England: circa 1941. This homespun unsigned and undated item is an endearingly unique Second World War memento of the personal impact of the oratory of Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill on the British people. This is a wartime cross-stitch sampler, elaborately reproducing and decorating words from an early wartime speech by Churchill.
Churchill’s war speeches are memorialized in a host of publications, panegyrics, and awards, among them the Nobel Prize in Literature “…for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values.” All of the publications and praise are merited, but can miss an essential point – the effect that Churchill’s words had on his own countrymen at a time when inspiration and resolve were not mere eloquence, but fundamental to perseverance and survival.
Hence this item – this cross-stitch sampler in red, blue, gold, green, and white elaborately reproducing and decorating an excerpt from Churchill’s address of 12 June 1941. The stitched sampler features a header of flowers and British flags bracing Churchill’s famous “V” sign succeeded by a famous (mis)quote: “Lift up your hearts, all will come right. Out of depths of sorrow and suffering will be born again the glory of mankind.” Churchill actually said “sacrifice”, not “suffering”. The misquote adds a certain charm and infers that the maker likely recalled the words or quoted them from an inaccurate contemporary news source.
Recollection seems likely, given the prominent place of the “V” at the top center of the piece. While it may have been stitched as a generic symbol for Victory, it was Churchill who rendered the symbol iconic. “Churchill was first seen to use the V-sign in August 1941… It became the symbol of the “V for Victory” campaign.” (Hall, Finest Hour 158, p.32)
This cross-stitch sampler is set in a 18 x 14 inches (45.7 cm x 35.6 cm) brown wood window-box frame. with gilt inner and outer edges. The sampler measures 16 x 12 inches (45.7 x 30.5 cm). Condition is very good, particularly given the age, material and humble origins. The cloth shows minor spotting, likely owing to the thick card stock to which it has long been adhered, but is otherwise clean. The colors remain bright. The wood frame shows minor wear to extremities, but presents well and nicely suits the piece. This item will be packed with care and shipped at cost.
The (mis)quoted stitching excerpts part of Churchill’s speech at the conference of Dominion High Commissioners and Allied Countries’ ministers on 12 June 1941 delivered “in the drawing room of bomb-scarred St. James’s Palace.” In attendance were representatives of Great Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the Union of South Africa and of the exiled governments of Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Greece, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Yugoslavia and General de Gaulle of France.
When Churchill became Prime Minister on 10 May 1940, the war for Britain was not so much a struggle for victory as a struggle to survive. Churchill had been in office for little more than a year when he spoke the words stitched here. The first year of Churchill’s wartime premiership saw, among other near-calamities, the Battle of the Atlantic, the fall of France, the evacuation at Dunkirk, and the Battle of Britain, with both sustained aerial attacks on civilian populations of London and other cities and the real prospect of Nazi invasion of England.
Although we can appreciate and even admire Churchill’s oratory, it is difficult to achieve a visceral understanding of how his words likely resonated with many of his countrymen at the time. This artifact is a personal and personalized testimony to that resonance. To expend time and craft on a homey stitching during such volatility is mimetic of the national and allied resolve that Churchill advocated, lending an anonymous authenticity to this piece, and rooting it in the emotional context of the Second World War. Item #006139