Churchill’s draft of finest hour speech shows dozens of last minute changes


Drafts of Churchill’s iconic ”finest hour” speech were released for the first time – showing how the famously off-the-cuff orator had actually painstakingly planned his masterpiece.

Winston Churchill’s address to Parliament on June 18 1940 on one of the darkest days of the Second World War after France fell to the Nazis heralded the start of the Battle of Britain.

But the previously unseen documents show how Churchill made dozens of last minute handwritten notes and corrections to make the speech more upbeat and optimistic.

The Prime Minister even scribbled an extra sentence moments before he delivered the rousing speech to the House of Commons pledging to free Nazi-occupied Europe.

It was spoken to the House of Commons in the afternoon then broadcast live to households across the nation on radio in the evening.

Cambridge University’s Churchill Archives Centre has now revealed a series of draft speeches showing how the wartime leader changed the words over 48 hours.

Archives director Allen Packwood said: ”Churchill is famous as an orator and renowned for his quick wit.

”But the archives show for big speeches and broadcasts he prepared extremely thoroughly, in a short period of time over a couple of days.

”He puts an awful lot of time getting the speech right because he knew how important it was.

”You can see how much effort he puts into the broadcast to get it absolutely right.

”It is clear he produced this speech in just two days between the fall of France and his speech in Parliament.

”These were days before politicians employed script writers so Churchill dictated the speech to a duty secretary before pouring over it making adjustments and corrections.
”The pages are covered with his red and blue ink.

”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 attack and invasion.”

Minutes before he delivered the speech Churchill rewrote a section warning of the threats coming from german bombing raids to make the speech optimistic.

He crossed out: “It is quite true that this force is superior in numbers to ours and by coming on dark nights they may inflict grievous damage without the certainty of being intercepted.”

And replaces it with: ”It is quite true that this force is superior in numbers to ours. But we have a very large bombing force also.”

He also adds a pledge to rest of Europe writing in red ink on the penultimate page.

The final draft reads: ‘Czechs, Poles, Norwegians, Dutch and Belgians who have joined their causes with our own.’

In red pen underneath Churchill scrawled ”all shall be restored” before returning to his original script which reads ”What General Weygand calls ‘the battle of France’ is over. The battle of Britain is about to begin”.

Mr Packwood added: ”Even at that stage you still have last minute changes and annotations, clearly indicating that he was working and reworking this speech right up until the point of delivery.

”You can imagine him sitting on the front bench of the House of Commons spotting an error and making a quick change.

”On June 18 1940, the day he delivered the speech, France had surrendered, we had just had Dunkirk and Britain was standing alone in the face of the Luftwaffe.

”Pledging to restore freedom to those countries was an incredibly brave thing to say.”

Historian Max Arthur, author of the just published Last of the Few, said: “This is a colossal speech, the way he’s evolved it, thought it through, realising more than any other Prime Minister before him just what impact this would have on the nation.”

The university archive reveals Churchill made dozens of changes to the speech including correcting his assertion that Britain boasted 1.5 million fighting men, when it was in fact 1.25 million men were in the armed forces.

At this point he scrawls in the margin: “Those who are not called up or employed upon the vast business of munitions production in all its branches would serve the country best by remaining at their ordinary work until they are required”.

The famous speech and drafts were pulled from the library for the first in a series of Podcasts to mark the 70th anniversary of the battle of Britain.

Diaries also reveal Churchill’s private secretary Sir Jock Colville thought the speech was over long and Churchill sounded tired.

The archive features a letter from his wife, Clementine, just two weeks after the collapse of France warning the Prime Minister against becoming ‘rough, sarcastic and overbearing’.

She writes: ”One of the men in your entourage, a devoted friend, has been to me and told me there is a danger of your being generally disliked by your colleagues and subordinates because of your rough, sarcastic and overbearing manner.

”My darling Winston, I must confess that I have noticed a deterioration in your manner and you are not so kind as you used to be.

”You will not get the best results by irascibility and rudeness, they will breed either dislike or a slave mentality.”

The archives are not open to the pubic but can be accessed by making an appointment through Cambridge University.


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