At the start of 1939, most folks would have written Winston Churchill off as an alarmist. The Munich Agreement had supposedly brought peace in our time to Europe and averted the risk of war.
But within 18 months, Churchill had gone from a voice in the wilderness warning of the great danger posed by Nazi Germany to prime minister of the United Kingdom.
The Nazi invasion of Poland had touched off World War II. The fighting raged across globe, as far as Uruguay, where a squadron of British cruisers chased down the German pocket battleship Graf Spee and knocked it out of action in the first major naval battle of the war.
U-boats were roaming the Atlantic, sinking merchant ships. In essence, it had become obvious that Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister who had promised “peace in our time” but did not deliver peace at all.
At the time Chamberlain stepped down, a military campaign in Norway was not going well for the British, and they were in the process of evacuating their forces after initial successes in two naval battles around Narvik.
On May 8, Chamberlain barely survived a vote in parliament.
Two days later, when the Nazis invaded Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and France, Chamberlain resigned. Churchill replaced him and was tasked with forming a coalition government.
In his first speech to Parliament, he famously said, “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind.”