World Coins

Numismatic collectibles of Winston Churchill in war and peace

Editor's note: The following is the second of a six-part Coin World series about collecting the medals, coins and paper money honoring Winston Churchill, prepared by Michele Orzano for the March 2015 monthly edition of Coin World.

Political training

Though Churchill became a household name around the world during World War II, he was no political newcomer. He received his political training throughout the early 1900s in a variety of political offices, beginning in 1905 as undersecretary of state for the colonies.

He went on to become president of the Board of Trade (equivalent to U.S. secretary of commerce); first lord of the Admiralty (equivalent to secretary of the U.S. Navy); and minister of munitions during the “Great War,” which later became known as World War I.

Churchill also served as the civilian head of the British Army and the Royal Air Force from 1915 to 1921; and in 1924 he became chancellor of the Exchequer (equivalent to U.S. Treasury secretary).

In the 1930s, Churchill’s political party was not in power, so he was what in British politics is called a “backbencher,” meaning he was a member of Parliament but held no other office of influence. That didn’t stop him from speaking out.

Churchill was watching activities in Europe, particularly those of German leader Adolph Hitler, who appeared determined to regain the territory Germany forfeited at the end of the Great War.

In many speeches to Parliament, Churchill warned members that England was not taking the German threat seriously. Fellow members of Parliament generally ignored him or derided his claims as warmongering.

On Sept. 30, 1938, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain proclaimed his talks with Hitler a success because peace between the two nations they led was upheld. But the so-called Munich Agreement — permitting Germany to annex German-speaking regions of Czechoslovakia — signed by Chamberlain and Hitler was only words to the German dictator.

Oct. 5, 1938, in a speech before the House of Commons, Churchill observed:

“So far as this country is concerned the responsibility must rest with those who have had the undisputed control of our political affairs. They neither prevented Germany from rearming, nor did they rearm themselves in time.”

Less than a year later, Hitler’s army had invaded Poland. Failed diplomatic efforts by Chamberlain moved Great Britain to declare war on Germany on Sept. 3, 1939.

Keep reading our series about Winston Churchill's numismatic legacy:

The year 2015 marks the 50th anniversary of the death of Sir Winston Spencer Churchill

Coins, medals recognize Winston Churchill served his nation in its time of greatest need

Post-war coin and medal issues pay tribute to Winston Churchill in his final years

Medallic items are more abundant than coins and notes honoring Sir Winston Churchill

In 2016 Great Britain will honor Churchill on £5 notes, the nation's first polymer notes

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