May 10, 1940. Winston Churchill is appointed Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. At 65 years old he was seen as the best person to lead the country through World War II. His predecessor, Neville Chamberlain, resigned on May 10 after much criticism of his leadership. Churchill had been one of the most vocal critics of Chamberlain’s attempts to appease Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany, telling Chamberlain in parliament “You were given the choice between war and dishonour. You chose dishonour, and you will have war.”
Churchill’s stirring rhetoric helped prepare Britons for the harsh realities of a sustained conflict. Five years almost to the day after taking office, Germany surrendered but Churchill lost elections one month later.
Also on May 10: Louis XVI becomes King of France (1774); J. Edgar Hoover begins his 48-year directorship of the FBI (1924); Bill Haley and His Comets release ‘Rock Around the Clock’ (1954); Nelson Mandela is sworn in as South African president (1994).
Born on May 10: Fred Astaire (1899), Sid Vicious (1957), Bono (1960), Dennis Bergkamp (1969).
Back in the Day: Churchill enters No.10