London: The Daily Telegraph, October 1939. Photograph. This original press photo captures First Lord of the Admiralty Sir Winston S. Churchill on 1 October 1939 seated behind a microphone as he delivers his first wartime broadcast. The gelatin silver print on glossy photo paper measures 10 x 8 in (25.4 x 20.3 cm). Condition is good. The image surface is clean, but there is significant creasing throughout the paper, two short closed tears on the right edge, and a small area of loss confined to the bottom margin. This press photo once belonged to The Daily Telegraph’s working archive. Testifying to this photo’s long history with The Daily Telegraph, the verso bears both an original received stamp of The Daily Telegraph dated 3 OCT 1939 and a published stamp of The Daily Telegraph dated 3 MAR 1990. The verso also shows handwritten printing notations and an original typed caption titled, “WINSTON CHURCHILL BROADCASTS TO NATION.” and reading “Mr. Winston Churchill photographed at the microphone tonight (Sunday).”
This is an intriguing full-length early wartime image of Churchill, the microphone looking symbolically huge overhead, his countenance featuring the grimly capable determination that would carry both him and his nation through the long years of war to come. Churchill had spent most of the 1930s out of power and out of favor, warning against the growing Nazi threat and often at odds with both his Party leadership and prevailing public sentiment. As the Second World War approached, he passed into his sixties with his own future as uncertain as that of his nation.
Then, on 3 September 1939, Britain declared war on Germany, formally entering what would become the twentieth century’s defining conflict not just for Britain, but for the world. That same day Churchill was appointed First Lord of the Admiralty, a position that he had held nearly a quarter of a century before during the First World War. Chamberlain, whose appeasement policies Churchill had so vehemently and vigorously opposed, had unwittingly set Churchill up perfectly to replace him as premier. “Before Churchill could become prime minister he had to look like one… Churchill had the freedom now to make uplifting speeches on life-and-death issues, ones that regularly put any other rivals in the shade with their sense of purpose and humour.” (Roberts, Walking With Destiny, p.471)
On 1 October Churchill gave his first wartime broadcast on the newly created BBC Home Service. Churchill opened his broadcast with grim candor: “We have not yet come at all to the severity of fighting which is to be expected”. He then addressed three prominent events of the first month of the war. First was the event that precipitated Britain’s declaration of war – the subjugation of Poland. “The heroic defence of Warsaw shows that the soul of Poland is indestructible… she will rise again like a rock, which may for a spell be submerged by a tidal wave, but which remains a rock.” Churchill then raised the question of Russia’s role and intentions, which he characterized “a riddle wrapped in mystery inside an enigma” but suggested to the British that Russia’s interests would ultimately not allow her to let Nazi Germany “plant itself upon the shores of the Black Sea… overrun the Balkan States and subjugate the Slavonic peoples of South-Eastern Europe.” Third, of course the First Lord of the Admiralty spoke of “command of the seas” as a national strategic imperative. “Churchill’s words strengthened… millions of Britons when at 9 p.m. the radio news was turned on in pubs and homes and he filled his listeners with a warlike spirit that Chamberlain’s worthy but unheroic phraseology simply could not.” (Roberts, Walking with Destiny, p.472) Writing to his sister on 1 October, even Chamberlain called Churchill’s broadcast “excellent”. Seven months after he was captured in this image visiting 10 Downing Street as one of Chamberlain’s ministers, on 10 May 1940 Churchill replaced Chamberlain as wartime prime minister. Item #005461