Women's Part in the Struggle


By WINSTON CHURCHILL, Prime Minister of Great Britain

Delivered at the National Conference of Women, Albert Hall, London, September 28, 1943

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. X, pp. 2-3.

THIS impressive representative gathering marks a definite recognition of the part women are playing in our struggle for right and freedom. I remember in 1939 at Manchester making an appeal for a million women to come forward into the war effort in all its forms. This was thought to be a very extravagant proposal at the time, but it is not a third of what has since been required or what is to be forthcoming.

We are engaged in total war. We are engaged in a struggle for life. Although you cannot say that peril as imminent as in 1940 or during the year when we were all alone faces us, nevertheless if this war is so handled that unity from national effort were diminished, that its pace and vigor so slackened that we fell apart, that apathy overtook us, and if this were typical throughout the forces of the United Nations, then, indeed, another danger, perhaps not so catastrophic in its aspect but none the less deadly in its character, would march upon us.

War would languish; our soldiers would find themselves short of munitions and services just at the time when their action is growing on an even larger scale—all this would occur.

Says Foe Hopes We Will Crack

And the enemy. What is their hope? Their hope is that we will weary; their hope is that the democracies will faint later on the long road; that now, in the fifth year of the war, there will be doubts, despondencies and slackness. They then hope that out of this they will be able to consolidate their forces in their central fortress of Europe, their remote home islands in Japan, and extract from our weariness and from any divisions which might appear among us the means of making terms to enable them to repair their losses, regather their forces and open upon the world, perhaps within another decade, a war even more terrible than that through which we are now passing.

Therefore, the idea of a total war, of fighting for life, must continually be in your minds. The war effort of our46,000,000 people living in Great Britain and northern Ireland at the present time is justly admired by our allies, On the whole there is no community engaged in this war which is more smoothly, effectively and exhaustively organized for the war. There is also no community which presents so many different sides and varieties to the war effort.

We have to guard the seas. We have to bring in foods and raw materials. We have to guard our homes again? the ever-present threat of overseas attacks. We have to be ready to meet intensive and novel forms of air attack any time. We have to swell our vast production of munitions. We have to build warships and merchant ships in large numbers. We have to maintain the life of our civilian population and take care of the sick, old and broken.

This war effort could not have been achieved had women not marched forward in millions to undertake all kinds of work. Nothing has been grudged, and the bounds of the women's activities have been definitely, vastly and permanently enlarged.

War as an Aid to Women

It may seem strange that the great advance in the position of women in the world—in industry, in controls of all kinds—should be made in time of war and not in time of peace. One would have thought that in days of peace the progress of women to an ever larger share in life, work and guidance to the community would have grown, that under violence and fear it would have been cast back. The reverse is true.

War is the teacher—a stern, hard, efficient teacher. War has taught us to make vast strides forward toward a far more complete equalization of the parts to be played by women in society.

I said just now that the conditions on this island represent an incomparable example of unified and concerted war effort. among the United Nations. I cannot expect after four yearsof war that there is much slack to be taken up, but my friend, Mr. Bevin, the Minister of Labor, Has the greatest possible difficulty in providing for whatever approved demands are made upon him by all departments of the State.

We are fully extended now, and whatever we do we must maintain this effort—maintain this effort through the fifth year of war, or the sixth year, or if need be, forever—until we have achieved our purpose.

In the forthcoming year you will see large armies fighting. You will see powerful air forces striking at the heart of the enemy's country. But the actual demands made upon the British population cannot be greatly increased.

The augmentation of our munitions will follow from smoother running of the great processes which are already at work rather than from any multiplication of the human beings engaged in production. We are, as I say fully expanded, and to maintain that record is a tremendous task, one that will require the utmost firmness of character in all of His Majesty's subjects and extreme care, diligence and vigilance on the part of all those entrusted with public office in any form.

All will be needed in order that we may keep up the tremendous pace at which we are moving for whatever is necessary in order to secure the complete and absolute victory of a good cause.

It is a good cause. No one has any doubt about that. All over the world, men and women under every sky and climate, of every race, creed and color, all have a feeling that in the casting down of this monstrous Nazi engine of tyranny, cruelty, greed and aggression—in the casting of it down, shattered in pieces, something will have been achievedby the whole human race, which will affect in a decisive manner its future destinies, which will even in our time be marked by a very sensible improvement in conditions under which the great masses of the people live.

For Security of Freedom

Freedom will be erected on an unshakable foundation, and at her side will be right and justice, and I am sure of this—that when the victory is gained we shall show a poise and temper as admirable as that which we displayed in the days of our mortal danger, that we will not be led astray by false guides, either into apathy and weakness or into brutality, but that the name of our dear country, our island home, will, by our conduct, our clairvoyance, our self-restraint, our inflexible tenacity of purpose, long stand in honor among the nations of the world.

In all this, the women of Britain have borne, are bearing and will continue to bear a part which excites admiration among our Allies, and which will be found to have definitely altered these social sex balances which years of convention have established.

I have no fear of the future. Let us go forward into its mysteries. Let us tear aside the veils which hide it from our eye. Let us move forward with confidence and courage. Every problem of the post-war world, some of which seem so baffling now, will be easier of solution once a decisive victory has been gained and once it is clear the victory gained in arms has not been cast away by folly or by violence when the moment comes to lay broad foundations of the future world order and when the hour has come to speak great words of peace and truth to all.