London: His Majesty's Stationery Office (H.M.S.O.), The Baynard Press, 1940. First edition. Pamphlet. This is the first edition, only printing of one of Churchill's most famous speeches. Churchill's speech to Parliament of August 20th, 1940 was occasioned in part by the Battle of Britain and famously honored the RAF pilots who almost single-handedly prevented Nazi invasion of England. Printed deep red on light gray paper wraps and wire stitched, this speech pamphlet measures 9.75 inches x 6 inches (24.8 x 15.2 cm) and is 16 pages in length. Given the fragility of the edition, most copies understandably suffer from significant wear, soiling, tanning, and spotting.
This is a respectable if imperfect copy in better than good plus condition, sound and complete with interesting provenance. The gray paper wraps are complete, without appreciable toning, and firmly attached, both original binding staples still intact. There is a modest vertical crease, some soiling and spotting to the covers, and two stains along the lower front cover fore edge. The sole previous ownership mark is a rectangular ink stamp in purple, the still-legible portions of which read “Veterinary Department” date-stamped “1940” with “Answered……….” above “EDINBURGH”. The contents are respectably clean and bright, trivial spotting confined to the page edges and p.16. The pamphlet is housed in a clear, removable, archival 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”. Of Churchill, Edward R. Murrow said: "He mobilized the English language and sent it into battle." This speech, from the early and fraught months of Churchill’s wartime premiership, typifies the soaring and defiant oratory that sustained his countrymen and inspired the free world. It also demonstrates why, when Churchill was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953, it was partly “…for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values.” The famous bibliographic reference Printing and the Mind of Man, which surveys the impact of the printed word on Western Civilization, singles out this edition of this speech.
Reference: Cohen A131.1, Woods A60(a), Printing and the Mind of Man (PMM) 424. Item #006858