Churchill ‘The battle of Britain is about to begin …’

Winston Churchill: appointed Prime Minister on 10th May 1940

Churchill made another rousing speech to the House of Commons, following his earlier ‘I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat’ ¬†and his ‘We will fight them on the beaches’. Single handedly he was changing the mood of the nation with some of the most memorable rhetoric ever to appear in the English language. Now the phrase ‘This was their finest hour’ encapsulated the defiant mood of the nation as it fought on alone.

He did not use the phrase “Battle of Britain” as is commonly supposed, the original text referred to the ‘battle of Britain’. Nor was he referring specifically to the air battle over Britain that was to unfold later that summer. The general term “Battle of Britain” did not become a common reference to the struggle between the RAF and the Luftwaffe over Britain in July-August 1940 until a booklet of that title was published by the Air Ministry in the spring of 1941.

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 and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. 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 made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.

Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’

Winston Churchill's speech as reported by the Daily Sketch.
Winston Churchill’s speech as reported by the Daily Sketch.

Meanwhile the remaining British forces in France were being evacuated as quickly as possible.

RAF personnel on the deck of a ship during the evacuation from France, c. 18 June 1940.
RAF personnel on the deck of a ship during the evacuation from France, c. 18 June 1940.