Churchill: The ‘cry-baby’ war hero

The celebrated leader’s propensity for public displays of emotion in the age of the stiff upper lip was a sign of his strength and self possession. By Andrew Roberts

Winston Churchill pictured in July 1964, a few months before his 90th birthday – a milestone that he marked with tears. The prime minister would cry at everything from suffering pets and march-pasts to dying friends and poetry recitals. (Picture by PA Images)

Despite personifying Britain’s defiance of the Nazis during the Second World War, Winston Churchill burst into tears dozens of times during that conflict. To an extent that was truly extraordinary in someone responsible for the overall direction of British forces. But Churchill was a profoundly emotional man, far more than any of his War Cabinet colleagues. Aged 65 when he became prime minister for the first time, one might have imagined that “the passion of former days”, as he was later to call it, would have cooled in him, to be replaced by a calmer analytical reasoning. But in fact the opposite seems to have been the case. If anything, Churchill became more emotional the older he got.

This can be measured in the number of times that contemporaries noted that he dissolved into tears. Of course the Second World War, with what he called the “climacterics” of the evacuation from Dunkirk, the Battle of Britain, the Blitz, D-Day, VE-Day and so on, was an emotional time for most Britons. Yet it was their leader who, despite being born at the height of the late Victorian phenomenon of the stiff upper-lip, and into the upper class that was supposed to exemplify it best, was constantly crying in public, and fully deserved Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson’s nickname for him: ‘Cry-Baby’.

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