outbreak of war in September 1939, Churchill was once again appointed First
Lord of the Admiralty, and thus found himself occupying exactly the same post
he had held in 1914. But, in May 1940, the failure of British operations in
Norway (for which Churchill himself was, ironically, very largely responsible)
led to a critical Commons debate in which the Government's majority was so
reduced that Chamberlain felt obliged to resign. He was replaced by Churchill,
who spent the next few days forming his administration.
Whit Monday, the
House of Commons met, and Churchill made this short speech, essentially asking
for the approval of the House. Reactions were mixed. On entering the chamber,
Chamberlain received more cheers than the new Prime Minister, and in these
early days it was from the Labour
benches that most of Churchill's support came. Harold Nicolson called it 'a
very short statement, but to the point.' Geoffrey Dawson
patronizingly dismissed it as 'quite a good little warlike speech.'
Times was quick to point out, there were echoes of Garibaldi (`hunger, thirst,
forced marches, battles and death'), and of Clemenceau (jefais la guerre'). But
Churchill himself had also used very similar words in a passage of The World
Crisis: 'Their tears, their sweat, their blood, bedewed the endless plain.'
Here was rhetorical recycling at its best.
0f Commons, 13 May 1940
Friday evening last I received His Majesty's Commission to form a new
Administration. It was the evident wish and will of Parliament and the nation
that this should be conceived on the broadest possible basis and that it should
include all parties, both those who supported the late Government and also the parties
of the Opposition. I have completed the most important part of this task. A War
Cabinet has been formed of five Members, representing, with the Opposition
Liberals, the unity of the nation. The three party Leaders have agreed to
serve, either in the War Cabinet or in high executive office. The three
Fighting Services have been filled. It was necessary that this should be done
in one single day, on account of the extreme urgency and rigour of events. A
number of other key positions were filled yesterday, and I am submitting a
further list to His Majesty tonight. I hope to complete the appointment of the
principal Ministers during tomorrow. The appointment of the other Ministers
usually takes a little longer, but I trust that when Parliament meets again
this part of my task will be completed, and that the administration will be
complete in all respects.
considered it in the public interest to suggest that the House should be
summoned to meet today. Mr Speaker agreed, and took the necessary steps, in
accordance with the powers conferred upon him by the Resolution of the House.
At the end of the proceedings today, the Adjournment of the House will be
proposed until Tuesday, 21 May, with, of course, provision for earlier meeting
if need be. The business to be considered during that week will be notified to
Members at the earliest opportunity. I now invite the House, by the Resolution
which stands in my name, to record its approval of the steps taken and to
declare its confidence in the new Government.
form an Administration of this scale and complexity is a serious undertaking in
itself, but it must be remembered that we are in the preliminary stage of one
of the greatest battles in history, that we are in action at many points in
Norway and in Holland, that we have to be prepared in the Mediterranean, that
the air battle is continuous and that many preparations have to be made here at
home. In this crisis I hope I may be pardoned if I do not address the House at
any length today. I hope that any of my friends and colleagues, or former
colleagues, who are affected by the political reconstruction, will make all
allowance for any lack of ceremony with which it has been necessary to act. I
would say to the House, as I said to those who have joined the Government: 'I
have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.'
have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many,
many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I
will say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with
all the strength that God can give us: to wage war against a monstrous tyranny,
never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our
policy. You ask, What is our aim? I can answer in one word: Victory — victory
at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard
the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival. Let that be
realized; no survival for the British Empire; no survival for all that the British
Empire has stood for, no survival for the urge and impulse of the ages, that
mankind will move forward towards its goal. But I take up my task with buoyancy
and hope. I feel sure that our cause will not be suffered to fail among men. At
this time I feel entitled to claim the aid of all, and I say, 'Come, then, let
us go forward together with our united strength.' (963 words)
Whit Monday also known as Pentecost Monday or Monday of the Holy Spirit
celebrated the day after Pentecost.