"United we stand. Divided we fall. Divided, the dark ages return. United, we can save and guide the world."

16th June 1941: Millions hear Churchill spell out the dangers facing the free world

Mr. and Mrs. Churchill during his tour of the north of Britain in January 1941. “With them is, left - Mr. Harry Hopkins, President Roosevelt's special envoy to this country.” Hopkins reported directly to the President on Britains capability to continue the war.

In June 1941 Britain still stood alone. Almost all Europe was occupied and enslaved by the Nazi regime. Although Britain was receiving substantial material support from America, the USA remained neutral. Churchill knew only too well that he needed much more than this level of support if he was to win the war.

In a radio broadcast to the United States on the 16th June, Churchill took the opportunity to make a direct appeal to the American public. He had just been awarded an honorary degree by Rochester University. The audience was given the full treatment of Churchillian rhetoric:

And now, in this time of world storm, when I have been called upon by King and Parliament and with the support of all parties in the State to bear the chief responsibility in Great Britain, and when I have had the supreme honour of speaking for the British nation in its most deadly danger and in its finest hour, it has given me comfort and inspiration to feel that I think as you do, that our hands are joined across the oceans, and that our pulses throb and beat as one. Indeed I will make so bold as to say that here at least, in my mother's birth city of Rochester, I hold a latchkey to American hearts.

Strong tides of emotion, fierce surges of passion, sweep the broad expanses of the Union in this year of fate. In that prodigious travail there arc many elemental forces, there is much heart-searching and self-questioning; some pangs, some sorrow, some conflict of voices, but no fear. The world is witnessing the birth throes of a sublime resolve. I shall presume to confess to you that I have no doubts what that resolve will be.

The destiny of mankind is not decided by material computation. When great causes are on the move in the world, stirring all men's souls, drawing them from their firesides, casting aside comfort, wealth and the pursuit of happiness in response to impulses at once awe-striking and irresistible, we learn that we are spirits, not animals, and that something is going on in space and time, and beyond space and time, which, whether we like it or not, spells duty.

But what is the explanation of the enslavement of Europe by the German Nazi regime? How did they do it? It is but a few years ago since one united gesture by the peoples, great and small, who now lie broken in the dust, would have warded off from mankind the fearful ordeal it has had to undergo. But there was no unity. There was no vision. The nations were pulled down one by one while the others gaped and chattered. One by one, each in his turn, they let themselves be caught. One after another they were felled by brutal violence or poisoned from within by subtle intrigue.

And now the old lion with her lion cubs at her side stands alone against hunters who are armed with deadly weapons and impelled by desperate and destructive rage. Is the tragedy to repeat itself once more? Ah no! This is not the end of the tale.

The stars in their courses proclaim the deliverance of mankind. Not so easily shall the onward progress of the peoples be barred. Not so easily shall the lights of freedom die. But time is short. Every month that passes adds to the length and to the perils of the journey that will have to be made.

United we stand. Divided we fall. Divided, the dark ages return. United, we can save and guide the world.

The original radio speech, the first that Churchill made directly to an American audience during the war, can be heard at Rochester University.

Also on this day

The moment before a Blenheim bomber from No 21. Squadron crashes into the sea, having clipped its wing on the mast of the ship it was attacking, 16th June 1941. Low level attacks on shipping were a high priority at this time but exceptionally hazardous.