Letters of Note Document Powerful Messages that Shaped Winston Churchill’s Life


Winston Churchill, the vaunted UK prime minister, had a gift for language. He delivered powerful, poignant, and heartfelt messages in his speeches and written words.

Now, a collection of his letters of note will cover Churchill’s correspondence during his life (1874-1965). In Of Lost Time, letters to and from family members, colleagues and world leaders provide a compelling glimpse into the life of the world leader.

Churchill crafted letters of note that offer a glimpse into his desires and political mastery. Here is but one example, a letter written to US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It was written on December 8, 1940, one day shy of the Pearl Harbor attacks that would propel the United States into World War II.

“My dear Mr. President, As we reach the e3nd of the year, I feel you will expect me to lay before you the prospects for 1941,” Churchill writes. “I do so with candour and confidence, because it seems to me that the vast majority of American citizens have recorded their conviction that the safety of the United States as well as the future of our two democracies and the kind of civilization for which they stand, are bound up with the survival and independence of the British Commonwealth.”

The letters of note echo these prophetic, persuasive words Churchill wrote.

Difficult Expectations from Family

The letters paint a portrait of Churchill as a child and young man. There are many letters between Churchill and his parents. Churchill felt very isolated, especially at the Victorian boarding school where he studied. The letters from Churchill to his parents are quite sad, with the young boy practically begging them to visit him. One letter from his mother, Jennie, is particularly brutal.

“Dearest Winston you make me very unhappy—I had built up such hopes about you & felt so proud of you—& now all is gone. My only consolation is that your conduct is good and you are an affectionate son—but your work is an insult to your intelligence,” she writes. “I will say no more now—but Winston you are old enough to see how serious this is to you—& how the next year or two & the use you make of them, will affect your whole life—stop & think it out for yourself & take a good pull before it is too late.”

Several years later, having been accepted at the Royal Military College at Sandhurst, Churchill’s father sent an equally distressing letter. In it, he expressed disappointment that his son was accepted into the cavalry unit, not the infantry as the older Churchill had.

“The first extremely discreditable failure of your performance was missing the infantry, for in that failure is demonstrated beyond refutation your slovenly happy-go-lucky harum scarum style of work for which you have been distinguished at your different schools,” writes Lord Randolph Churchill. “Make this position indelibly impressed on your mind, that if your conduct and action is similar to what it has been in the other establishments … then … my responsibility for you is over.”

All was not doom and gloom in Churchill’s correspondence. In a 1909 letter to his wife, Clementine, while in Berlin, he expressed, albeit with caveats and caution, a vision and hope for the future.

“I think another 50 years will see a wiser & gentler world. But we shall not be spectators of it,” Churchill writes. “How easily men could make things much better than they are–if only all tried together! Much as was attracts me & fascinates my mind with its tremendous situation — I feel more deeply every year — & can measure the feeling here in the midst of arms–what vile & wicked folly & barbarism it all is.”

 Churchill’s letters of note provide compelling, candid insights into what shaped the leader throughout his life.

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