Britain's Finest Hour Speech - Winston Churchill (1940) 82 words

In May of 1940, Nazi Germany launched a massive attack and swiftly conquered most of Western Europe. Britain suddenly found itself alone, facing a possible invasion by the powerful German military. On June 18th British Prime Minister Winston Churchill warned his nation of the dangers ahead and promised that, "if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, 'This was their finest hour.'"
  1. colossal
    so great in size or force or extent as to elicit awe
    I spoke the other day of the colossal military disaster which occurred when the French High Command failed to withdraw the northern Armies from Belgium at the moment when they knew that the French front was decisively broken at Sedan and on the Meuse.
  2. withdraw
    pull back or move away or backward
    I spoke the other day of the colossal military disaster which occurred when the French High Command failed to withdraw the northern Armies from Belgium at the moment when they knew that the French front was decisively broken at Sedan and on the Meuse.
  3. entail
    have as a logical consequence
    This delay entailed the loss of fifteen or sixteen French divisions and threw out of action for the critical period the whole of the British Expeditionary Force.
  4. division
    an army unit large enough to sustain combat
    This delay entailed the loss of fifteen or sixteen French divisions and threw out of action for the critical period the whole of the British Expeditionary Force.
  5. period
    an amount of time
    This delay entailed the loss of fifteen or sixteen French divisions and threw out of action for the critical period the whole of the British Expeditionary Force.
  6. inevitably
    in such a manner as could not be otherwise
    This loss inevitably took some weeks to repair, and in the first two of those weeks the battle in France has been lost.
  7. recrimination
    mutual accusations
    I am not reciting these facts for the purpose of recrimination.
  8. futile
    producing no result or effect
    That I judge to be utterly futile and even harmful.
  9. document
    a written account of ownership or obligation
    I put it on the shelf, from which the historians, when they have time, will select their documents to tell their stories.
  10. conduct
    behave in a certain manner
    There are many who would hold an inquest in the House of Commons on the conduct of the Governments--and of Parliaments, for they are in it, too--during the years which led up to this catastrophe.
  11. parliament
    a legislative assembly in certain countries
    There are many who would hold an inquest in the House of Commons on the conduct of the Governments--and of Parliaments, for they are in it, too--during the years which led up to this catastrophe.
  12. catastrophe
    an event resulting in great loss and misfortune
    There are many who would hold an inquest in the House of Commons on the conduct of the Governments--and of Parliaments, for they are in it, too--during the years which led up to this catastrophe.
  13. pernicious
    exceedingly harmful
    This also would be a foolish and pernicious process.
  14. conscience
    conformity to one's own sense of right conduct
    Let each man search his conscience and search his speeches.
  15. distinction
    a distinguishing difference
    Therefore, I cannot accept the drawing of any distinctions between members of the present Government.
  16. unanimous
    in complete agreement
    It has received the almost unanimous support of both Houses of Parliament.
  17. subordinate
    an assistant subject to the authority or control of another
    It is absolutely necessary at a time like this that every Minister who tries each day to do his duty shall be respected; and their subordinates must know that their chiefs are not threatened men, men who are here today and gone tomorrow, but that their directions must be punctually and faithfully obeyed.
  18. foe
    an armed adversary (especially a member of an opposing military force)
    We are to have a secret session on Thursday, and I should think that would be a better opportunity for the many earnest expressions of opinion which members will desire to make and for the House to discuss vital matters without having everything read the next morning by our dangerous foes.
  19. fortnight
    a period of fourteen consecutive days
    The disastrous military events which have happened during the past fortnight have not come to me with any sense of surprise.
  20. empire
    a group of countries under a single authority
    Indeed, I indicated a fortnight ago as clearly as I could to the House that the worst possibilities were open; and I made it perfectly clear then that whatever happened in France would make no difference to the resolve of Britain and the British Empire to fight on, if necessary for years, if necessary alone.
  21. encounter
    a minor short-term fight
    Others are still fighting with the French, and fighting with considerable success in their local encounters against the enemy.
  22. accumulate
    collect or gather
    We have also brought back a great mass of stores, rifles and munitions of all kinds which had been accumulated in France during the last nine months.
  23. comprise
    include or contain; have as a component
    This force comprises all our best-trained and our finest troops, including scores of thousands of those who have already measured their quality against the Germans and found themselves at no disadvantage.
  24. incorporated
    formed or united into a whole
    We have incorporated into our Defense Forces every man for whom we have a weapon.
  25. branch
    a division of some larger or more complex organization
    Those who are not called up, or else are employed during the vast business of munitions production in all its branches--and their ramifications are innumerable--will serve their country best by remaining at their ordinary work until they receive their summons.
  26. ramification
    an arrangement of branching parts
    Those who are not called up, or else are employed during the vast business of munitions production in all its branches--and their ramifications are innumerable--will serve their country best by remaining at their ordinary work until they receive their summons.
  27. innumerable
    too numerous to be counted
    Those who are not called up, or else are employed during the vast business of munitions production in all its branches--and their ramifications are innumerable--will serve their country best by remaining at their ordinary work until they receive their summons.
  28. summon
    call in an official matter, such as to attend court
    Those who are not called up, or else are employed during the vast business of munitions production in all its branches--and their ramifications are innumerable--will serve their country best by remaining at their ordinary work until they receive their summons.
  29. dominion
    a region marked off for administrative or other purposes
    Churchill is discussing troops from Canada and other United Kingdom nations.
    We have also over here Dominions armies.
  30. artillery
    large but transportable armament
    The Canadians had actually landed in France, but have now been safely withdrawn, much disappointed, but in perfect order, with all their artillery and equipment.
  31. hostile
    troops belonging to the enemy's military forces
    Thus, the invasion of Great Britain would at this time require the transportation across the sea of hostile armies on a very large scale, and after they had been so transported they would have to be continually maintained with all the masses of munitions and supplies which are required for continuous battle--as continuous battle it will surely be.
  32. proportion
    the quotient obtained when the magnitude of a part is divided by the magnitude of the whole
    The Admiralty had confidence at that time in their ability to prevent a mass invasion even though at that time the Germans had a magnificent battle fleet in the proportion of 10 to 16, even though they were capable of fighting a general engagement every day and any day, whereas now they have only a couple of heavy ships worth speaking of--the Scharnhorst and the Gneisenau.
  33. superiority
    the quality of being at a competitive advantage
    We are also told that the Italian Navy is to come out and gain sea superiority in these waters.
  34. strait
    a narrow channel of the sea joining two larger bodies of water
    If they seriously intend it, I shall only say that we shall be delighted to offer Signor Mussolini a free and safeguarded passage through the Strait of Gibraltar in order that he may play the part to which he aspires.
  35. aspire
    have an ambitious plan or a lofty goal
    If they seriously intend it, I shall only say that we shall be delighted to offer Signor Mussolini a free and safeguarded passage through the Strait of Gibraltar in order that he may play the part to which he aspires.
  36. fling
    move in an abrupt or headlong manner
    Now, the Navy have never pretended to be able to prevent raids by bodies of 5,000 or 10,000 men flung suddenly across and thrown ashore at several points on the coast some dark night or foggy morning.
  37. efficacy
    capacity or power to produce a desired effect
    The efficacy of sea power, especially under modern conditions, depends upon the invading force being of large size; It has to be of large size, in view of our military strength, to be of any use.
  38. reconnaissance
    the act of reconnoitring (especially to gain information about an enemy or potential enemy)
    Now, we must remember that even five divisions, however lightly equipped, would require 200 to 250 ships, and with modern air reconnaissance and photography it would not be easy to collect such an armada, marshal it, and conduct it across the sea without any powerful naval forces to escort it . . .
  39. armada
    a large fleet
    Now, we must remember that even five divisions, however lightly equipped, would require 200 to 250 ships, and with modern air reconnaissance and photography it would not be easy to collect such an armada, marshal it, and conduct it across the sea without any powerful naval forces to escort it . . .
  40. marshal
    make ready for action or use
    Now, we must remember that even five divisions, however lightly equipped, would require 200 to 250 ships, and with modern air reconnaissance and photography it would not be easy to collect such an armada, marshal it, and conduct it across the sea without any powerful naval forces to escort it . . .
  41. intercept
    seize on its way
    . . . and there would be very great possibilities, to put it mildly, that this armada would be intercepted long before it reached the coast, and all the men drowned in the sea. . .
  42. assurance
    a statement intended to inspire confidence
    But the question is whether there are any new methods by which those solid assurances can be circumvented.
  43. expedition
    a military campaign designed to achieve a specific objective in a foreign country
    Odd as it may seem, some attention has been given to this by the Admiralty, whose prime duty and responsibility is to destroy any large sea-borne expedition before it reaches, or at the moment when it reaches, these shores.
  44. vigilance
    the process of paying close and continuous attention
    All I will say is that untiring vigilance and mind-searching must be devoted to the subject, because the enemy is crafty and cunning and full of novel treacheries and stratagems.
  45. crafty
    marked by skill in deception
    All I will say is that untiring vigilance and mind-searching must be devoted to the subject, because the enemy is crafty and cunning and full of novel treacheries and stratagems.
  46. cunning
    crafty artfulness (especially in deception)
    All I will say is that untiring vigilance and mind-searching must be devoted to the subject, because the enemy is crafty and cunning and full of novel treacheries and stratagems.
  47. treachery
    an act of deliberate betrayal
    All I will say is that untiring vigilance and mind-searching must be devoted to the subject, because the enemy is crafty and cunning and full of novel treacheries and stratagems.
  48. stratagem
    an elaborate or deceitful scheme contrived to deceive or evade
    All I will say is that untiring vigilance and mind-searching must be devoted to the subject, because the enemy is crafty and cunning and full of novel treacheries and stratagems.
  49. ingenuity
    the power of creative imagination
    The House may be assured that the utmost ingenuity is being displayed and imagination is being evoked from large numbers of competent officers, well-trained in tactics and thoroughly up to date, to measure and counterwork novel possibilities.
  50. compel
    force somebody to do something
    In the Skagerrak, because of the distance, we could give no air support to our surface ships, and consequently, lying as we did close to the enemy's main air power, we were compelled to use only our submarines.
  51. blockade
    obstruct access to
    We could not enforce the decisive blockade or interruption which is possible from surface vessels.
  52. impending
    close in time; about to occur
    This brings me, naturally, to the great question of invasion from the air, and of the impending struggle between the British and German Air Forces.
  53. capacity
    capability to perform or produce
    It seems quite clear that no invasion on a scale beyond the capacity of our land forces to crush speedily is likely to take place from the air until our Air Force has been definitely overpowered.
  54. gentry
    the most powerful members of a society
    We should be able to give those gentry a warm reception both in the air and on the ground, if they reach it in any condition to continue the dispute.
  55. resign
    give up or retire from a position
    Anyone who looks at the photographs which were published a week or so ago of the re-embarkation, showing the masses of troops assembled on the beach and forming an ideal target for hours at a time, must realize that this re-embarkation would not have been possible unless the enemy had resigned all hope of recovering air superiority at that time and at that place.
  56. soil
    the geographical area under the jurisdiction of a sovereign state
    We hope to improve on the rate of three or four to one which was realized at Dunkirk; and in addition all our injured machines and their crews which get down safely--and, surprisingly, a very great many injured machines and men do get down safely in modern air fighting--all of these will fall, in an attack upon these Islands, on friendly soil and live to fight another day; whereas all the injured enemy machines and their complements will be total losses as far as the war is concerned.
  57. complement
    a complete number or quantity
    We hope to improve on the rate of three or four to one which was realized at Dunkirk; and in addition all our injured machines and their crews which get down safely--and, surprisingly, a very great many injured machines and men do get down safely in modern air fighting--all of these will fall, in an attack upon these Islands, on friendly soil and live to fight another day; whereas all the injured enemy machines and their complements will be total losses as far as the war is concerned.
  58. plight
    a situation from which extrication is difficult especially an unpleasant or trying one
    Our fighter Air Force might easily have been exhausted as a mere accident in that great struggle, and then we should have found ourselves at the present time in a very serious plight.
  59. relatively
    in a relative manner; by comparison to something else
    But as it is, I am happy to inform the House that our fighter strength is stronger at the present time relatively to the Germans, who have suffered terrible losses, than it has ever been; and consequently we believe ourselves possessed of the capacity to continue the war in the air under better conditions than we have ever experienced before.
  60. possess
    have ownership or possession of
    But as it is, I am happy to inform the House that our fighter strength is stronger at the present time relatively to the Germans, who have suffered terrible losses, than it has ever been; and consequently we believe ourselves possessed of the capacity to continue the war in the air under better conditions than we have ever experienced before.
  61. exploit
    a notable achievement
    I look forward confidently to the exploits of our fighter pilots--these splendid men, this brilliant youth--who will have the glory of saving their native land, their island home, and all they love, from the most deadly of all attacks.
  62. tyranny
    a form of government in which the ruler is an absolute dictator (not restricted by a constitution or laws or opposition etc.)
    Win or lose, sink or swim, better die than submit to tyranny--and such a tyranny.'
  63. panorama
    the visual percept of a region
    We have fully consulted them, and I have received from their Prime Ministers, Mr. Mackenzie King of Canada, Mr. Menzies of Australia, Mr. Fraser of New Zealand, and General Smuts of South Africa--that wonderful man, with his immense profound mind, and his eye watching from a distance the whole panorama of European affairs--I have received from all these eminent men, who all have Governments behind them elected on wide franchises, who are all there because they represent the will of their people.
  64. eminent
    standing above others in quality or position
    We have fully consulted them, and I have received from their Prime Ministers, Mr. Mackenzie King of Canada, Mr. Menzies of Australia, Mr. Fraser of New Zealand, and General Smuts of South Africa--that wonderful man, with his immense profound mind, and his eye watching from a distance the whole panorama of European affairs--I have received from all these eminent men, who all have Governments behind them elected on wide franchises, who are all there because they represent the will of their people.
  65. persevere
    be persistent, refuse to stop
    . . . I have received from all these eminent men, who all have Governments behind them elected on wide franchises, who are all there because they represent the will of their people, messages couched in the most moving terms in which they endorse our decision to fight on, and declare themselves ready to share our fortunes and to persevere to the end.
  66. aggravate
    make worse
    This aggravates the possibilities of air attack and adds to our naval preoccupations.
  67. contrary
    exact opposition
    It in no way diminishes, but on the contrary definitely increases, the power of our long-distance blockade.
  68. concentrate
    direct one's attention on something
    We do not know whether military resistance will come to an end in France or not, but should it do so, then of course the Germans will be able to concentrate their forces, both military and industrial, upon us.
  69. imminent
    close in time; about to occur
    If invasion has become more imminent, as no doubt it has, we, being relieved from the task of maintaining a large army in France, have far larger and more efficient forces to meet it.
  70. despotic
    characteristic of an absolute ruler or absolute rule; having absolute sovereignty
    If Hitler can bring under his despotic control the industries of the countries he has conquered, this will add greatly to his already vast armament output.
  71. detriment
    a damage or loss
    I do not see how any of these factors can operate to our detriment on balance before the winter comes; and the winter will impose a strain upon the Nazi regime, with almost all Europe writhing and starving under its cruel heel, which, for all their ruthlessness, will run them very hard.
  72. regime
    the organization that is the governing authority of a political unit
    I do not see how any of these factors can operate to our detriment on balance before the winter comes; and the winter will impose a strain upon the Nazi regime, with almost all Europe writhing and starving under its cruel heel, which, for all their ruthlessness, will run them very hard.
  73. conceive
    have the idea for
    We must not forget that from the moment when we declared war on the 3rd September it was always possible for Germany to turn all her Air Force upon this country, together with any other devices of invasion she might conceive, and that France could have done little or nothing to prevent her doing so.
  74. contemplate
    reflect deeply on a subject
    Therefore, in casting up this dread balance sheet and contemplating our dangers with a disillusioned eye, I see great reason for intense vigilance and exertion, but none whatever for panic or despair.
  75. exertion
    use of physical or mental energy; hard work
    Therefore, in casting up this dread balance sheet and contemplating our dangers with a disillusioned eye, I see great reason for intense vigilance and exertion, but none whatever for panic or despair.
  76. glut
    supply with an excess of
    And no one was able ever to answer it with much precision, until at the end, quite suddenly, quite unexpectedly, our terrible foe collapsed before us, and we were so glutted with victory that in our folly we threw it away.
  77. prolonged
    relatively long in duration; tediously protracted
    We do not yet know what will happen in France or whether the French resistance will be prolonged, both in France and in the French Empire overseas.
  78. emulate
    strive to equal or match, especially by imitating
    If we are now called upon to endure what they have been suffering, we shall emulate their courage, and if final victory rewards our toils they shall share the gains, aye, and freedom shall be restored to all.
  79. toil
    work hard
    If we are now called upon to endure what they have been suffering, we shall emulate their courage, and if final victory rewards our toils they shall share the gains, aye, and freedom shall be restored to all.
  80. abate
    make less active or intense
    We abate nothing of our just demands; not one jot or tittle do we recede.
  81. abyss
    a bottomless gulf or pit; any unfathomable (or apparently unfathomable) cavity or chasm or void extending below (often used figuratively)
    But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.
  82. protracted
    relatively long in duration; tediously protracted
    But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.