Our Darkest Hour

Great books and great films usually deal with a very dark period of crisis and conflict in which all hope seems to be gone, but then a hero or group of heroes come along to save the day. When all seems lost, some brave souls are there at the hour of need, and thwart the forces of darkness and bring about justice, goodness and restoration.

I just saw the new Star Wars film and we of course had more of this being played out big time. In fact it is the same old story as the other films in the series: evil raises its ugly head, many suffer and die, darkness overwhelmingly descends, but some heroes come along and defeat the forces of evil and set the captives free.

Real life is of course like this, and times of war are good examples of this. And World War II was a classic case in point. Here we had real evil raising its ugly head, causing untold damage and bloodshed, and when it seemed like all was lost, some heroic figures come on the scene and turn things around.

Hollywood and history often come together here. As a recent example of this, consider the recent movie Dunkirk. I describe the heroism found in both the reality and the film version in this piece: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2017/08/03/dunkirk/

While that film shows us the military might and heroic action of so many, specifically found near the beginning of the war, there is also the need of diplomatic and political leadership and heroism. Another film describing such heroism during the same period has recently appeared. I refer to Darkest Hour.

It tells the story of England’s new Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and how he responded to the crisis in Europe. With more and more European territory being gobbled up by Hitler, this is a dark hour indeed, and it seems that Churchill was providentially raised up to deal with the Nazi threat and save Europe.

Now, because the film does not open in Australia until January 11, I of course have not yet seen it. But it looks quite good indeed, and I do plan to see it when it arrives in our cinemas. I do know a bit about Churchill, and it is worth giving a quick timeline here, and then look at one article on the film.

Brief Churchill timeline

November 30, 1874: Churchill is born.
Fall 1900: Churchill wins a seat in the British House of Commons.
May 10, 1940: Germany invades Belgium, France, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.
May 10, 1940: Churchill becomes Prime Minister of the UK upon the resignation of Neville Chamberlain. He is called on to form a wartime coalition government.
May 13, 1940: Churchill gives his “Blood, Toil, Tears, and Sweat” speech.
June 4, 1940: He delivers his “We Shall Fight on the Beaches” speech.
June 18, 1940: “This Was Their Finest Hour” speech by Churchill given in the House of Commons.
Nov 10, 1942: “This is Not the End” speech delivered.
May 7, 1945: Germany surrenders to the western Allies.
May 8, 1945: Victory in Europe day declared.
May 23,1945: The wartime coalition ends, with the start of a brief caretaker government.
July 5, 1945: Churchill loses the UK general election.
1951-1955: Churchill elected Prime Minister for a second term.
January 24, 1965: Churchill dies.

A number of articles about the new film have already appeared, but let me draw your attention to one excellent piece. A few days ago Victor Davis Hanson’s article “Civilization’s ‘Darkest Hour’” appeared. It is well worth quoting from:

Churchill’s greatest problem was not just saving the British army [at Dunkirk], but confronting the reality that with the German conquest of Europe, the British Empire now had no allies. The Soviet Union had all but joined Hitler’s Germany under their infamous non-aggression pact of August 1939.
The United States was determined at all costs to remain neutral. Just how neutral is emphasized in “Darkest Hour” by Churchill’s sad phone call with U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt. FDR cleverly assures Churchill that in theory he wants to help while in fact he can do nothing. Within days of Churchill taking office, all of what is now the European Union either would be in Hitler’s hands or could be considered pro-Nazi “neutral.”
“Darkest Hour” gets its title from the understandable depression that had spread throughout the British government. Members of Churchill’s new War Cabinet wanted to sue for peace. Chamberlain and senior conservative politician Edward Wood both considered Churchill unhinged for believing Britain could survive.
Both appeasers dreamed that thuggish Italian dictator Benito Mussolini might be persuaded to beg Hitler to call off his planned invasion of Great Britain. They dreamed Mussolini could save a shred of English dignity through an arranged British surrender. Not Churchill.

He concludes his piece this way:

“Darkest Hour” takes place almost exclusively indoors during Parliament sessions, private meetings and scenes between Churchill and his equally brilliant wife, Clementine. But the dialogue is riveting, the acting superb. Actor Gary Oldman’s masterful Churchill should be a sure Academy Award-winning performance. Oldman reminds a generation of amnesiac global youth that nearly 80 years ago, the dogged defiance of a 66-year-old Victorian Englishman – portly and not much over 5-foot-6 – saved Western civilization from Nazi barbarism.
Americans should watch “Darkest Hour” for reasons beside its engaging acting and plot. We rightly believe that American industry and Soviet manpower won World War II. Yet too often, Americans forget the critical third allied ingredient: British leadership, courage and military professionalism.
Churchill led the only major nation to have fought Hitler alone. Only Britain fought from the first day to the last of World War II. It alone entered the war without attacking a country or being attacked, but simply on the principle of helping an independent Poland. The world as we know it today owes its second chance to Winston Churchill and the United Kingdom. Without them, civilization would have been lost in the darkest hours of May 1940.

The study of history is essential if we want to make sense of our times and learn how to navigate the challenges the future will bring to us. Learning about the past provides us with not just important lessons, but we get to learn of great individuals who made a massive difference.

There are of course spiritual lessons to be mentioned here as well. The greatest hero appeared on planet earth 2000 years ago when things appeared the darkest. Mankind in rebellion against God was without hope and heading for temporal and eternal destruction.

Jesus Christ came, and against all the odds – humanly speaking – turned things around and provided a way out for those who would come to him in faith and repentance. And his life, death and resurrection has inspired countless men and women to be heroes ever since, living lives of courage, self-sacrifice and endurance in dark times.

I for one am very grateful for larger than life figures such as Churchill who helped to turn the course of history. England is certainly lacking this sort of leadership today, as is most of the West. The Churchills – and the Thatchers and the Reagans – do not come around very often.

And when they do, they are often not looked upon very kindly by their contemporaries. But history, objectively assessed, will see them in a better light. For all his faults, Churchill is one such hero that needs to be made known to a new generation.

I look forward to seeing the film.

For further reading on Churchill:

Two rather recent shorter biographies of Churchill which are worth getting are:

Boris Johnson, The Churchill Factor: How One Man Made History. Riverhead, 2014.
Paul Johnson, Churchill. Penguin, 2009.

For those wanting much more lengthy and detailed accounts, some of the classic works include:

Martin Gilbert, Churchill: A Life. Henry Holt and Company, 1991.
Roy Jenkins, Churchill: A Biography. Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2001.

Since those two books are each 1000 pages in length, some might prefer a mid-length treatment. For a 400-page volume see this:

Geoffrey Best, Churchill: A Study in Greatness. Bloomsbury Academic, 2001.

Finally, see this volume for a look at the spiritual dimension to Churchill’s life:

Jonathan Sandys and Wallace Henley, God & Churchill. Tyndale House, 2015.

Happy reading and happy viewing.


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14 Replies to “Our Darkest Hour”

  1. “The Churchills” series shown on SBS recently was excellent. Churchil, then in a political wilderness, spent most of the 1930s writing the million-word history of his military ancestor. Thereby he gained a good grasp of the big picture of war, appeasement, and strategy for victory. This insight was invaluable in achieving WW2 victory.
    Sadly, just as his ancestor won the war against Louis of France’s dreams of empire, but ‘lost the peace’, Winston was preventing from winning the WW2 peace when world powers allowed Russia to win the peace and enslave much of Europe despite winning the war against Hiller.

  2. Thanks Peter. Yes, and just as Churchill was one of the few Western leaders to early on see the totalitarian threat of the Nazis, so too he was one of the few to see early on the totalitarian threat of the Communists.

  3. Hi Bill, I do commend you for writing such an emphatic piece of research on Winston Churchill. Apart from being a great wartime leader, Churchill was also gifted as a visionary. During the negotiations and finalisation of the Treaty of Versailles (where WW1 ended & WW2 began) Churchill records in his memoirs that the reparations that were being imposed on Germany were too severe, and that she would eventually retaliate. Churchill periodically raised this issue in a series of warnings right through until 1939. To deviate, if I may be so bold, I would like to commend Rees Howells and The Bible College of Wales as the unsung heroes from WW2 who led by The Holy Spirit, fought for the preservation of Britain on their knees. For example, it is recorded that The Holy Spirit would give this group projects such as the “evacuation of Dunkirk” or the “D Day Landings”, to pray into. The Holy Spirit would give them “firm instructions” on how to pray, when to start praying, when to take a break from praying, and finally when to cease praying, as the prayers sent up were sufficient for the task at hand. Ultimately we have to thank The Lord Jesus Christ for giving us all The Holy Spirit to be our Guide, Mentor, and Teacher amongst many other Attributes. Bill, I think this is a worthy subject to follow on from your last article “Which Christ will you face” . Bill I am praying that you will have something “really juicy” that we can all get our teeth into for New Years Eve. Thank you again for the articles that you’ve published throughout December. For our Nation of Australia, they have been SORELY NEEDED, Blessings, Kel.

  4. Yes, Bill. An excellent and encouraging article on Churchill. I also join Kel in saying thanks for your fine articles, in both writing and research, and for addressing current issues. Very appreciative of what you write, and look forward to reading new articles by you in 2018. I am also enjoying reading many of your earlier articles from several Categories. Thanks for making them still available.

  5. Good article Bill. Even though I’m not British, I’m saddened by the UK today. They need a Churchill. It amazes me how Theresa May can claim to being a Christian but defends Islam, even after 2 Muslim men recently tried to kill her. I’ve also heard she’s trying to sabotage Brexit. I could say the same about Merkel.

  6. Doubtless, Sir Winston has rightly earned his place in modern history. There is, however, probably some ambivalence towards him in not a few parts of the non-British world:

    The strategic alliance with Josef Stalin’s Soviet Union ultimately led to a Marxist “dark age” descending upon much of post-war Central and Eastern Europe – a fact Churchill tacitly admitted in his famous 1946 Iron Curtain speech.

    As First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill conceived the ill-fated Gallipoli Campaign. I understand that Sir Winston actually knew about Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbour before it took place. Churchill’s disingenuous reference to Mahatma Gandhi as a “half-naked fakir” and another disparaging remark he offered about Indians’ competence to govern themselves as an independent nation have not sat well with the Indian people to this day. Churchill also appears to have underestimated the effectiveness of Japan’s offensive against Allied possessions in South-East Asia and the South Pacific. As a result, it was longer than it should have been before battle-hardened Australian troops from the North African theatre of war were redeployed to relieve the conscripts and Army Reservists who took the brunt of the initial Japanese advance along the Kokoda Trail.

  7. Thanks John. As I stated in my piece, he was not perfect. Many folks have offered various lengthy lists of his sins and shortcomings – real or perceived. Not all these charges are accurate, and many are disputed.

    But taken as a whole, this was a great man who was at the right place at the right time. His role in helping to defeat Hitler and save Britain is clear. Indeed, in Paul Johnson’s biography he asks the question: “Did Churchill personally save Britain?” He offers ten points to his answer and then concludes:

    “The answer must be yes. No one else could have done it. This was what was felt at the time by the great majority of the British people, and it has been since confirmed by the facts and documents at our disposal.”

    I hope that when you or I are long gone, others will note our achievements and strengths, and not only focus on our errors and weaknesses!

  8. I look forward to the film, but only the other day, I was reading in officially declassified papers about those who sought to discredit Churchill over his dissatisfaction with Chamberlain’s appeasement strategy.
    Apparently, Churchill’s electorate was on the eastern side of London and therefore in the path of any on-coming German bombers. His enemies used this to impugn that he too would capitulate and couldn’t be trusted above ambition.
    In his history of WW2, the volume that concerns the Battle of Britain, Churchill writes of the countryside being lit by a distinct light in the aftermath of the successful Dunkirk retreat.
    I lean toward the Providential approval of Churchill at that darkest hour in history, despite his human imperfections.

  9. I have read the first two volumes of Churchill’s “A History of English Speaking Peoples” whose comprehensive treatment shows his gifting and fruitfulness. It is also clear to me that without him the outcome of World War II may have been different and the fate of England very uncertain.

    No doubt he had his weaknesses, because like anyone else, he was human; Romans 3:23 applies. It is important to be aware of that to prevent unjustified adoration but at the same time, for all of us, producing fruit in keeping with our Christian belief is a must. Churchill certainly produced fruit, but was he a Christian? For that reason I am going to read “God and Churchill”.

    I especially like a saying somewhat attributed to Churchill:

    Failure is not fatal and success is not final; it is the courage to continue that counts.

    On that note, I want to say thank you Bill and all the commenters here over 2017 and previous years. You have all been good examples of Churchill’s saying above and would look forward to more of it until either the LORD Jesus Christ calls you home or He returns.

  10. Dear Bill,

    Thank you for your article about Churchill the great British wartime leader. It must have been God who raised him up to save the little island where I was born in 1936 and which was once known as Our Lady’s Dowry. The Holy Spirit blows where it will and like you I am looking forward to seeing the film Darkest Hour.

    My father as a coal miner did not like Churchill. I remember him saying that Churchill had said that miners were the ‘scum of the earth’. Whether he really did say that I don’t know but I think even my father recognised his wartime leadership was needed to help save Britain as I always remember him taking a great interest in the war. He would read the newspaper from cover to cover and was glued to the wireless when the news was on and we were not allowed to talk. As a coal miner he was exempt and also by that time he must have been showing signs of pneumonicosis as I never remember him without a cough. He worked down the coal mines from being thirteen years of age.

    Churchill was never afraid to call a spade a spade and I know of no modern leader who will name the Islamist threat for what it is. A new kind of fascism. They are too busy appeasing the ‘moderate’ Muslims/

  11. Yes another beefy article Bill. Thank you and I also look forward to the movie coming downunder. I was going to mention ‘Reece Howells Intercessor’ covering this period in history then read Kelvin Nairn’s comment.

    I believe God has his hand on nations and in particular Britain for special reasons and as we know, when God wants something done he looks for a person. Reece was a praying man and was able to be led by the Holy Spirit even though he did not understand what he was to pray for at times. The Holy Spirit put a burden upon Reece who would then bring his praying team together and they would wrestle in the spirit until the burden was lifted. It was only afterwards, when news came of a crisis had passed, such as Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain, that it became known to the team why they were lead to intercede for Britain. Winston Churchill wasn’t a praying man but rather a man of action in his portly manner. He had a lifelong sense that God had destined him to save Britain but didn’t know in what way.

    There is no doubt his life displayed a man of great courage and it takes such people like Howells and Churchill, both eccentrics in their own ways, to be able to be used for God’s purposes. I am a doer more then a prayer but I am constantly speaking to my Heavenly Father whilst I’m doing things for His kingdom. Let’s face it, who amongst us does not fail in some things, disappoint people in some way or act a little eccentric at times. Surely then we can empathise with the weaknesses of the ‘great’ and ‘noble’ and appreciate how God was still able to achieve His will through them despite their imperfections. (I didn’t know much about my own father’s views as he died before I was at an age where we could discuss life’s issues together but one thing I did know was that he hated Communism and loved Churchill. He bought a series of books that Churchill had written but alas I don’t know what happened to them all.)

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