This Was Their Finest Hour

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This Was Their Finest Hour

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Magda Goebbels was the wife of the Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels. On May 1, 1945, she poisoned six of her children, immediately before committing suicide along with her husband. World War II was almost over. Frau Goebbels could not bear to live in a world without National Socialism (Nazism).

Most of the world did not feel the same way. Those who believed in freedom of the individual triumphed over tyranny, ending the war with Germany exactly one week later, on May 8, 1945. The war with Japan was to last three more months.

For the British people, the war had lasted six years. Six years of bombing. Six years of rations. But it was also six years of incredible resolve, a determination to not succumb to defeat no matter what it might take in terms of national and personal sacrifice. In stark contrast to Magda Goebbels, the average British citizen did not want to live under National Socialism.

The title of this article is taken from a speech before the British House of Commons on June 18, 1940, by Winston Churchill, who had been appointed prime minister the previous month. The country was in dire straits, faced with a German invasion and conquest, the same fate that had befallen the other countries of Western Europe in the preceding weeks.

Many in Britain wanted to cut a deal with Hitler, giving the German dictator dominion over Europe. The Battle of Britain was about to begin, with Britain’s Royal Air Force fighting the German Luftwaffe in the skies above the United Kingdom and surrounding waters. If Britain were to have lost that battle, the United States might have had to sue for peace on Germany’s terms—and the world would live under National Socialism. Hitler promised a Thousand-Year Reich (or Empire), a perversion of the 1,000-year or millennial rule of Jesus Christ revealed in the Bible.

Stirring the defense of civilization

Churchill’s speech was necessary to share with the British people the very real dilemma facing them. At the same time it rallied them to the cause of defeating fascism rather than compromising with it.

His speech ended with the following words:

“What General Weygand called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. 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 free 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.’”

In popular mythology, Britain stood alone. In a sense it did, as no other European countries could help her. But in another sense, Britain did not stand alone. Winston Churchill knew that, even though many of his countrymen did not. He looked to aid from the Empire and Commonwealth and eventually America—under the guidance of God.

He said in a speech earlier the same month: “We shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old” (June 4, 1940).

The Empire’s role

Throughout the war, from the very beginning when London declared war on Germany on Sept. 3, 1939, Britain had the support of its empire and commonwealth.

This was the greatest empire in history. At the time the war started, it controlled a quarter of the world’s land surface. Every part of the Empire was involved in the war, either in the fight against Germany or the fight against Japan in the Far East. Note what Churchill said earlier in his “Finest Hour” speech:

“We have fully informed and consulted all the self-governing Dominions, these great communities far beyond the oceans who have been built up on our laws and on our civilization, and who are absolutely free to choose their course, but are absolutely devoted to the ancient Motherland, and who feel themselves inspired by the same emotions which lead me to stake our all upon duty and honor.

“We have fully consulted them, and I have received from their Prime Ministers, … from all these eminent men, who all have Governments behind them elected on wide franchises, who are all there because they represent the will of their people, messages couched in the most moving terms in which they endorse our decision to fight on, and declare themselves ready to share our fortunes and to persevere to the end. That is what we are going to do.”

This was to be a collective effort. The Dominions were the self-governing nations of the Commonwealth at that time—Canada, Newfoundland, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Their parliaments all supported Britain against Germany. But that wasn’t all. British colonies, nations of the Empire that were not fully self-governing, all joined in the war effort. The greatest contribution was from India. The viceroy of India (the British governor) declared war on Germany shortly after Britain’s declaration of war. More than 2½ million Indians voluntarily fought on Britain’s side, the greatest volunteer army in history.

They were used just about everywhere against some of the most sophisticated fighting forces in the world. They performed admirably in Europe, Africa and Asia. India also became the base for American operations in China.

Other parts of the Empire were just as loyal to Britain in the war, even though they were not able to contribute the same number of men or resources as India. The Royal West African Frontier Force of the Gold Coast (Ghana), Nigeria, Sierra Leone and the Gambia, sent troops to Burma, Abyssinia (Ethiopia) and Italian Somaliland.

South Africans were sent to fight in North Africa against Hitler’s General Rommel. Many also flew with the Royal Air Force in the European theater of war. Southern Rhodesians fought alongside British pilots in the Battle of Britain.

Almost a million Australians, both men and women, served in the Second World War. They fought in military campaigns against Germany and Italy in Europe, the Mediterranean and North Africa, as well as against Japan in Southeast Asia and other parts of the Pacific.

Michael Savage, the prime minister of New Zealand at the outbreak of war, rallied the country with these words: “Both with gratitude for the past, and with confidence in the future, we range ourselves without fear beside Britain. Where she goes, we go. Where she stands, we stand.”

New Zealanders were to serve with the British and Rhodesians in the Royal Air Force as it fought above the skies of Europe.

The oldest dominion, Canada, played a major role in the war, declaring war exactly one week after Great Britain. By the end of the war, the country had over 1 million people in uniform out of a total population of 11 million. Canada’s contribution was so great that it emerged with the fourth-largest air force in the world and the fifth-biggest navy.

Few today realize the incredible contribution made to the Allied victory in World War II by the dominions, colonies and territories of the British Empire and Commonwealth.

Churchill’s own role

At the same time, Winston Churchill was, without a doubt, the man of the moment, the right man for the job.

His official biographer, Sir Martin Gilbert, who died a few months ago, was an annual visitor to Hillsdale College in Michigan, where he spent two months every year giving students lectures on Churchill. I attended one of those lectures a few years ago. Afterwards, I asked him what would have happened in World War II if Churchill had never lived. His considered response was insightful: “We wouldn’t have gotten very far.”

Churchill’s military experience and his global perspective were second to none. At the lecture Gilbert gave that evening, he showed how Churchill’s sinking of the French fleet following the country’s defeat in 1940, although controversial to this day in France, illustrated that the man would stop at nothing to defeat Nazi Germany. This single act influenced U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt to support him, knowing he would not compromise.

Churchill wrote in his monumental history of the war: “I felt as if I were walking with destiny, and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial … I thought I knew a good deal about it all, and I was sure I should not fail.”

In a wider sense, this was also the British Empire’s appointment with destiny. It was as if the Empire’s three centuries had prepared it for this moment—the defense of the Western world, of freedom and democracy, of civilization itself.

Fulfillment of biblical prophecy

In Victorian times, as the Empire was expanding and as the Commonwealth was given birth with the independence of Canada in 1867, many believed they were fulfilling a biblical prophecy about the two sons of the patriarch Joseph, the son of Jacob (Israel).

In Genesis 48, Joseph brought his two sons before his ailing father to receive the customary blessing. Jacob carefully placed his hands in blessing the two boys, granting Ephraim, the youngest, the greatest blessing, promising that his descendants would become “a multitude of nations” (Genesis 48:19 Genesis 48:19And his father refused, and said, I know it, my son, I know it: he also shall become a people, and he also shall be great: but truly his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations.
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), the same as the “company of nations” earlier promised to Jacob (Genesis 35:11 Genesis 35:11And God said to him, I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall be of you, and kings shall come out of your loins;
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Ephraim’s elder brother, Manasseh, was prophesied to also become a great nation, the United States, “but truly his younger brother shall be greater than he” (Genesis 48:19 Genesis 48:19And his father refused, and said, I know it, my son, I know it: he also shall become a people, and he also shall be great: but truly his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations.
American King James Version×

The “multitude of nations” has always been united by a common loyalty to the throne. The United States was to separate from the multitude of nations, to sever its tie with the Crown, in order to become the great single nation that Churchill called “the Great Republic.”

Today, 70 years after the end of World War II, the Empire and Commonwealth are largely forgotten by much of the world. Many people I talk to in Britain are unaware of the fact that before the United States came to dominate the globe, Britain and its dominions constituted the greatest power on earth, as Jacob foretold of the multitude of nations.

World War II was, indeed, their finest hour. However, the British Empire was not to last a thousand years, any more than the Third Reich did. Before the decade was over, Britain had lost its Indian Empire (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Burma and Ceylon) and, a decade later, was dismantling the rest. Faced with a similar threat today, Great Britain would find itself virtually friendless, no longer able to command the support it could count on in 1939.

As regards the other main protagonists, the dominions and India, they have largely gone their separate ways. Canada now has much closer ties with the United States than with Great Britain. Australia and New Zealand have closer ties to their Asian neighbors; South Africa is oriented toward Africa, and Rhodesia no longer exists.

Remarkably, Germany now dominates Europe as it did in 1940. Only this time its domination has been achieved peacefully through the European Union and the European Central Bank. What the future implications of German dominance mean for Europe and Britain remains to be seen, but it’s supremely ironic that 75 years after Germany achieved military dominion over Europe, it now dominates the continent economically. The British and Allied victory over the Third Reich did not have the effect of keeping Germany down.

The world has changed dramatically in the last 70 years. Looking back, it’s clear that the Second World War finished off the British Empire. And for 70 years the world has been dominated by the United States. Yet now we see Washington’s period of domination also rapidly coming to an end.

We are reminded of the words of the prophet Daniel in Daniel 2:21 Daniel 2:21And he changes the times and the seasons: he removes kings, and sets up kings: he gives wisdom to the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding:
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about the all-powerful God: “He changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and raises up kings.”

Our Great God is ultimately behind the rise and fall of nations.

The verse adds that it is possible for those following God to understand the course of history and see what the future holds: “He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding.”

We hope you’ll continue reading this magazine to see God’s hand in history and how end-time events are coming together as foretold in His Word centuries ago!

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