THE DEFENCE OF THE HOME COUNTRY
June 26, 1940.
Freedom and Order, Selected Speeches 1939-1946, 78-82.
The time is approaching when the enemy, having overrun all the outlying forts of liberty, will launch his assault on the main citadel, our own land. He has already delivered bombing attacks at night. No doubt these attacks will be continued. Possibly other forms of attack will be attempted also.
I am convinced that these can be repulsed. We shall, moreover, subject the enemy in his own country to constant and heavy attack from the air. We are confident that the enemy will be beaten off. And I will tell you why.
Your character is the first reason for my complete confidence. We know that you will never flinch. We have learned from the tragic fate of the French nation that civilization cannot be preserved by material means alone. We have seen that ramparts of concrete are not enough. It is only by the dedication of the human
spirit and the human will the length and breadth of the land that complete and final victory can be won.
These are dangerous days; days when the fibre of our race will be put to a hard test. But we also know in our hearts, that they are days of great opportunity such as come to few generations.
It is our privilege as an Empire, fighting together, to preserve, to restore, and, in the end, to extend the frontiers of freedom, and the presence of troops in these islands from every part of the Commonwealth is a stirring sign of the deep unity of purpose which inspires all its peoples. Their troops here are evidence of that.
The world has nowhere to look but to us for the salvation of the precious heritage of civilization which must inevitably pass from Europe unless we, like our brothers from overseas, show the invincible will to defend it. Those over whom the iron wheels of the conqueror have passed, those whom the conqueror now begins to threaten, alike base their hopes on our victory. We shall not fail them.
In this great adventure, each has his part to play. Those of you who are not in the Forces have already been told what to do in the case of attack. May I underline one point in the official advice you have received? That point is: stay where you are. Refugees on roads or railways hamstring those upon whom your defence depends. They are the outward and visible signs that the enemy has succeeded in creating the conditions on which he counts for military success.
The mass of refugees helped to lose the battle of France; they will not lose the battle of Britain. If you "stay put" you will find that the physical and material effects of air raids are by no means equal to their noise. Their bark, in fact, is more impressive than their bite. The enemy deliberately augments the noise to create alarm. He attaches devices to his bombs to magnify their noise, but these devices don't kill anybody and don't destroy anything. He thinks that we are a people who can be frightened out of our wits by these theatrical effects. We will show him that he is wrong.
I say these things to you because a brave and disciplined civilian population is the essential foundation of Home Defence. But the enemy will soon learn that it is not in the nature of our people to sit placidly and be bombed without retort. My confidence in the result of this conflict rests not only on the British character. We have an exceedingly powerful Air Force which will give the enemy
a very bad time. Already, though operating at great disadvantages, it has inflicted severe losses upon him. It has often had to fight far from its bases, or from extemporized bases. So far it has never met the enemy without the numerical odds being in the enemy's favour. But remember what happened on the only occasion when it was operating from its own bases at home, and when the numerical odds were not utterly fantastic. During the evacuation from Dunkirk the R.A.F. are known to have destroyed as many as seventy German aircraft in one day. Our airmen can hope to do even better than this when fighting in their own skies.
But I must add one word of warning. If some of the enemy planes get through, as they will, or if the sky above your head happens to contain no British aircraft, don't ask angrily what the R.A.F. are doing. They will be bringing down enemy planes a hundred miles away or more who would otherwise be attacking you. They will be preventing damage to those things by which and through which we and our defences will live—docks, factories, ships or aerodromes.
We have great numbers of machines and we are getting more every day; but we shall always have to use them where they can most harm the enemy. And don't forget our guns, with which this country is now well provided, nor our balloon barrage which caught a couple of raiders the other night. I can't promise you that you will not be bombed; but I can and do promise you that the lot of the invader will become increasingly unenviable.
You have doubtless read that we are now a fortress. So we are, until the time comes to sally forth from the fortress to the attack. Remember that it is not sufficient merely to defeat the attack on these islands. I have told you why I believe that the air offensive of the enemy will be broken even though it may cause us loss, anxiety and distress. I will now tell you why I believe that every other form of offensive will end in defeat for the enemy.
The Prime Minister said last week that we had a million and a quarter men under arms in this country, without including the 500,000 Local Defence Volunteers. Since he spoke, these forces have been increased by the arrival of Australian and New Zealand contingents and by the return of large numbers of British, Canadian and Allied troops from France. Many of these men have met the enemy. They are confident that they can beat him.
Never before have we had a greater number of soldiers in this island. We are confident that we can throw a sufficient force against any enemy who lands on our shores, attack him and defeat
him. If he is able to run the gauntlet of the Fleet and the Air Force, or descend upon our land from the air, we shall be attacking the enemy on our own soil, for our own homes, with all our forces under our own command, unhampered by the necessity of sending supplies and reinforcements overseas.
We do not underestimate the enemy; but for once he will be operating under the disadvantages which we have always experienced in our continental wars; and in addition he will have to supply his forces overseas without possessing the command of the sea. I can, therefore, speak to you to-night in a spirit of reasoned confidence.
I know that we have to face hard and anxious times, but I also know that our strength and spirit are sufficient for any trial. At times like these there are bound to be faint-hearted people. Never listen to them. Remember also that apart from our own strength, we are receiving great help from the United States of America. The United States, with the strong support of public opinion in that country, are sending us supplies of arms and munitions. By so doing they are rendering us a service of which we are in need, for a cause which they have fully understood.
Let me make it quite clear that we are obtaining these munitions not in a mere hope that they will enable us to delay a conquest of our island, but because we are firmly convinced that they will enable us to win the war. It is not only we who are being besieged— Germany too is beleaguered. For she and her ally Italy remain cut off from supplies of many things without which a long prosecution of war is impossible. Our stranglehold is still round their necks, and our Navy can and will keep it there.
I want to impress upon you once more that no battle can, of course, be won by standing on the defensive or even by successful counter-attack alone. When the time comes, as assuredly it will, to carry the war against the enemy, wherever he may be found, you can be certain that we shall do so with all our might. Already, in other parts of the world, we are achieving success in offensive operations. It is this offensive spirit which so clearly animates our forces in the Middle East. It augurs well for the future.
We can have no doubt of the issue, you and I. This is a conflict between two ways of life which admits of no compromise. It is the age-long struggle between good and evil. It is not enough merely to preserve Christian civilization, now in such deadly peril and placed for a time on the defensive. Real and complete victory will come because the British peoples are inspired by burning faith in
their own high ideals and by a determination to set them up again in places where for the time being those ideals have been beaten down.
If the challenge is formidable the opportunity is without parallel. This is a struggle for the future of man, for the eternal freedom of his mind and soul.