History22 Oct 2007 12:49 pm
Winston Churchill became the Prime Minister of Great Britain on May 13, 1940. On that day, a speech was broadcast throughout the islands that made it perfectly clear how different this man was from his predecessor, the infamous “appeaser” Neville Chamberlain. Speaking of the Nazi armies then ravaging Europe, the speaker said “You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word. It is victory. Victory at all costs – Victory in spite of all terrors – Victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival.”
After some particularly devastating losses that month, the British people heard this famous broadcast on June 4 of the same year: ” We shall not flag nor fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France and on the seas and oceans; we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air. We shall defend our island whatever the cost may be; we shall fight on beaches, landing grounds, in fields, in streets and on the hills. We shall never surrender…” And two weeks later, on June 18, the speaker looked forward to how posterity would view the British people’s actions in the great conflict then engulfing Europe, “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.’”
Years earlier, British children gathered around their “wireless” radio sets to hear the stories of A. A. Milne: the adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Eeyore, and all the rest. One of the actors who played these characters on the BBC’s Children’s Hour was Norman Shelley. That same actor later claimed that is was actually he who delivered Churchill’s most famous speeches on the radio in the spring and summer of 1940.
The story first arose in Churchill’s War, a 1987 book by the “historian” David Irving. Why the scare quotes? The story has not been substantiated otherwise, and Irving has been thoroughly discredited on many fronts. (He has spent a good bit of his career “arguing” that there were no gas chambers in Auschwitz, for instance.) It still pops up in the popular press from time to time, however, including this Atlantic magazine cover story from 2002. But serious historians, a category that cannot include Irving, no longer credit the idea.
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