic decline, unemployment, and political turmoil in Germany. The Great Depression—a period of extreme economic slowdown that began in the United States in 1929 and spread to Europe in the early 1930s—only compounded problems.
Hitler took advantage of this chaos and suffering. He promised the German people that their nation would rise up from disgrace and become all-powerful. World War II can be viewed as another struggle for power, an attempt by the Germans to shake off past defeats and achieve European—and eventually world—domination.
In August 1939 Germany and the Soviet Union signed the Nazi-Soviet Nonaggression Pact, an agreement that the two countries would not fight each other. On September 1, 1939, only a week after the pact went into effect, Hitler launched a German attack on Poland. (Under the terms of the nonaggression pact, the Soviet Union would not interfere with Germany's actions in Poland.) Obligated by earlier guarantees to assist various Eastern and Central European nations in case of a German invasion, Britain and France declared war on Germany two days later. It was already too late to save Poland—Germany conquered it by September 24. The stunning victory was called blitzkrieg (pronounced "BLITS-kreeg," meaning "lightning war" in German).
On May 10, 1940, Germany attacked Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg (a very small territory surrounded by France to the south, Belgium to the west, and Germany to the north and east). According to a special British press cable published in the New York Times
Germany also invaded France on May 10, and conquered it in another blitzkrieg. The first bombing in France occurred in May at Bron Airdrom, an airport near the city of Lyon. German troops entered the capital city of Paris on June 14, 1940. Shortly thereafter, all of northern and western France was occupied by Germany (taken over by German troops and controlled by the German government). As reported in the New York Times, French government officials felt there was "no longer … any possibility for a nation within striking range of Germany to remain neutral." In the coming months more nations would be forced to join the war against Hitler.
Three speeches written by British prime minister Winston Churchill in the spring of 1940 embody the nation's fierce determination to fight Hitler to the very end. These speeches—titled "Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat," "Be Ye Men of Valour," and "Their Finest Hour"—were delivered in a five-week period between May 13 and June 18, 1940. Together, they chronicle England's early role in the war, document the escalation of the conflict, and reflect the spirit of pride, purpose, and confidence that Churchill inspired in the British people.
Things to remember while reading the excerpts of Churchill's speeches:,
- Note that each speech was named for a key line that best captured Churchill's point.
- Churchill was appointed prime minister of Britain on May 10, 1940, just three days before delivering the first of these speeches to the House of Commons. (The elected House of Commons and the nonelected House of Lords make up the British Parliament—the supreme legislative, or law-making, body in Britain. The more powerful House of Commons is considered the ruling chamber of the king-dom's legislature.)
- Churchill became prime minister of Britain when he was sixty-five years old—an age when most of his colleagues were retiring.
- The "Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat" speech is considered a classic—a model of Churchill's gift for public speaking and a testament to his tireless pursuit of victory.
- A few days before Churchill gave this speech, Germany invaded the Netherlands, Belgium, France, and Luxembourg. Churchill was working to shape a unified Parliament that would best lead the nation through this perilous time. He wanted to prepare British citizens for the long ordeal ahead and used "Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat" to convey a message of urgency and commitment to the war effort.
- In his "Be Ye Men of Valour" speech—his first speech to be broadcast to the whole nation since his appointment as prime minister—Churchill calls on the British people to rally around the cause of freedom. He assures them that Germany will be conquered.
- Prime Minister Churchill's "Their Finest Hour" speech is set against the realization that France had indeed been devastated by the Germans' violent and forceful attacks. After France fell (surrendered) to the Germans in late June of 1940, England was Hitler's next target in a larger scheme to dominate all of Europe. Recognizing England's need for support in the war, Churchill would forge close ties with U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt and with Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. Most observers rank "Their Finest Hour" among Churchill's best-remembered wartime speeches.
- Churchill was known for his fiery temper, caustic wit, and astounding sense of self-confidence. He used all of these qualities to his advantage as England's prime minister, denouncing Hitler as a "crocodile" and motivating crowds with his rousing speeches and two-fingered "V-for-victory" sign.
"Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat"
Delivered to the House of Commons, May 13, 1940
… It must be remembered that 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… I would say to the House, as I said to those [ministers] who have joined the 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. You ask, what is our policy? I will say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us: to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: Victory—victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be… '
"Be Ye Men of Valour"
Broadcast by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), May 19, 1940
I speak to you for the first time as Prime Minister in a solemn hour for the life of our country, of our Empire, of our Allies, and, above all, of the cause of Freedom. A tremendous battle is raging in France and Flanders. The Germans, by a remarkable combination of air bombing and heavily armoured tanks, have broken through the French defences north of the Maginot Line, and strong columns of their armoured vehicles are ravaging the open country, which for the first day or two was without defenders… The regroupment of the French armies to make head against, and also to strike at, this intruding wedge has been proceeding for several days, largely assisted by the magnificent efforts of the Royal Air Force.
We must not allow ourselves to be intimidated by the presence of these armoured vehicles in unexpected places behind our lines.…
It would be foolish, however, to disguise the gravity of the hour. It would be still more foolish to lose heart or courage or to suppose that well-trained, well-equipped armies numbering three or four millions of men can be overcome in the space of a few weeks, or even months.…
In the air—often at serious odds—often at odds hitherto thought overwhelming—we have been clawing down three or four to one of our enemies; and the relative balance of the British and German Air Forces is now considerably more favourable to us than at the beginning of the battle. In cutting down the German bombers, we are fighting our own battle as well as that of France.…
Our task is not only to win the battle—but to win the War. After this battle in France abates its force, there will come the battle for our island—for all that Britain is, and all that Britain means. That will be the struggle… The interests of property, the hours of labour, are nothing compared with the struggle for life and honour, for right and freedom, to which we have vowed ourselves.
I have received from the Chiefs of the French Republic, and in particular from its indomitable Prime Minister, M. Reynaud, the most sacred pledges that whatever happens they will fight to the end, be it bitter or be it glorious. Nay, if we fight to the end, it can only be glorious.
Having received his Majesty's commission, I have found an administration of men and women of every party and of almost every point of view. We have differed and quarrelled in the past; but now one bond unites us all—to wage war until victory is won, and never to surrender ourselves to servitude and shame, whatever the cost and the agony may be. This is one of the most awe—striking periods in the long history of France and Britain. It is also beyond doubt the most sublime. Side by side, … the British and French peoples have advanced to rescue not only Europe but mankind from the foulest and most soul-destroying tyranny which has ever darkened and stained the pages of history. Behind them—behind us—behind the armies and fleets of Britain and France—gather a group of shattered States and bludgeoned races: the Czechs, the Poles, the Norwegians, the Danes, the Dutch, the Belgians—upon all of whom the long night of barbarism will descend, unbroken even by a star of hope, unless we conquer, as conquer we must; as conquer we shall.
Today is Trinity Sunday. Centuries ago words were written to be a call and a spur to the faithful servants of Truth and Justice: 'Arm yourselves, and be ye men of valour, and be in readiness for the conflict; for it is better for us to perish in battle than to look upon the outrage of our nation and our altar. As the Will of God is in Heaven, even so let it be.'
"Their Finest Hour"
Delivered to the House of Commons, June 18, 1940
… I made it perfectly clear [a fortnight ago] that whatever happened in France would make no difference to the resolve of Britain and the British Empire to fight on, 'if necessary for years, if necessary alone.' …
During the great battle in France, we gave very powerful and continuous aid to the French army, both by fighters and bombers; but in spite of every kind of pressure we never would allow the entire metropolitan fighter strength of the Air Force to be consumed. This decision was painful, but it was also right, because the fortunes of the battle in France could not have been decisively affected even if we had thrown in our entire fighter force. That battle was lost by the unfortunate strategical opening, by the extraordinary and unforeseen power of the armoured columns and by the great preponderance of the German army in numbers. Our fighter Air Force might easily have been exhausted as a mere accident in that great struggle, and then we should have found ourselves at the present time in a very serious plight. But as it is … our fighter strength is stronger at the present time relatively to the Germans, who have suffered terrible losses, than it has ever been; and consequently we believe ourselves possessed of the capacity to continue the war in the air under better conditions than we have ever experienced before.…
There remains, of course, the danger of bombing attacks, which will certainly be made very soon upon us by the bomber forces of the enemy. It is true that the German bomber force is superior in numbers to ours; but we have a very large bomber force also, which we shall use to strike at military targets in Germany without intermission. I do not at all underrate the severity of the ordeal which lies before us; but I believe our countrymen will show themselves capable of standing up to it.…
In what way has our position worsened since the beginning of the war? It has worsened by the fact that the Germans have conquered a large part of the coastline of Western Eur
If Hitler can bring under his despotic control the industries of the countries he has conquered, this will add greatly to his already vast armament output. On the other hand, this will not happen immedi ately, and we are now assured of immense, continuous and increas ing support in supplies and munitions of all kinds from the United States; and especially of airplanes and pilots from the Dominions and across the oceans, coming from regions which are beyond the reach of enemy bombers.…
What General Weygand called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. 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… 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… Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Com monwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, 'This was their finest hour.' (Churchill, pp. 149, 151-54, 168, 172-78)
What happened next …
The German air force (called the Luftwaffe) and England's Royal Air Force (RAF) engaged in a string of air battles during the summer and fall of 1940, a period of the war nowknown as the Battle of Britain. The Germans tried to conquer England with waves of heavy bombing over the English Channel, but British forces held firm. Germany's efforts to gain control of the air were foiled.
On September 27, 1940, the governments of Germany, Italy, and Japan signed the Tripartite Pact, also known as the Axis or Three-Power Pact. Each nation pledged full cooperation and support—politically, economically, and militarily—tothe others in case of attack by another power (namely, the United States) that might enter the war. The terms of the pact were to remain in effect for ten years.
Meanwhile, tensions were mounting between Germany and the Soviet Union. Hitler could not possibly achieve his goal of creating a vast European empire unless Stalin and the Soviet Union were defeated. It was inevitable that the nonaggression pact between the two countries would be broken. (See Adolf Hitler entry in chapter one for more information about the relationship between Hitler and Stalin.) The Soviets joined the Allied forces in 1941, after Germany invaded Russia. The United States entered the war that same year, following Japan's surprise attack on American forces at Pearl Harbor.
Did you know …
- Churchill had a weakness for champagne, brandy, whiskey, and Cuban cigars. He acquired the cigar habit during his stint as a correspondent in Cuba back in 1895. (At the time the Cubans were seeking freedom from Spain; England, an ally of Spain, supported the Spanish effort to crush the Cuban rebellion.)
- During particularly stressful periods in his life, Churchill suffered severe and recurring bouts of melancholy (gloom and sorrow) and depression, a condition he referred to as his "Black Dog."
- Churchill was a night owl. He started his serious wartime planning each night at about 11:00 PM and continued working until dawn. A fanatic for cleanliness and comfort, he bathed twice daily and is said to have held many important meetings while wearing his bathrobe.
For More Information
Churchill, Winston. The Second World War. 6 volumes. New York:Houghton, 1948-54. Reprinted, 1986.
Drieman, J.E., ed. Winston Churchill: An Unbreakable Spirit. Minneapolis, MN: Dillon Press, 1990.
Harris, Nathaniel. Hitler. North Pomfret, VT: Trafalgar, 1989.
Kimball, Warren F. Forged in War: Roosevelt, Churchill, and the Second World War. New York: Morrow, 1998.
Rose, Norman. Churchill: The Unruly Giant. New York: The Free Press, 1994.
Sainsbury, Keith. Churchill and Roosevelt at War: The War They Fought and the
Peace They Hoped to Make. New York: New York University Press, 1994.
Shirer, William L. Berlin Diary. New York: Knopf, 1941.
Churchill and the Generals. BBC/LeVien International, 1981.
The Nazi Strike. Fusion Video, 1984.
The Churchill Center. The Winston Churchill Home Page. [Online] http://www.winstonchurchill.org (accessed on September 5, 1999).
Allen, Peter. The Origins of World War II. New York: Bookwright Press, 1992.
"Chamberlain Resigns, Churchill Premier." New York Times, May 11, 1940, pp. 1, 9.
Churchill, Winston. Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat: The Speeches of Winston Churchill. Edited with an introduction by David Cannadine. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1990.
"German Army Attacks Poland." New York Times, September 1, 1939, p. 1.
Hills, Ken. Wars That Changed the World: World War II. New York: Marshall Cavendish, 1988.
Keller, Mollie. Winston Churchill. New York: F. Watts, 1984.
"Nazis Invade Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg by Land and Air." New York Times, May 10, 1940, p. 1.
Ross, Stewart. World Leaders. New York: Thomson Learning, 1993.
Severance, John B. Winston Churchill: Soldier, Statesman, Artist. New York:Clarion Books, 1996.