9 facts you (probably) didn’t know about Winston Churchill

Here is a brief excerpt from article by Daniel Smith that is featured by the BBC History Revealed website. To read the complete article, check out others, and learn more about BBC History Revealed, please click here.

Right: Winston Churchill making the famed ‘V’ for Victory sign. (Image by Bettmann/Getty Images)

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He is considered one of the defining figures of the 20th century, remembered for his inspirational speeches and for leading Britain to victory in the Second World War. But you might be surprised to learn that Winston Churchill had a patchy academic record, almost married a woman other than Clementine, and was one of the first adopters of the ‘onesie’…

In his book, How to Think Like Churchill, Daniel Smith charts the defining moments in the politician’s life, and reveals the key principles, philosophies and decisions that made him the wartime leader we remember him as. Here, writing for History Extra, Smith reveals nine lesser-known facts about Winston Churchill…

In the half century since he died, there can be no contemporary British figure whose story has been so scrutinized as Churchill’s. Of course he has his critics, and sometimes with good reason. He could be stubborn and impetuous, driven by ego, and sometimes unsympathetic to the plight of others (especially if they were not British, English-speaking or from a ‘Christian civilization’).

The morality of a few of his actions – such as giving permission for the blanket bombing of German cities – continues to divide opinion sharply. But few credibly argue that he was anything other than a giant figure of his age and one who, for all his faults, delivered what the British nation needed at its most acute time of crisis. How to Think Like Churchill looks at the personality traits, ideas, beliefs and some of the other key influences that informed his actions at the various stages of his life, and helped define his worldview. There emerges a figure who is nothing if not complex, combining extraordinary strengths and attributes with humbling weaknesses. For a man who had so many distinct phases to his life, it is hard to pin down exactly who the real Churchill was.

[Here are the first three of the nine “lesser known”facts.]

His childhood did little to suggest his future greatness

Winston’s childhood did little to suggest he would come anywhere near to matching the achievements of his illustrious predecessors, such as the Duke of Marlborough. He was prone to ill health, had various speech impediments (including a lisp and a stammer), and had an academic record that could at best be described as patchy. A letter from the assistant master at Harrow sent to Churchill’s mother, Lady Randolph, in July 1888, for instance, detailed several of his faults, including forgetfulness, carelessness and a lack of punctuality.

He began his schooling at St George’s in Ascot aged eight, and his various physical frailties made him an obvious target for bullies. It was, perhaps, this experience that made him so determined to stand up to apparently mighty foes in later life.

On the podcast: Anthony McCarten, witer of the new historical blockbuster Darkest Hour, considers whether Winston Churchill came close to seeking peace with Hitler in 1940

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Churchill was a voracious reader

Churchill was a voracious reader known for his ability to process vast quantities of text and to quickly grasp its key points. For a man who is quoted in the English language perhaps more than anybody, with the exception of Shakespeare, it is interesting to note that Churchill was a great fan of quotation collections too. They were, he found, a short cut to unending pools of knowledge.

In My Early Life (1930) he notes: “It is a good thing for an uneducated man to read books of quotations… The quotations when engraved upon the memory give you good thoughts.”

He was accident-prone

He was accident-prone, suffering several nasty falls and, in 1931, was involved in an almost deadly accident with a car on a New York street. Sometimes it seemed like fate had something unhealthy in mind for Churchill, but he was never cowed. Indeed, his many close shaves only seemed to further encourage him to tempt destiny and put himself in the way of yet more danger.

In South Africa: London to Ladysmith via Pretoria (1900), Churchill provided arguably the most vivid insight into his attitude to risk: “You must put your head into the lion’s mouth if the performance is to be a success.”

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Here is a direct link to the complete article.

Daniel Smith lives in London and is the author of over thirty books on subjects as diverse as Sherlock Holmes, the Second World War ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign, serendipity and money. His narrative non-fiction includes ‘The Peer and the Gangster’ and ‘The Ardlamont Mystery’. He has also written twelve titles in Michael O’Mara’s How to Think Like… series, as well as a series of books for Quercus.


The Peer and the Gangster, The Ardlamont Mystery,  Michael O’Mara’s How to Think Like… series

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