Shortly after the formation of his government, Prime Minister Winston Churchill delivered a speech to the House of Commons that would be committed to history with the title, ‘We Shall Fight Them on the Beaches.’ This oration, arguably Churchill’s finest and the one opined by journalist H.R. Knickerbocker as “deserv[ing] to be memorized by us all,” is that for which the great man remains best known and most often quoted to this day.
A less memorable part of the speech failed to make the newsreels and most history books. Thankfully.
The Prime Minister spoke on 4 June 1940. Holland and Belgium had capitulated weeks earlier. The French Republic was in its death throes, and the Battle of Britain was about to begin. The United States remained neutral, and the Soviets were not yet combatants. The situation was bleak, and Churchill had to deliver the news to Commons, and the public, that a great military disaster had befallen the Continent while not casting any doubt on the eventual outcome of the struggle.
Not easy to do.
The peroration – or dramatic summary – of his stirring rhetoric he gave thusly:
“We shall go on to the end.
We shall fight in France.
We shall fight on the seas and oceans.
We shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air.
We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be.
We shall fight on the beaches.
We shall fight on the landing grounds.
We shall fight in the fields and in the streets.
We shall fight in the hills.
We shall never surrender.”
Recordings of this moment reveal that Churchill then paused, both for apparent dramatic effect and because Commons thundered in applause and huzzahs. Due to the pandemonium that had erupted, though, no one was able to hear what Churchill said as he leaned down to an aide seated to his immediate right:
“And we’ll fight them with the butt ends of broken beer bottles because that’s bloody well all we’ve got left!”
Not nearly as stirring.
But as Paul Harvey used to say, now you know the rest of the story.
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