New York: The British Library of Information, 1940. British Library of Information edition, only printing. Pamphlet. This is the elusive first U.S. edition of one of Churchill's most famous speeches, delivered in the House of Commons during the Battle of Britain on 20 August, 1940. Midsummer of 1940, just months after Winston Churchill became wartime Prime Minister, found Britain fighting for survival, fending off a prolonged onslaught by the German Luftwaffe meant to be the prelude to Nazi invasion. The British pilots responsible for countering the Luftwaffe in the skies above England that summer and autumn were famously memorialized in this speech.
The British first edition - with gray wraps printed in red - is the edition most commonly seen. Here is the considerably scarcer U.S. first edition, published in New York by the British Library of Information for the American audience. The British Library of Information published thirty-four editions of statements, speeches, and broadcast addresses by Prime Minister Winston Churchill (that number including some variant publications of the same speeches), beginning with his first speech as Prime Minister of 13 May 1940 and ending with the broadcast address of 29 November 1942. These editions were often issued within two or three days of delivery and "reveal the political determination of the British government to bring the inspiration and steadfastness of the Prime Minister and the British nation to an American nation not yet engaged in the war. Indeed, twenty-two of the BLOI speech pamphlets were published before Pearl Harbor." (Cohen, Volume I, p.513, A120)
This U.S. first edition of Churchill’s 20 August 1940 speech is an eight-page, wire-stitched pamphlet measuring 9 x 6 inches (22.9 x 15.2 cm). Condition is only good. The original binding staples are intact with minimal corrosion. Nonetheless, the front and rear covers are detached, neatly split along the spine. The front cover shows a short, irregular closed tear in the upper left blank margin and a previous owner name inked in the upper right blank margin: “L. J. Audlin, | Feb. 10, 1941.” The rear cover shows light soiling and a tiny closed tear at the lower right. The pamphlet is protected within a clear, removable, archival mylar sleeve.
In his speech, Churchill encapsulated and immortalized the struggle when he uttered the words: "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few." The famous words came to Churchill not as he was writing the speech, but rather spontaneously four days earlier. On 16 August Churchill was visiting the Operations Room of No. 11 Group, Fighter Command – “the nerve centre from which he could follow the course of the whole air battle” - when both Chatham and Kenley were hit by a German air attack. Churchill’s indispensable military advisor, Ismay, was with Churchill and recalled “…at one moment every single squadron in the Group was engaged; there was nothing in reserve, and the map table showed new waves of attackers crossing the coast… As the evening closed in, the fighting died down, and we left by car for Chequers. Churchill’s first words were: ‘Don’t speak to me; I have never been so moved.’ After about five minutes he leaned forward and said, ‘Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few.’ The words burned into my brain and I repeated them to my wife when I got home.” (Gilbert, Vol. VI, p.736 & Ismay, The Memoirs of General Lord Ismay, pp.181-2)
“During the weekend at Chequers, and throughout Monday August 19, Churchill worked on his coming Parliamentary speech.” He did not finish preparing his speech until the morning of August 20. (Gilbert, Vol. VI, p.740) That afternoon, the rest of the world heard the words an emotionally overwhelmed Churchill had uttered privately to Ismay four days earlier. Though Churchill spoke for nearly fifty minutes, giving a survey of the ‘dark, wide field’, his phrase in honor of the heroism of British fighter pilots led this speech to become known as “The Few”.
Bibliographic reference: Cohen A131.2, Woods A60(b). Item #006088