We have detected that you are using an older version of Internet Explorer and to have access to all the features on this site, you will need to update your browser to Internet Explorer 8. Alternatively, download Mozilla Firefox or Chrome.

Best leader of WW2

LAURENCE REES: Who do you think came through the war with their reputation most enhanced?

SIR IAN KERSHAW: I think you’d have to say Churchill. And not just from a nationalist point of view, or British point of view, but Churchill was actually in many ways a failure until the Second World War started – a politician with a long history and many offices of state that he’d held, but you’d hardly say been a massive success in many of these. And even in the military sense he’d been more than averagely responsible for the Dardanelles shambles in the First World War. So in all sorts of ways if you can imagine that Churchill had died in 1939, the obituaries would have been phenomenally different from what they were when he did eventually die – with a state funeral and as a national hero – when he died in 1965. But it was the war, in fact, that cometh the hour, cometh the man, as they say in clichéd terms.

But here you have Churchill, as if that was a ready-made moment for him to step in. Of course it could have been different if, as you said earlier on, if Dunkirk had not turned out the way that it did, but, anyway, it did, and so Churchill’s reputation, I think, was massively enhanced – in fact it was created. The Churchill that we know is actually the Churchill of the Second World War, as a war leader. I think Roosevelt too – a reputation massively enhanced. But I point to another person, perhaps, Eisenhower. Hardly anybody heard of Eisenhower before, except in American military circles, where he comes up a careerist officer. But of course after that he goes out as the military war hero in the West and subsequently becomes President of the USA. So maybe I’d point to Eisenhower.  But number one, Churchill.