Words of Interest

Number 28.

Churchill’s Speech on August 20, 1940. to the House Of Commons

THE Whole of the warring nations are engaged, not only soldiers, but the entire population. The fronts are everywhere. The trenches are dug in the towns and streets. Every village is fortified. Every road is barred. The front line runs through the factories. The workmen are soldiers with different weapons but the same courage.

This new kind of war is well suited to the genius and the resources of the British nation and the British Empire.

If it is a case of the whole nation fighting and suffering together, we are the most united of all because we have been nurtured in freedom and individual responsibil­ity and are the products, not of totalitarian uniformity, but of tolerance and variety.

Hitler is now sprawled over Europe. Our offensive springs are being slowly compressed. We must resolutely and methodically prepare ourselves for the campaigns of 1941 and 1942. Two or three years are not a long time, even in our short, precarious lives. They are nothing in the history of the nation.           

When we are doing the finest thing in the world, and have the honour to be me sole champion of the liberties of all Europe, we must not grudge these years or weary as we toll and struggle through them.

ONE of the ways to bring this war to a speedy end is to con­vince the enemy, not by words, but by deeds, that we have both the will and the means, not only to go on indefinitely, but to strike heavy and unexpected blows.

The road to victory may not be so long as we expect. But we have no right to count upon this. Be it long or short, rough or smooth, we mean to reach our journey's end.

Rather more than a quarter of a year has passed since the new government came into power in this country. What a cataract of disaster has poured out upon us since then! The trustful Dutch overwhelmed; Belgium Invaded and beaten down; our own fine Expeditionary Force cut off and almost captured [at Dunkirk], escaping as it seemed only by a miracle and with the loss of all its equipment.

France [is] in the power of the enemy, all its arsenals and vast masses of military material converted or convertible to the enemy's use; a puppet govern­ment set up at Vichy which may at any moment be forced to become our foe; the whole western seaboard of Europe from the North Cape to the Spanish frontier in German hands; all the ports, all the air­fields on this Immense front employed against us as poten­tial springboards of invasion.

Moreover, the German air power, numerically so far out­stripping ours, has been brought so close to our Island that hostile bombers reach our shores in a few minutes.

[Yet] at the end of a period of horror and disaster, we stand erect, sure of ourselves, masters of our fate, with the conviction of final victory burning unquenchable in our hearts and actually stronger than we have ever been before. No one flinched or wavered. Our people are united and resolved, as they have never been before. Death and ruin have become small things compared with the shame of defeat or failure in duty.

We cannot tell what lies ahead. It may be that even greater ordeals lie before us. We shall face whatever is coming to us. We are sure of ourselves and of our cause, and that is the supreme fact which has emerged in these months of trial.

Meanwhile, we have not only fortified our hearts but our Island. We have re-armed and re-built our armies to a degree which would have been deemed impossible a few months ago.

We have ferried across the Atlantic, thanks to our friends over there, an immense mass of cannon, rifles, machine guns, cartridges and shell, all safely landed without the loss of a gun or a round.

The output of our own facto­ries, working as they have never worked before, has poured forth to the troops. The whole British Army is at home.

More than two million deter­mined men have rifles and bayonets in their hands tonight, and three-quarters of them are in regular military formations. We have never had armies like this in our Island in time of war. The whole Island bristles against Invaders, from the sea or from the air.

Our Navy is far stronger than it was at the beginning of the war. We hope our friends across the ocean will send us reinforcement. There is no difficulty in sending such aid. The seas and oceans are open. The U-boats are contained and the magnetic mine is effectively mastered.

Our stocks of food of all kinds are far more abundant than in the days of peace, and a large and growing programme of food production is afoot.

Why do I say all this? Not to boast; not to give the slightest countenance to complacency.

THE dangers we face are still enormous. But so are our advantages and resources. I recount them because the people have a right to know that there are solid grounds for the confidence which we feel. We have good reason to believe ourselves capable of continuing the war if necessary alone, if necessary for years.

I say it also because the fact that the British Empire stands invincible, and that Nazidom is still being resisted, will kin­dle again the spark of hope in the breasts of hundreds of millions of down-trodden or despairing men and women throughout Europe, and far beyond its bounds. And from these sparks there will pres­ently come cleansing and devouring flame.

The great air battle which has been in progress over this Island for the last few weeks has recently attained a high Intensity. It is too soon to attempt to assign limits either to its scale or to its duration. We must certainly expect that greater efforts will be made by the enemy.

It is quite plain that Herr Hitler [cannot] admit defeat in his air attack on Great Britain.

If after all his boastings and bloodcurdling threats and lurid accounts trumpeted round the world of the damage he has inflicted, of the vast numbers of our Air Force he has shot down with so little loss to himself — If after an this, his whole air onslaught were forced tamely to peter out, the Fuhrer's reputation might be seriously impugned.

We may, be sure, therefore, that he will continue as long as he has the strength to do so.

On the other hand, the conditions and course of the fighting have so far been, favourable to us. Our fighter aircraft are inflicting [severe] losses upon the Germans.

All the enemy machines and pilots which are shot down over our Island are either destroyed or captured, whereas a consider­able proportion of our pilots are saved, and soon again in many cases come into action.

A vast and admirable system of salvage, directed by the Ministry of Aircraft Produc­tion, ensures the speediest return to the fighting line of damaged machines, and the most provident and speedy use of all the spare parts.

At the same time the splen­did — nay, astounding — increase in the output and repair of British aircraft and engines which Lord Beaver-brook [Canadian-born press baron, who was Churchill's Minister of Aircraft Produc­tion] has achieved by a genius 'of organisation and drive has given us overflowing reserves of every type of aircraft.

The enemy is, of course, far more numerous than we are. But our new production already largely exceeds his, and Ameri­can production is beginning to flow in.

Our bomber and fighter strengths now, after all this fighting, are larger than they have ever been. We believe that we shall be able to continue the -air struggle as long as the enemy pleases.

The gratitude of every home in our Island, in our Empire, and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger are turning the tide of  the World War by their prowess and by their devotion.

Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few. All hearts go out to the fighter pilots, whose brilliant actions we see with our own eyes day after day.

BUT WE must never forget that, night after night, month after month, our bomber squadrons [too] travel far into Germany, find their targets in the darkness by the highest navigational skill, aim their attacks, often under the heaviest fire, often with serious loss, with deliberate careful discrimina­tion, and inflict shattering blows upon the whole of the technical and war-making structure of the Nazi power.

On no part of the Royal Air Force does the weight of the war fall more heavily, tban on the daylight bombers, who will play an invaluable part in the case of invasion and whose unflinching zeal it has been necessary in the meanwhile on numerous occa­sions to restrain.

This process of bombing the military industries and communications of Germany and the air bases and storage depots from which we are attacked will continue upon an ever-increasing scale. [It] affords one of the most certain, if not the shortest, of all the roads to victory.

Even if Hitler was at the gates of India, it would profit him nothing if at the same time the entire economic and scientific apparatus of German war power lay shattered and pulverised at home.

Many people have asked, me to make a statement of our war aims, and of the kind of peace we wish to make after the war. I do not think it would be wise, while the battle rages and the war is still perhaps only in its earlier stage, to embark upon elaborate speculations about the future shape which should be given to Europe or the new securities which must be arranged to spare mankind the miseries of a third World War.

Before we can undertake the task of rebuilding we have not only to be convinced ourselves, but we have to convince all other countries that the Nazi tyranny is going to be finally broken. The right to guide the course of world history is the noblest prize of victory.

We are still toiling up the hill; we have not yet reached the crest-line of it; we cannot survey the landscape or even imagine what its condition will be when that longed-for morning comes. [What] lies before us immediately is at once more practical, more simple and more stem.

We have to gain the victory. That is our task.

Go back to top of page


Words of Interest - Home -Next -Back