Churchill's WW II Address to Allied Delegates
A little over a year after Winston Churchill became Prime Minister of Great Britain, he spoke at a meeting of the Dominion High Commissioners and Allied Countries’ Ministers at St. James Palace on June 12, 1941. Britain was still “alone” as a great power belligerent against Nazi Germany. Britain had survived the “Blitz,” won the Battle of Britain in the skies over the English Channel, was waging war against Germany in the Battle of the Atlantic, and was preparing for a possible German invasion of the British Isles.
The United States Congress had passed the Lend-Lease Act in March 1941. The Soviet Union was still abiding by the terms of the Nazi-Soviet Pact. German General Erwin Rommel was in North Africa where he soon became known as “the Desert Fox.” In April 1941, Greece fell to the Nazis, and in May the Germans took the island of Crete. Hitler and the German High Command, meanwhile, were in the last stages of the massive preparations for launching Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union.
Churchill’s speech on June 12, 1941, is not as well known as some of his other wartime speeches, but it deserves to be remembered by freedom-loving peoples everywhere.
Why Churchill gave this speech
At the outset of his speech, with the delegates and ministers seated at the table beside and across from him, Churchill noted that their meeting place, “the old Palace of St. James,” was itself “not unscarred by the fire of the enemy.” They were meeting, he said, “in order to proclaim the high purposes and resolves of the lawful constitutional governments of Europe whose countries have been overrun.” They were meeting also, he said, “to cheer the hopes of free men and free peoples throughout the world.”
Churchill noted that 10 nations had been “invaded and polluted” by the Nazis, and their citizens “lie prostrate or writhing under the Hitler yoke.” He mentioned the bombed-out ruins of Warsaw, Belgrade, and Rotterdam, as well as the “marks of devastation” of London and Ireland. The conquered peoples under the Nazi yoke, he continued, are “hounded, terrorized, exploited.” The Nazis have instituted slave labor, persecuted religions, and suppressed cultures. Worse, he said, “the concentration camps are overcrowded.” And he condemned the “Quislings” who “fawn upon the conqueror, . . . collaborate in his designs, and . . . enforce [Hitler’s] rule upon their fellow countrymen.”
Hatred of Germans will not be erased
But, Churchill said, in every land conquered and oppressed by the Nazis “there has sprung up from the soil a hatred of the German name and contempt for the Nazi creed which the passage of hundreds of years will not efface from human memory.”
The road ahead, Churchill warned, will be hard and long, full of tribulations. “but one thing is certain, one thing is sure, one thing stands out stark and undeniable, massive, and unassailable for all the world to see,” he said: “[E]very trace of Hitler’s footsteps, every stain of his infected, corroding fingers will be sponged and purged and, if need be, blasted from the face of the earth.”
Churchill praised the British people who even in the “dark hour . . . never for one moment . . . dream[ed] of making peace with the conqueror and never for a moment despair[ed] of the common cause.”
Churchill: Britain will hunt Hitler
Churchill was confident that Britain and her empire would continue to resist by land, air, and sea, and will “be on [Hitler’s] track wherever he goes.” “We shall aid and stir the people of every conquered country to resistance and revolt,” he said. Hitler “will find no peace, no rest, no halting place, no parley.”
He closed his speech by asking for God’s help to “continue steadfast in faith and duty till our task is done,” and promised that “out of the depths of sorrow and sacrifice will be born again the glory of mankind.”
Oliver Lyttelton later said that Churchill’s speech on June 12, 1941, was “among the highest flights in oratory.” Eighty years later, we still marvel at Churchill’s ability, in Edward R. Murrow’s words, to mobilize the English language and send it into battle.