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Winston Churchill’s vast archive — including his wartime speeches, letters to Stalin and three US Presidents – has been added to UNESCO’s International Memory of the World Register.
Held at Cambridge University’s Churchill College, the Churchill Papers contain a priceless collection of more than one million documents written by or belonging to the former British Prime Minister, who was born 141 years ago today.
The Churchill Papers now joins treasures such as the UK’s Magna Carta, France’s Bayeux Tapestry and Iran’s Persian epic poem, the Shahnameh in being added to the Memory of the World Register.
The Memory of the World Project is an international initiative to safeguard the documentary heritage of humanity against collective amnesia, neglect, the ravages of time and climatic conditions, and wilful and deliberate destruction. It calls for the preservation of valuable archive, library and private collections all over the world, as well as the reconstitution of dispersed or displaced documentary heritage, and the increased accessibility to and dissemination of these items.
Sir Winston Churchill has become a global icon and his stand against fascism in 1940 is widely seen as a critical moment in 20th century history. The archive in Cambridge contains a wealth of unique drafts, letters and papers that are not duplicated elsewhere.
Allen Packwood, Director of the Churchill Archives Centre, said:
“The archive of Sir Winston Churchill is unique and irreplaceable. It is the evidence that underpins the story of one of the most remarkable leaders of the modern era, whose stand against fascism in 1940 helped shape the world of today.
“It includes his original annotated notes for his famous international broadcasts and correspondence with the great politicians, military leaders, authors, scientists and thinkers of his age.”
Churchill’s post-1945 papers were passed to Churchill College in 1969 by his widow Clementine Churchill. The College built and opened the Churchill Archives Centre in 1973 and Sir Winston’s pre-1945 papers were transferred to the Centre from Oxford’s Bodleian Library in 1974-75.
The archive allows unrivalled access into the life, times and mind of Churchill; from his early correspondence with his family, right through to letters from the 1950s where he called for a summit with the Soviet Union.
But it is the material related to his stand against Hitler and fascism that represents the heart of the collection. Among the notes and drafts for his many great speeches are his annotated copies of his ‘finest hour’ speech in June 1940.
Allen Packwood said:
“The page is covered with his handwritten annotations in red and blue ink. It highlights how much care and attention Churchill put into this speech. He knew how much was riding on this. The country was facing a huge national crisis. France had capitulated and Britain was facing the prospect of attack and invasion.
“As you move from first draft to finished speaking notes the speech undergoes a transformation. The final note is set out in a blank verse format, set out like the Book of Psalms. It looks like poetry, it brings it to life, it gives him, I think, the rhythm, it enables that great Churchill oratory. Nowhere is that more evident in this speech than in the very final page, that great crescendo.”
Other treasures of the archive include his speeches on the rise of Nazism and Munich in 1938, his opposition of communist domination of Eastern Europe in 1946 – including the speech where he coined the term ‘iron curtain’ – and letters where he wrestled with the destructive power of the hydrogen bomb.
The Churchill Papers also contain material relating to political reform and social change in Britain, British policy in India, the shaping of the Middle East and Europe and the rise of the United States as a global power.
As well as his letters to US Presidents Roosevelt, Truman and Eisenhower, the archive holds letters to Charles De Gaulle, Stalin, six British Prime Ministers, Gandhi, Nehru and writers, painters and actors such as HG Wells, Walter Sickert and Laurence Olivier.
Dr Alice Prochaska, Chair of the Sir Winston Churchill Archive Trust, which owns the papers for the nation, said:
“It is a fantastic privilege and a very great pleasure to see the Sir Winston Churchill Archive inscribed at as part of the Memory of the World. This amazing documentary resource brings benefit to scholars, schools and citizens: a legacy to future generations from one of the world."
Watch the Director of the Churchill Archives Centre, Allen Packwood speak about the addition of the Churchill Papers collection to the UNESCO International Memory of the World Register on Cambridge TV.