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Churchill’s ‘Finest Hour’

June 18, 2010

John F. Burns in The New York Times:

Historians have called it one of the greatest speeches ever delivered in English, and surely one of the greatest ever delivered by an Englishman, at a moment of national peril unparalleled in modern times.

Seventy years ago, on June 18, 1940,Winston Churchill, barely six weeks in office as Britain’s prime minister and confronted with the threat of invasion from Nazi-occupied France, rose in the House of Commons and, in 36 minutes of soaring oratory, sought to rally his countrymen with what has gone down in history as his “finest hour” speech.

The speech — ending with the words “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’ ” — has resonated ever since. On both sides of the Atlantic and beyond, it has been hailed as the moment when Britain found the resolve to fight on after the fall of France, and ultimately, in alliance with American and Russian military might, to vanquish the German armies that had overrun most of Europe.

The original 23-page typescript of the speech, heavily edited by Churchill in scrawls of blue and red ink, rests now in one of 2,500 boxes of documents and artifacts, numbering more than a million in all, that cram the carefully guarded upper floors of the Churchill Archives Center of Cambridge University’s Churchill College, founded in 1960, five years before Churchill died. [More]

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