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1941: Churchill's 'chicken' speech

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December, 1941: The United States joins Canada and Great Britain in the war against Germany and Japan, and Winston S. Churchill, Great Britain's charismatic new prime minister, travels to Washington, D.C. to meet President Franklin D. Roosevelt. His next stop is Ottawa, where on Dec. 30 he delivers an electrifying address that stirs the passions and strengthens the resolve of a nation at war.
• On May 10, 1940, the same day Churchill became prime minister, Germany invaded France, Belgium and Holland. Paris fell two weeks later. Predicting a German victory over Britain, France's Vichy government surrendered and signed the Franco-German Armistice, hoping to put France in a better position when the war ended. This gave Germany almost total control over France. Charles de Gaulle fled to England to lead the Free French forces.

• Three weeks before this broadcast, on Dec. 7, 1941, a Japanese attack force surprised the United States fleet at Pearl Harbor, and Japan declared war with the United States, Britain, Canada and Australia. Four days later, Germany and Italy also declared war on the United States and made an alliance with Japan. Until then the United States had supported Britain's war effort, but was not itself at war.

• "The phony war" is a reference to the early months of the Second World War, where both sides prepared for battle and spied on one another, but did not actually fight. It was also called the sitzkrieg, a word modeled after the German blitzkrieg meaning 'a sudden attack.'

• Churchill's speech was broadcast around the world by shortwave radio and carried by the CBC, BBC and major American radio networks.

• The carillon bells in the tower of the Parliament Building rang out to welcome Churchill, but were abruptly halted when radio listeners from Great Britain joined the broadcast. No bells were allowed to ring in Great Britain at the time -- they were only to be used to warn people of an invasion.

• The Dec. 30 address was not an official session of the House of Commons -- it was a special joint meeting of senators and Members of Parliament. The Speaker did not wear his robes.

• After addressing Parliament Churchill was a guest at an informal dinner party given by Prime Minister Mackenzie King, where he was able to swap stories with Air Vice-Marshal Billy Bishop, who had shot down 72 enemy aircraft in the First World War.

• Other great lines from Winston Churchill during this address:
- On the toughness of our soldiers: "We have not journeyed all this way across the centuries, across the oceans, across the mountains, across the prairies, because we are made of sugar candy."
- On the Axis powers: "the Hitler tyranny, the Japanese frenzy and the Mussolini flop."

• Winston Churchill visited Canada many times, usually after visiting the United States (his mother was from Brooklyn, N.Y.). He saw Canada as a link between the United Kingdom and the United States. He fell in love with Canada during his 1929 tour, and once wrote to his wife that if he retired from politics he would consider a life in Canada's business world.

• Future prime ministers Churchill and Mackenzie King met in Canada in 1908, and did not much care for each other. King referred to the arrogant young Churchill as "the last man in England I want to see." Yet in 1941 King introduced Churchill as "a personification of Britain's greatness."

Also on December 30:
1869: Stephen Leacock is born in Swanmore, England. He became famous for his humorous stories about the fictional town of Mariposa, based on this hometown of Orillia, Ontario.
1923: The first radio network transmission in Canada is created when CHYC Montreal and the Ottawa Radio Association's station, OA, are hooked up over telephone lines. They broadcast a program produced by Canadian National Railways.
1981: The Edmonton Oilers' Wayne Gretzky becomes the first NHL player to score 50 goals in fewer than 50 games in one season. Gretzky scored his 50th goal in his 39th game.
Medium: Radio
Program: CBC Radio News Special
Broadcast Date: Dec. 30, 1941
Guest(s): Winston Churchill
Duration: 3:27
Photo: National Archives of Canada / C-022140

Last updated: October 22, 2014

Page consulted on December 30, 2014

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