Sparks From the Anvil

As a soldier, war correspondent, biographer, Parliamentarian, and statesman, the Right Honorable WINSTON CHURCHILL has hit the nail on the head with phrases which will echo in men’s minds for a long time to come. In this and the preceding issue, the Atlantic has made a selection of characteristic excerpts from his speeches, correspondence, and early booksexcerpts which were arranged by Colin Coote in collaboration with Denzil Batchelor and which are to be published by Houghton Mifflin in April under the title Maxims a nd Reflections.



We also were too late — thirteen years too late: and the lonely man who had looked for help had long since mouldered in a nameless grave. Is this always to be our method of war . . . blunders, follies, bloodshed, an ill-timed or ill-conceived expedition, useless heroism and withdrawal, and then years afterwards a great army striking an overwhelming blow?

The River War.

General Gordon, “the lonely man,”perished when Khartoum fell to the Mahdi in 1885. Kitchener’s reconquest of the Sudan was in 1898. The answer to the questions posed in the latter year was, up to 1939, “Yes.”

The first year — nothing at all: the second year — very little; the third year — quite a lot; the fourth year — all you want.

On a modern munitions programme.

One lad of about nineteen was munching a biscuit. His right trouser leg was soa ked with blood. I asked whether he was wounded. “No, sir; it’s only blood from an officer’s head,”he answered, and went on eating his biscuit.

London to Ladysmith.

The scene is the disaster on Spion Kop.

Moral force is, unhappily, no substitute for armed force, but it is a very great reinforcement.

Speech in the House. December 21, 1937.

I cannot believe that, after armaments in all countries have reached a towering height, they will settle down and continue at a hideous level. . . . Europe is approaching a climax. I believe that climax will be reached in the lifetime of the present Parliament.

Speech in the House, April 23, 1936.

Might not a bomb no bigger than an orange be found to possess a secret power to destroy a whole block of buildings—nay, to concentrate the force of a thousand tons of cordite and blast a township at a stroke? Could not explosives even of the existing type be guided automatically in flying machines by wireless or other rays, without a human pilot, in ceaseless procession upon a hostile city, arsenal, camp, or dockyard?

Thoughts and Adventures, 1925.

We were so glutted with victory that in our folly we cast it away.

Speech in the House, June, 1940.

This epitaph on the war of 1914-18 was pronounced in the course of an ovation replete with courage a hen all was black after the fall of France.


I am the oldest living champion of Insurance in the House of Commons. ... In 1909 I obtained the power to spread a network of [labour] exchanges over the whole of Great I Britain and Ireland. For that purpose we [the then Liberal Government] brought into the public service— Mr. Beveridge.

broadcast, June 13, 1945.

The so-called “Beveridge plan” for comprehensive social insurances had created a furore when published during the war. Part of the Socialist case at the election of 1945 was that the Churchill Government did not genuinely mean to implement it. Mr. Churchill was here replying to this charge and pointing out that it was he who gave Sir William (now Lord) Beveridge his first chance.

It is very much better sometimes to have a panic feeling beforehand, and then be quite calm when things happen, than to be extremely calm beforehand and to get into a panic when things happen.

On being asked by Mr. Baldwin not to indulge in panic. Speech in the House, May 22, 1935.

When I first went into Parliament, now nearly forty years ago . . . the most insulting charge which could be made against a Minister . . . short of actual malfeasance, was that he had endangered the safety of the country . . . for electioneering considerations. Yet such are the surprising qualities of Mr. Baldwin that what all had been taught to shun has now been elevated into a canon of political virtue.

Letter. Decmber 11, 1936.

Mr. Baldwin had explained that if he had told the people “Germany is rearming and we must rearm,”his party would most likely have lost the General Election of 1935, in the then pacifist mood of the nation.

It is a fine thing to be honest, but it is also very important to be right.

Remark upon Mr. Baldwin, whose honesty was proverbial.

They [the Chamberlain Government] neither prevented Germany from rearming, nor did they rearm ourselves in time. They quarrelled with Italy without saving Ethiopia. They exploited and discredited the vast institution of the League of Nations. They neglected to make alliances and combinations which might have repaired previous errors; and thus they left us in the hour of trial without adequate national defence or effective international security.

Speech on the Munich Agreement, House of Commons. October 5, 1938.

A day would come when powerful nations, beginning to recover from the war, and to gather their power together again, would become the cause of rumours in this country. There would be rumours that in the heart of Germany or Russia there were great aerial developments of a very serious character, or of a character which might easily have a military complexion. Then you would have a war scare, and I have no doubt you would have a leading article in The Times on that subject. (Interruptions.)

Speech in the House, March 1, 1920.

By this time next year we shall know whether the policy of appeasement has appeased, or whether it has only stimulated a more ferocious appetite.

Letter, November 17, 1938.

We actually knew within ten months.

At four o’clock this morning Hitler attacked and invaded Russia. All his usual formalities of perfidy were observed with scrupulous technique.

Broadcast, June 22, 1941.

Mr. Churchill, despite his consistent condemnation of Communism, at once ranged this country on Russia’s side when Hitler invaded her. He had also repeatedly warned Stalin that the invasion was impending.

Then Hitler made his second great blunder. He forgot about the winter. There is a winter, you know, in Russia. For a good many months the temperature is apt to fall very low. There is snow, there is frost, and all that. Hitler forgot about this Russian winter. He must have been very loosely educated. We all heard about it at school; but he forgot it. I have never made such a bad mistake as that.

Broadcast, May 10, 1945.


Politicians rise by toil and struggles. They expect to fall; they hope to rise again.

Great Contem poraries.

I am sure that the mistakes of that time will not be repeated; we shall probably make another set of mistakes.

Speech in the House, June 8, 1944, on being ashed to avoid the mistakes made after the tear of 1914-18.

It is better to be frightened now than killed hereafter.

Speech in the House, February, 1934.

The context was a warning that the Germans already had a military air Force.

Comfortable feather heads in their feather beds in New York, Paris, and London might give a passing thought to the tremendous drama and tragedy [of China].

Letter. November 3, 1938.

The dark ages may return — the Stone Age may return on the gleaming wings of science; and what might now shower immeasurable material blessings upon mankind may even bring about, its total destruction. Beware I say! Time may be short.

Speech at Fulton. Missouri, March 5, 1946.

The reference is to the discovery of how to release atomic energy.

Some people say: “Put your trust in the League of Nations.” Others say: “Put your trust in the British rearmament.” I say we want both. I put my trust in both.

Speech in the House, October 24, 193,5.

Life is a whole, and luck is a whole, and no part of them can be separated from the rest.

Remark prompted by his survival of the charge of the Lancers at Omdurman, whereas the officer commanding the troops which he had expected to be leading was killed.

It often happens that, when men are convinced that they have to die, it desire to bear themselves well and to leave life’s stage with dignity conquers all other sensations.

Sarrola, 1900.