Winston Churchill 'agonised' over finest hour speech, papers reveal

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The address he made to the British nation as it stood alone against the Nazi war machine is one of the most celebrated speeches in history.

Full of passion and Shakespearesque language, his appeal for fortitude and courage was credited with re-galvanising the country in its darkest hour.

But a new examination of his papers shows how he agonised over every famous phrase – even adding one at the last minute – and how his private secretary was secretly unimpressed by his efforts.

The "finest hour" speech was made on June 18, 1940, during one of the lowest and most uncertain moments of the Second World War.

The Battle of France was lost, the Battle of Britain was about to begin and the country stood alone against the might of a German offensive that had swept much of Europe before it.

The speech he delivered, first to parliament and then over the radio to the nation, was to become one of the most celebrated of the war – and his career.

But while many consider Churchill’s oratorical mastery to have sometimes been improvised or off-the-cuff, a new examination of his papers, held at Cambridge University’s Churchill Archives Centre, reveals the toil that went into early drafts – and the revisions made until the last possible moment before delivery.

They show how the speech went through at least two drafts – the first dictated to his secretaries, then revised in longhand and then put into blank verse form for emphasis and rhythm.

Even this draft he would revise and correct right up to the last minute in red and blue ink – even insert completely new phrases.

The best example of this is on the penultimate page of these final speaking notes....

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