DURING Britain's darkest hours in World War Two, Winston Churchill's leadership was vital in maintaining morale, galvanising a spirit of defiance and leading the country to eventual victory over the Nazis.

His status as a national hero remains undimmed to this day. Depictions of him in films, such as the Oscar-winning Darkest Hour starring Gary Oldman, help to preserve his memory for the current generation and fuel the image of a wartime leader who embodied all that is best about our national spirit - doggedly determined, independent of spirit, eloquent, witty, educated.

The problem with such mythologizing is that it takes us further from the truth about Britain’s great wartime leader. 

It is perhaps comforting, as we face up to the massive challenges which Brexit will bring to imagine that bulldog spirit and stirring speeches are all one needs to get through a sticky spell in Europe. But there is a danger in Churchill gaining iconic status, where no-one dares question his legacy, that our view of this complex and contradictory figure is as a one-dimensional superhero rather than a fully-rounded human being with admirable qualities and some that are troubling.

Had Churchill had the opportunity to sit down with Hitler, for example, he may have found that, while they were worlds apart on key issues such as democracy and humanity, they shared common ground on matters pertaining to empire building and racial supremacy.

In 1902 Churchill said: “Aryan stock is bound to triumph.”

In 1937, to the Palestine Royal Commission, he stated: “I do not admit... a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America or the black people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race... has come in and taken their place.”

He defended British use of concentration camps in South Africa, which he claimed produced “the minimum of suffering” – the death toll has been estimated at 42,000 amongst Boers and black South Africans. 

During Indian resistance to British rule, Churchill declared that he “hated” Indians, “a beastly people with a beastly religion”.

In 1920, during the Iraqi revolt against British Mandate in Mesopotamia, he declared in a government memo that he was “strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes”.

Some of these views would have been commonly held at time but that does not make them any more palatable now.    

By all means venerate Churchill for his brilliant wartime leadership but let’s not forget his darker hours.