Over the thousands of years since man has been on the Earth, amazing people, as well as evil people, have made memorable speeches. Some speeches were never expected to be memorable or historic, and others were expected to be so, because they were designed to be uplifting, inspirational, morale building, or a tribute filled with gratitude. It was the latter that inspired Sir Winston Spencer Churchill to make his speech on August 20, 1940. Europe was entrenched in World War II and things weren’t going as well as they had hoped. They had taken a few rather large beatings from the Germans, and morale was not as high as they had hoped. The speech was given as the United Kingdom prepared for the expected German invasion. After a series of defeats for the Allies over the prior months, Churchill was trying to tell the people that they were in a much better position now. He was correct, of course. Shortly after the speech, the British won the battle, the first significant defeat for the previously unstoppable Wehrmacht.
Times of war are often when great men make speeches to inspire the military troops to persevere. They can be a battle cry of sorts. Or they can be a reflection of such deep gratitude that it leaves us awestruck. Churchill was first moved to utter those famous words upon his exit from the Battle of Britain Bunker at RAF Uxbridge on August 16, 1940. He had been the Number 11 Group RAF Operations Room during a day of battle. Afterwards, Churchill told Major General Hastings Ismay, “Don’t speak to me, I have never been so moved.” His emotions were so deep, that he had to think about this for a time. The two were silent for a few moments, and then Churchill said, “Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few.” That declaration became the basis of his speech to the House of Commons on August 20, 1940.
In his speech, Winston Churchill said, “The gratitude of every home in our Island, in our Empire, and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of the World War by their prowess and by their devotion. Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few. All hearts go out to the fighter pilots, whose brilliant actions we see with our own eyes day after day, but we must never forget that all the time, night after night, month after month, our bomber squadrons travel far into Germany, find their targets in the darkness by the highest navigational skill, aim their attacks, often under the heaviest fire, often with serious loss, with deliberate, careful discrimination, and inflict shattering blows upon the whole of the technical and war-making structure of the Nazi power. On no part of the Royal Air Force does the weight of the war fall more heavily than on the daylight bombers who will play an invaluable part in the case of invasion and whose unflinching zeal it has been necessary in the meanwhile on numerous occasions to restrain…”
Words can be so powerful. They have the power to change the course of history when they are used to inspire soldiers in battle to a victory that seemed impossible just moments before the words were spoken. Sometimes, all it takes to bring about a victory is to listen to the one person who sees that victory, no matter how many defeats have preceded it, is still possible. Great men…men who have inspired victory…have been around a long time. These men, and women too, refuse to accept defeat. And they have the ability to speak powerfully to convince others that victory can follow defeat.