At 3.49 on the afternoon of 18 June 1940, following the announcement that the Government of Marshal Petain in France was seeking a cessation of hostilities and armistice terms from Nazi Germany, Prime Minister Winston Churchill stood up to address the British House of Commons.
In a speech lasting some 36 minutes, without recrimination or blame, he outlined the causes of the catastrophe that had recently occurred.
Then in a final emotional paragraph he issued not just a rallying cry to the British people but an appeal to the world and in particular the United States, and a warning too.
In doing so he transformed a conflict between nations into a battle of Good against Evil – what had once been a war was now a Crusade.
What General Weygand has called the Battle of France is over – the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilisation; upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be freed and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands.
But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new dark age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say – This was their finest hour.