Autumn/Winter 1881 (Age 6)
Lord Randolph Churchill and his family had settled in at 29 St. James’s Place, London. Notwithstanding his narrow return by Woodstock and his low standing with the Prince of Wales, Lord Randolph had begun his meteoric rise within the Tory Party. The Tories, WSC later wrote, were in disarray, "outmatched in debate, outnumbered in division. What political prophet or philosopher surveying the triumphant Liberal array would have predicted that this Parliament, from which so much was hoped, would be indeed the most disastrous and even fatal period in their party history? Who could have foreseen that these dejected Conservatives in scarcely five years, with the growing assent of an immense electorate, would advance to the enjoyment of 20 years of power?"
This was the political background, Randolph Churchill wrote, against which Winston was to live the four sensitive years of his life between the ages of five and nine. St. James’s Place was to be Winston’s home for the next two years; then, after Lord and Lady Randolph had again visited the United States, the family moved to 2 Connaught Place. But it was from Blenheim, in this winter 100 years ago, that came Winston’s first known letter to his mother:
"My dear Mamma: I hope you are quite well I thank you very very much for the beautiful presents those soldiers and Flags and Castle they are so nice it was so kind of you and dear Papa. I send you my love and a great many kisses. Your loving Winston."
His mother, Churchill would later write in "My Early Life," always seemed "like a fairy princess: a radiant being possessed of limitless riches and power. She shone for me like the Evening Star. I loved her dearly — but at a distance." His relationship with his mother was to improve drastically from these tenuous beginnings. It was she who would play a great part in advancing his early career.
Autumn 1882 (Age 8)
With Lord Randolph's illness in a remission stage, he was active in the campaign against dual control of the Conservative Party by Salisbury in the Lords and Northcote in the Commons. In December he rested on the Riviera and in Algiers. Jennie remained in London, having contacted what was eventually diagnosed as typhoid.
Winston, meanwhile, had been enrolled in St. George's School at Ascot. Although he wrote his parents that "I am very happy at school," he later recalled (in MY EARLY LIFE, Woods A37) "how I hated this school." He certainly made little progress. In his first term report in December he placed last in his class. His parents were informed that Winston was "a regular pickle" who must treat his work far more seriously.
This unhappy period was presaged by Winston's rather unpleasant experience the first day he met his Form Master. He was asked to learn the declensions of mensa, the Latin word for "table." When he had the temerity to ask the meaning and use of the vocative case, he was told he would use it when addressing a table. "But I never do," he replied. He was then sternly informed: "If you are impertinent, you will be punished, and punished, let me tell you, very severely."
Thus began what he called a "hateful servitude" and a distaste for the classics "from which, I have been told, many of our cleverest men have derived so much solace and profit." Winston clearly did not enjoy this experience. Seeing no reason to ever use strange tongues, he never learned to write a Latin verse. Nor did he accomplish any Greek, except for the alphabet. He was deemed a very naughty boy, and was among the school leaders only in receiving birchings. At St. George's, these were administered with a harshness that was singular - even for the Victorian Age.
Lord and Lady Randolph’s political and social prospects were improving. Lord Randolph had decided that the Fourth Party should fill a vacuum on the political left and "steal the Radicals’ clothes." He and Sir John Gorst accelerated their attacks on the Gladstone Liberals, and their own party.
Lady Randolph, recuperating from an illness more serious than she realized, planned the move into 2 Connaught Place, near Marble Arch. On the same site only 40 years before, criminals had been publicly executed; in fact, when alterations were made, a mass grave was found in the cellars! At the time, however, it was better known as one of the first private homes in London to have electric lighting.
The Churchills were gradually being accepted back into a society which had ostracized them because of a dispute involving the Prince of Wales. Some historians have stated that reconciliation took place at this time, and that Winston and Jack were presented to the Prince at a dinner given by Lord and Lady Randolph. According to the official biography the reconciliation did not take place for another year; though Lady Randolph accepted an invitation to attend the Queen at Windsor on 14 March, there is no record of Lord Randolph having accompanied her.
Lady Randolph wrote her husband that Winston had returned from his unsuccessful first term at school "slangy and loud," that he was taking great pleasure in teasing "baby. Jack," and that Lady Randolph would have to "take him in hand." Even Jack was accusatory. Asked by Sir Henry Drummond Wolff if was being good, the little boy replied, "Yes, but brother is teaching me to be naughty."
Even to his political enemies Lord Randolph Churchill stood out as "perhaps the one man of unblemished promise in his party," but he excoriated the Tories as much as the Liberals. The state of war escalated when he objected to Lord Northcote's selection as eulogist for the unveiling of the statues of Disraeli. Against the advice of his friends, Lord Randolph railed against Northcote in The Times letters column, for which he was denounced by almost every Conservative Member and newspaper in London. But the provinces remained loyal to him.
His reputation in the House was completely restored with a speech in reply to Gladstone on the chronic Bradlaugh Question (whether a Member could affirm rather than swear his allegiance in the House). He was seen as the only Tory in the House who was Gladstone's equal.
In a May article, "Elijah's Mantle," Lord Randolph lamented the loss of "Dizzy," outlining his conception of Tory Democracy and speculating on the next Tory leader. He hoped to be its recipient and many believed this was his destiny. Punch showed a cartoon of "Little Lord R," standing before Disraeli's statue, dreaming that "they'll have to give me a statue-some day!!"
At the unveiling, each Conservative Member wore a primrose, Disraeli's favorite flower. Sir Henry Wolff suggested to Lord Randolph that they form an association with the primrose as a symbol. "Let's go off and do it at once," Lord Randolph replied. Thus arrived the Primrose League an association that would also facilitate the active entry into politics of Lady Randolph Churchill.
Despite the defection of Arthur Balfour, the Fourth Party continued to be a significant influence in British politics. Lord Randolph Churchill was viewed as one of the few parliamentary equals of Gladstone. Indeed, he was warned that his attacks might kill the Prime Minister. "Oh no!" he replied. "He will long survive me. I often tell my wife what a beautiful letter he will write to her, proposing my burial in Westminster Abbey."
In early July, the Duke of Marlborough died and his shaken son Randolph returned to Blenheim to grieve, canceling all public appearances and refusing to attend Parliament for the remainder of the year. He then took his wife and son for a short holiday to Germany, where they observed Bismarck on his walks and dined with the Kaiser. "We talked banalities," RSC wrote ... "I have reason to believe that the fame of the Fourth Party has not yet reached the ears of this despot."
Winston was still unhappily attending St. George’s School in Ascot. In one month he was late 19 times. His general conduct was improving but his teachers reported that he did not know the meaning of hard work and he still ranked last in his class. His composition was "very feeble"; his grammar was "improving"; his writing was "good but so terribly slow"; his spelling was "about as bad it well can be." Not surprisingly, his best subject was history.
Following the death of his father, Lord Randolph toured Europe with Jennie. On their return he was reluctant to reenter political life and his brother, the new Duke, persuaded him to activate the Harriers. For weeks he spent hours at the kennels and also became interested in the proposed Oxford-Woodstock railway. Many wondered whether his loss of interest in politics was permanent but because he was easily the most popular Tory speaker, he received numerous invitations to speak. He finally consented to deliver three speeches in Edinburgh in December.
He had not been neglecting the Tory Democratic movement nor the party machine. While at Blenheim he made plans to obtain control of the National Union of Conservative Associations from the influential Conservative MPs and the Cariton Club. At the Conservative Conference at Birmingham, he declared war on the Central Committee of the party because it was not responsible to the general body. He said he hoped "before long to see Tory working men in Parliament," and that the Conservatives would never gain power until they "gained the confidence of the working classes."
Winston, meanwhile, said the master at St. George's, "began well but latterly has been very naughty! On the whole he has made progress . . . though at times he is still troublesome." His composition was "very variable" and once again, history was his best subject. He wrote his mother of a school excursion to "hampton cort palace" and began to show an early awareness of his father's profession with a reference to Charles Bradlaugh, a radical MP.
During the first term of 1884 young Winston finally exhibited an improved performance at St. George’s School. His Division Master was "more satisfied with him than I have ever been," but cautioned that there was still much room for improvement. His Head Master commented that perhaps Winston was "beginning to realize that school means work and discipline," but complained that Winston was "rathe.r greedy at meals." Many years later WSC’s son and biographer defended his father’s culinary behavior with some rather caustic judgments of the food at English public (private) schools.
Meanwhile, Lord Randolph Churchill’s withdrawal from public life proved unpermanent. At Blenheim he plotted an attack on the Central Committee of the Conservative Party formed chiefly, according to WSC, "of members of the Carlton Club." The first step was to gain control of the Council of the National Union of Conservative Associations. But Lord Randolph maintained cordial relations with Lord Salisbury and Sir Stafford Northcote, the Conservative leaders in the Lords and Commons respectively, and concentrated his attacks on Liberal leader William Gladstone. The most famous occasion was the "chips speech," alluding to Gladstone’s hobby of cutting trees, leaving only wooden chips: "To all who leaned upon Mr. Gladstone, who trusted in him, and who hoped for something from him — chips, nothing but chips — hard, dry, unnourishing, indigestible chips!"
A few days after the ‘chips’ speech, Lord Randolph announced that he would carry the banner of Tory Democracy in the next general election in Birmingham —the bastion of Liberal radicals John Bright and Joseph Chamberlain. The entire country, including St. George’s School, was abuzz with the challenge. Winston wrote his mother: "Mrs. Kynnersley went to Birmingham this week. And she heard that they were betting two to one that Papa would get in for Birmingham."
Meanwhile, Lord Randolph was continuing his attempt to obtain the Chairmanship of the National Union of Conservative Associations, and to increase its power at the expense of the Central Committee. The latter body. controlled finances and policy and was dominated by the Party leadership.
One ploy frequently used by Lord Randolph in his political battles was the threat of resignation. This time it was a successful tactic. He submitted his resignation as Chairman of the National Union but the response of the numerous deputations from within the Party resulted in his re-election.
Lord Northcote wrote his fellow Conservative leader Lord Salisbury: "I don’t want to get into a fight with the Fourth Party unless we are to win it." Nor did Salisbury, and most likely a compromise was forged between Salisbury and Lord Randolph on the terms which would bring the latter into the next Conservative government.
Winston was showing improvement in his academic subjects but his conduct was deteriorating. The Headmaster reported:
"He is a constant trouble to everybody and is always in some scrape or other. He cannot be trusted to behave himself anywhere."
Lord Randolph’s reelection as Chairman of the Council of the National Union of the Conservative Party forced the realization on the Party’s parliamentary leadership that they must now compromise with him. But it was not without some trepidation. Northcote wrote Salisbury that "Randolph is going in boldly and will ride Tory Democracy pretty hard."
To patch up the quarrel, Lord Randolph agreed to work harmoniously with Lord Salisbury who, in turn, would treat the supporters of Churchill with the fullest confidence; the Central Committee of the Party was to be abolished; Lord Randolph was to relinquish the Chairmanship of the National Union; the Primrose League was to be officially recognized; and Lord Salisbury agreed to give a dinner to celebrate the reunification of the Tory Party. Clearly, Lord Randolph would be offered and would accept a post in the expected Tory government after the next election.
Meanwhile, Winston was improving somewhat at school. History and Geography were, as always, very good and his language subjects were showing improvement. His diligence and general conduct were improved a little but he was still occasionally causing a great deal of trouble. His headmaster, noting that he would be promoted, hoped that he would make a good start in the new division: "He might always do well if he choses." This hope would never be fulfilled at that school. Lord and Lady Randolph removed their son from St. George’s School, Ascot, at the end of the Summer Term.
Perhaps because Mrs. Everest had seen the results of the birchings, young Winston was removed from St. George’s to a Brighton school run by the sisters Kate and Charlotte Thomson. His memories of Brighton were happier: "There was an element of kindness and of sympathy. ..I was allowed to learn things which interested me: French, History, and lots of Poetry by heart, and above all Riding and Swimming."
Winston’s memories notwithstanding, his initial report card did not indicate a successful beginning. Indeed in most subjects he was at or near the bottom of the class. But the ever-supportive and positive schoolmistress was not concerned. She noted "a decided improvement in attention to work towards the latter part of the term" and advised his parents that the marks "are almost valueless as frequent absence from the schoolroom made competition with other boys very difficult."
Lord Randolph was meanwhile embroiled again in political controversy, most notably riots at Aston Park in Birmingham. Both he and Lady Randolph were escorted from danger when
Liberal followers of Joseph Chamberlain broke up a Tory rally.
The incident led to an intense cooling of relations between the Churchills and the Chamberlains.
Tory prospects at the forthcoming general election were excellent and, in anticipation of his appointment as Secretary of State for India, Lord Randolph set out on a tour of that subcontinent in December.
Winston prospered in his new school at Brighton. He wrote Lady Randolph that he was quite happy and other family members commented on his improved demeanor. His grand- mother, Mrs. Leonard Jerome, wrote that his Aunt Clara had informed her that he was "such a nice, charming boy." But Winston obviously perceived his behavior somewhat differently. After his Christmas visit home he wrote his mother, "You must be happy without me, no screams from Jack or complaints. It must be heaven on earth." He wrote his mother frequently. She did not often reply but she did visit his school in February. He also attempted to open a correspondence with his father who was visiting India. None of the letters were answered. His letters show a growing fascination with his father's prospering political career and a beginning of a lifetime interest of his own in the Indian subcontinent. One letter compared India's warmth with the winter cold at home, requested information on a tiger hunt, and asked whether or not the Indians were "very funny." He wishes his father well in the land of ants and mosquitoes. AU members of the Churchill family were fascinated with their famous relative. Leonard Jerome wrote Jennie from New York that "I have watched with wonder Randolph's rise in the political world." With similar wonder, fascination and with much love, young Winston followed his father's career and shared it with his school friends. Such was Lord Randolph's popularity that his son informed him that everybody wanted his signature and would he please send a few for Winston to pass among his friends.
Winston's term report from Brighton indicated that he was making very satisfactory progress. In most of his subjects he stood in the middle of his class, but in conduct he ranked last out of 29 students. He continued to plead with his father for autographs to show friends, noting that he was willing to settle for a scribbled signature at the end of a letter. There was no parental response. But Lord Randolph's letters to the rest of his family were a delight. After observing Hindu cremations, he wrote that any Hindu whose ashes are thrown into the Ganges "goes right up to heaven without stopping, no matter how great a rascal he may have been. I think the G.O.M. (Gladstone] ought to come here; it is his best chance!" On his return from India Winston's father addressed a Primrose League Banquet. After fulminating against Gladstone's Liberals, he described England's role in India as "a sheet of oil spread over a surface of, and keeping calm and quiet and unruffled by storms, an immense and profound ocean of humanity ... to give peace, individual security and general prosperity to 250 million people . . . to weld them by the influence of our knowledge, our law and our higher civilization ... and to offer the West the advantages of tranquility and progress in the East. " Many years later, Winston could subscribe to Lord Roseberry's response to Lord Randolph's remarks: "The diction is by no means perfect, but the idea is little less than sublime."
Winston continued his improvement in the Misses Thomson's school in Brighton. His report indicated that "if he continues to improve in steadiness and application, as during this term, he will do very well indeed." He was first in his class in classics and in the top half in all subjects except drawing. But in conduct, he was still last out of 30 students. He became an accomplished rider and, as the weather improved, developed an active interest in cricket. His letters show a maturing writing style and a growing interest in world affairs. He asked his mother to send The Times' account of the funeral of Victor Hugo. I For part of the summer holidays, he was sent to Chesterfield Lodge in Cromer. The weather was agreeable but he missed the family and found the governess "very unkind, so strict and stiff." Lord Randolph, thinking he was on the way to being "king" himself, played the role of king-maker within the Tory Party and led the Fourth Party assault on Gladstone. He dominated the House of Commons and became the best-known and most popular politician in the country. His power was such that when the Liberal Government was defeated in the House and the Tories reluctantly assumed power prior to the anticipated general election, Lord Randolph informed Lord Salisbury that he would not join the Government if Sir Stafford Northcote remained as Commons leader. Acknowledging Churchill's demagogic influence with the two million newly-enfranchised voters, Salisbury and the Queen relented, and a stunned North- cote went to the Lords as the Earl of Iddesleigh. Lord Randolph then joined the First Salisbury Cabinet as Secretary of State for India.
As Secretary of State for India, Lord Randolph Churchill became increasingly irritated as Queen Victoria lobbied to have her son, the Duke of Connaught, appointed to the Bombay Command. Winston later reported that Lord Randolph "resisted the appointment with an obstinate determination." What the son could not reveal, for obvious reasons, was that his father had developed an active distrust of the Royal Family. In Randolph's view, "in actual hostilities Royal Dukes are a source of great embarrassment, discontent and danger." This dispute occasioned Lord Randolph's first resignation from Lord Salisbury's Cabinet, but it was quickly withdrawn. A more important issue was the question of Home Rule for Ireland. Churchill thought it impossible but agreed to meet the Irish half way. When they declined to reciprocate, he kept his own counsel and said little publicly on the issue. in the November General Election, Lord Randolph was defeated by John Bright in Birmingham despite the active involvement of Lady Randolph and the Duchess of Marlborough. One voter told Lady Randolph, "I like your husband and I like what he says. But I can't throw off John Bright like an old coat." Churchill was elected in South Paddington the next day. Back in school in Brighton, Winston asked his mother for "half a quid or 10 bob if you know what that is." He also enquired about a visit from his father, but after Lord Randolph made a political trip to Brighton without visiting his son, Winston wrote him, "I cannot think why you did not come to see me ... I was very disappointed, but I suppose you were too busy."
The overall result of the November General Election was a political deadlock with Charles Parnell's Irish Nationalists holding the balance of power. In the ensuing months, English politics was monopolized by the Irish question and Lord Randolph played a prominent role in the intrigues and machinations between both major parties and the Irish. One biographer later wrote, "1886 may well be the most important period in Churchill's life, but it can hardly be called his finest hour." One of Randolph Churchill's political strategies was a plan to unite with the Whig faction of the Liberal Party. But within his own party he despised the Ulster Unionists. He wrote Lord Salisbury about "those abominable Ulster Tories who are playing the devil in Northern Ireland ... I foresee enormous difficulties in the future with Parnell's party."
At the end of January, Salisbury's Tories resigned and the Third Gladstone Ministry was formed. While Gladstone prepared an Irish policy, Lord Randolph prepared for his own visit to Ireland. In February, he wrote,"I decided some time ago that if Gladstone went for Home Rule, the Orange card would be the one to play. Please God it may turn out the ace of trumps and not the two." Later, he uttered the phrase that became the "ace of trumps" for all opponents of Home Rule: "Ulster will fight, and Ulster will be right." Winston's contact with his family was only by letter. One remark to his brother Jack was particularly humorous in light of his later scholastic record: "When I come home I must try and teach you the rudiments of Latin."
Actively Involved in dramatics in his Brighton school, Winston pleaded with his parents to come to see him perform. To his mother he wrote: "Now you know I was always your darling and you can't find it in your heart to give me a denial."
She could and she did. His father, Lord Randolph Churchill. was busy playing out the most sensational act in his short political career. He was only thirty-seven years old.
On 20 December, 1885while visiting Windsor Castle, Lord Randolph wrote Lord Salisbury that he could not support the Government's financial proposals to finance the army. The Prime Minister declined to accommodate his recalcitrant minister so Lord Randolph shared the correspondence concerning his resignation with The Times. The winner in this struggle for power within the Government was not immediately clear, but Lord Randolph was unaware of the extent of the personal feeling against him. The Prime Minister stood firm even though it took him 11 days to find a new Chancellor of the Exchequer. When asked why he did not bring Lord Randolph back into the cabinet, Lord Salisbury replied: "Have you ever heard of a man having a carbuncle on his neck wanting it to return?"
On January 30 Lord Randolph left England for a holiday in the Near East. He was bitter and angry, not the least because his successor refused to purchase his official robes as Chancellor of the Exchequer. Fortunately, this ensured that they would be available for the use of his son when Winston assumed the same office nearly 40 years later.
The highlight of young Winston's year was the visit of his nanny, Mrs. Everest (Woom), and his brother Jack, to his school at Brighton. Despite many pleadings Lord and Lady Randolph had declined to visit their son at school, but when the young boy's life was seriously threatened by pneumonia the parents rushed to his bedside. The constant attention of Dr. Robson Roose, the family physician who came down from London, may have been the critical factor in saving Winston's life. Both Lord Salisbury, the Prime Minister, and the Prince of Wales enquired about the boy's health.
In April Lord Randolph made an infrequent visit to his recovering son and presented the delighted boy with a toy steam locomotive. Lord Randolph's political life was as anxious as his personal affairs. Joseph Chamberlain and other Liberals split with Gladstone over Home Rule for Ireland.
Throughout the spring, feverish activity dominated the Houses of Parliament as the dissident Liberals negotiated with both the Prime Minister and the Tories. Gladstone pleaded for support for his Bill for the Better Government of Ireland: "Think, I beseech you, think well, think wisely, think not for a moment but for the years that are to come ...... But Home Rule was defeated. Lord Randolph's contribution to the defeat was private and behind the scenes. He was the emissary with Chamberlain. But before a crowd in Manchester he coined the phrase "Unionist Party" to cover the divergent groups opposed to Home Rule, principally the Tories and the dissident Liberals under Joseph Chamberlain.
The defeat of the Home Rule Bill also brought down the Gladstone Government. In the ensuing General Election, the Tories and the Liberal-Unionists gained a clear majority over the Liberals and Irish Nationalists, and The Queen called on the 3rd Marquis of Salisbury to form a government. Lord Randolph Churchill's contribution to the Tory victory had been significant and, since he was the most popular Tory in the land, he was offered a major post in the new government. However, in the words of one of Randolph's friends, "you know what a creature of impulse he is and how he fancies neglect without cause, " and it was necessary for Lord Salisbury to court him assiduously. Winston observed his father's ascent from school in Brighton; his fascination and admiration for his parent were undiminished. Later he was to write of his father: "With a swiftness which in modern Parliamentary history had been excelled only by the younger Pitt, he had risen by no man's leave or monarch's favour from a private gentleman to almost the first position under the Crown."
Lord Randolph Churchill's performance as Chancellor of the Exchequer and Leader of the House of Commons earned him considerable praise. The Queen noted that he had shown "much skill and judgement in his leadership" and The Times declared that "no leader of the House of Commons in recent years has met obstruction, open or disguised, with more exemplary patience."
His 'bons mots' earned him some notoriety in the Treasury. Although he is reputed to have stated that he could never make out what those "damned dots meant' (decimals), Winston later cautioned readers not to take the comment too seriously.
The first budget was certainly not a Tory budget. His objective was economy but the strategy was to reduce taxes to benefit the lower middle classes and increase taxes on luxuries such as race-horses and cartridges for game-shooting. These proposals found little support among his Cabinet colleagues. He also differed with his peers over local government, Ireland and relations with Germany.
In his famous Dartford speech he disagreed with so many Government policies that Lord Rosebery commented' "Randolph will be out, or the Cabinet smashed up, before Christmas." Some party members pressed Lord Salisbury to get control of Randolph. but the Prime Minister told his wife, "The time is not yet."
Winston, watching his father's career with keen interest from his Brighton school, approved of the Dartford speech because it "cut the ground from under the feet of the Liberals." All contact with his parents was from a distance. His mother's social life was far too busy to permit a trip to Brighton. His father was travelling throughout Britain or holidaying on the continent. Even during a November excursion to Brighton there was no time to visit his son's school.
After precipitously offering his resignation to Lord Salisbury, Lord Randolph was now out of power. Winston loyally supported his father's interest in the Primrose League, a Conservative organization founded by Lord Randolph and Sir Henry Drummond Wolff in 1883 to honour the memory of Disraeli. On 24 May Winston wrote to Lady Randolph, "About a dozen boys have joined the Primrose League since yesterday. I am among the number and intend to join the one down here, and also the one which you have in London. Would you send me a nice badge as well as a paper of Diploma, for I want to belong to yours most tremendously."
London was adorned for the 50th anniversary of the reign of Queen Victoria. Young Winston wrote his mother that he hoped that she had not been looking for a letter from him because "I try to and think of sensible sentences for my letter but they are very hard to think of." He had no trouble thinking of a subject. He was so excited at the prospect of seeing the Jubilee that he implored his mother to request permission from the school for him to journey to London. "I am looking forward to seeing Buffalow [sic] Bill, yourself, Jack. Everest, and home. I would sooner come home for the Jubilee and have no amusement at all than stay down here and have tremendous fun."
He was particularly pleased to learn that his father had made tentative contacts regarding his admission to Harrow in the autumn. Lord Randolph was also attempting to form a new Centre party in alliance with disaffected Liberal, Joseph Chamberlain, and the Whig leader, Lord Hartington. The plans floundered on the lack of enthusiasm of Hartington, the refusal of Randolph's close friend, Lord Rosebery, to join them, and the public disagreement between Chamberlain and Churchill. While the latter two continued their close personal friendship, they agreed to terminate their political alliance. When told that Randolph was attempting to start a new Centre party, one wit commented: "Yes, all centre and no circumference."
The Headmaster of Harrow, the Rev. J.E.C. Welldon, promised to find a room for the boy "somewhere." Although six generations of Marlboroughs had attended Eton, it was decided that Harrow-on-the-Hill would be a healthier environment for Winston after his recent bout of pneumonia. Winchester had also been considered but Winston was happy that Harrow had been selected because he anticipated that the entrance examination would be less demanding. He was also pleased that he would be near the top of his History class and his "Conduct Marks" were the best he had ever had.
Winston hoped that his parents would come down for his birthday, but Lord and Lady Randolph were busy preparing for a seven-week visit to Russia. This journey caused some anxiety in both Court and Cabinet circles. The Queen informed Lord Salisbury, "Think it of great importance that the Foreign Government and the country should know that Lord Randolph is going simply on a private journey in no way charged with any message or mission from the Government." The Prime Minister assured Her Majesty that the "Charge d'Affaires at St. Petersburg has been instructed to let it be known that Lord R. Churchill does not represent opinions of either the Government or the country."
Young Winston had his own concerns about his parents' journey. Noting that he must now spend the holiday without them, he wrote that he would make the "Best of a bad job."
With his parents on a tour of Russia, Winston spent Christmas at Connaught Place with Jack and Mrs. Everest. The Duchess of Marlborough invited him to Blenheim and was "much aggrieved" when he showed a reluctance to go. When Mrs. Everest came down with diphtheria the boys were taken to Dr. Roose's house.
After they moved to the Duchess' London home in January, their grandmother wrote their parents, "I keep Winston in good order as I know you like it. He is a clever Boy and really not naughty but he wants a firm hand."
On 23 January he returned to his last term at Brighton. His grandmother looked forward to his eventual entrance to Harrow, "for I fancy he was too clever and too much the Boss at that Brighton school."
During February Winston claimed to be working hard for his forthcoming entrance exam for Harrow. On 15 March he took the examination. His own dramatic account of the event is found in My Early Life (Woods A37). He claimed that he was accepted only because the headmaster, Dr. Welldon, was a man "capable of looking beneath the surface of things: a man not dependent upon paper manifestations."
And so he left the school of the Misses Thomson. His own remembrances of these years were quite favourable: "At this school I was allowed to team things which interested me: French, History, lots of Poetry by heart, and above all Riding and Swimming. The impression of those years makes a pleasant picture in my mind, in strong contrast to my earlier schoolday memories."
Lord and Lady Randolph returned to England from a tour of Russia. His loyalty to the Tory Party was fragile and he was still greatly feared by Salisbury, Balfour and the Queen.
On 25 April Lord Randolph's opposition to his own party came into the open. When Balfour spoke in favour of a Private Member's Bill to extend Local Government in Ireland, Churchill was strongly critical of him. He thought he had the support of Joseph Chamberlain to oppose the Government but Chamberlain found the criticisms a little too sharp. Lord Randolph deeply resented what he considered a betrayal by his friend. When they made up, Chamberlain suggested that Lord Randolph must overcome his habit of making things so difficult for his friends.
In the main, Churchill remained silent in the House but it was apparent that he was becoming increasingly disillusioned with politics. When he was greeted by a supporter in St. James's Park with the wish that he hoped to see him again in the Cabinet, Lord Randolph replied: "I sincerely hope that you will not."
Lord Salisbury remarked that among Churchill's other problems, "his pecuniary position is very bad." This assessment certainly did not inhibit young Winston Churchill from making frequent requests for money from his parents. On April 17 he entered Harrow School as a member of H.O.D. Davidson's House. Within a week of arriving he wrote his mother for more money. "Most boys say they usually bring back £3 and write for more. . . Please send the money as soon as possible you promised me I should not be different to others."
Harrow at this time was in its golden age. Still in the country, it was separated from London by green fields. On a clear day they could even see Windsor. Winston was having difficulty resolving what surname he would live with. He wrote his father: "I am called, and written Spencer Churchill here and sorted under the S's. I never write myself Spencer Churchill but always Winston S. Churchill. Is it your wish that I should be so called? It is too late to alter it this term but next term I may assume my Proper name."
Winston's son later told the story that when visitors to Harrow looked for the child of the famous Lord Randolph Churchill at "Bill," the Harrow roll-call, they were heard to remark, "Why, he's the last of all," as he filed by in alphabetical order.
We do not have many comments by Winston Churchill on religion but in an essay on 'Palestine in the Time of John the Baptist' he made the following assessment of the Pharisees: "Their faults were many. Whose faults are few? For let him with all the advantages of Christianity avouch that they are more wicked than himself, he commits the same crime of which he is just denouncing them."
Winston did not have a successful term at Harrow School. The Assistant Master wrote Lady Randolph in July that her son was not 'willfully troublesome; but his forgetfulness, carelessness, unpunctuality, and irregularity in every way, have really been serious" and requested that the matter be discussed at home. Even then, Winston was exhibiting a life-long habit of being "regular in his irregularity."
The teachers were, however, impressed by his ability and suggested that he ought to be at the top of his classes, whereas he was often at the bottom." He is a remarkable boy in many ways, and it would be a thousand pities if such abilities were made useless by habitual negligence." Winston's defence was that he was "not lazy and untidy but careless and forgetful."
His teachers were particularly pleased with his work in history and be was memorizing Macaulay's Lays of Ancient Rome, and Shakespeare. He loved singing and claimed that he was one of the most prominent trebles in the school: "Of course I am so young that my voice has not yet broke and as trebles are rare I am one of the few."
He was also "cheeky" in his relationships with his peers. One day he pushed a fellow student into the swimming pool. In retaliation the victim angrily threw him into the deepest part of the pool. On being told that the other student was a Sixth Form boy, Head of his House and a Champion at Gym, Winston apologized with the remark: "I am very sorry. I mistook you for a Fourth Form boy. You are so small." Noting the boy's chagrin at that comment, he quickly added: "My father, who is a great man, is also small." The other boy was Leo Amery, afterwards a Cabinet colleague of Churchill's.
Lord Randolph's opposition to some Government policies was still prominent in the news. One focus of his resistance was the proposal to build a tunnel under the English Channel. In a House debate he ridiculed the suggestion that the tunnel could be destroyed in an emergency by the pressing of a button. "Imagine, " said Lord Randolph, pointing at the Treasury Bench, "a Cabinet Council sitting in the War Office around the button. Fancy the present Cabinet gathered together to decide who should touch the button and when it should be touched." The laughter in the House made him forget his final remark: "Fancy the Rt. Hon. gentleman, the member for Westminster [W.H. Smith] rising at length in his place with the words, 'I beg to move that the button be now touched'."
At Harrow, Winston was showing the advantages of his prodigious memory and his love for history and literature. He entered a competition with boys older than he (some were 17) which required him to "learn and work up the notes in Merchant of Venice, Henry VIII and Midsummer Night's Dream." He finished fourth out of 25.
He wrote his mother about a lecture on the phonograph by Col. Gouraud, a tall Yankee who had met his father: "It was very amusing he astonished all sober-minded People by singing into the Phonograph: 'John Brown's Body lies Mouldy in the grave, And his soul goes marching on, Glory, glory, glory Halleluja.' And the Phonograph spoke it back in a voice that was clearly audible in the Speech Room." [WSC's spelling apparently still left a lot to be desired.]
He continued to be positive about his work. "I feel 'working trim' and expect many rises in my position."
His mother visited him this term, and that was always an occasion of great happiness for Winston. He promised her that he would "be specially got up for the occasion. Nails, teeth, clothes, hair, boots, and person well brushed."
When Winston returned home for Christmas he became quite ill. His father hoped it was "nothing but biliousness and indigestion" but he did not recover until mid- January. "It was an awful rot spending one's holidays in bed." He again became ill and spent much of this term in the sickroom at Harrow.
Winston had entered Harrow in the hope that he would be taken into Headmaster Welldon's House. His immaturity had resulted in a longer stay than planned in another House but Welldon was now ready to receive him because "he has some great gifts and is making progress in his work."
Winston pleaded with his father to visit Harrow but this was not to happen for another six months, which would be a total of 18 months from the time the boy entered the school. Lord Randolph did send his son enough money to purchase a bicycle, which led to a fall and a stay in the sick-room to recover from a slight concussion.
In My Early Life, Churchill writes of an incident which occurred about this time during a visit home and which was to profoundly influence his future. "The day came when my father himself paid a formal visit of inspection [of his son's collection of toy soldiers]. All the troops were arranged in the correct formation of attack. He spent 20 minutes studying the scene - which was really impressive - with a keen eye and captivating smile. At the end he asked me if I would like to go into the Army, so I said "yes" at once: and immediately I was taken at my word. For years I thought my father with his experience and flair had discerned in me the qualities of military genius. But I was told later that he had only come to the conclusion that I was not clever enough to go to the Bar. However that may be, the toy soldiers turned the current of my life. Henceforward all my education was directed to passing into Sandhurst. "
From the time of his resignation Lord Randolph had been a somewhat unenthusiastic supporter of the Government but now the breech arrived. He had gradually lost most of his friends and supporters but everyone was happy to hear him speak in favour of the Government's position on allowances for the children of the Prince of Wales. However, on 26 July he spoke out against those mainstays of the Tory party, the brewers, and thus alienated most of his remaining friends within the party.
This was followed by an attack on Tory policy in Ireland. He said that Dickens's character Mr. Podsnap typified the Tory attitude on Ireland. "Mr. Podsnap was a person in easy circumstances, who was very content with himself and was extremely surprised that all the world was not equally contented like him; and if anyone suggested to Mr. Podsnap that there were possible causes of discontent among the people Mr. Podsnap was very much annoyed ... Podsnappery is rampant and rife in London, and I think this Podsnappery we ought to make a great effort to put down."
At Harrow young Winston prepared to go into the Army Class. A decision was required whether he was destined for Woolwich, the military academy for the Royal Artillery and Royal Engineers, or Sandhurst, the military academy for the infantry, cavalry and remaining arms. His teachers concluded that he was not good enough in Mathematics to pass into Woolwich and that he ought to set his sights on Sandhurst.
Lord Randolph Churchill had decided that Winston should enter the Army. Mr. Welldon, the Headmaster, told Lord Randolph that Winston was not good enough to pass into Woolwich, the military academy for the Royal Artillery and Royal Engineers, and that he should aim for Sandhurst, the school for infantry and cavalry.
In September Winston entered the Army Class at Harrow. Although his father visited him this term, the boy's behaviour was not good. He was required to receive a weekly report from his teachers and show them to his tutor. He did not like this and asked his mother to "jaw Welldon about keeping me on reports for such a long time." She did but it did not provide him with the release he desired.
He also remained in contact with his first form-master, Mr. Somervell. In My Early Life he paid tribute to the latter's teaching of the English language. Because of Mr. Somervell he wrote: "I got into my bones the essential structure of the ordinary British sentence - which is a noble thing. And when in after years my schoolfellows who had won prizes and distinction for writing such beautiful Latin poetry and pithy Greek epigrams had to come, down again to common English, to earn their living or make their way, I did not feel myself at any disadvantage. Naturally I am biased in favour of boys learning English. I would make them all learn English; and Greek as a treat. But the only thing I would whip them for is not knowing English. I would whip them hard for that. . . . "
Winston was ill much of the winter, first while visiting his parents for Christmas and then again back at Harrow. He gave the measles to his mother's friend, Count Kinsky, who reminded him that the measles are much worse for grown-up people. His parents left for Monte Carlo from where they'sent their son some fresh oranges. He wrote his father that the Conservative Club had hopes of getting Lord Randolph to visit because the Liberal Club seemed to be so active. Although he was doing better in school a friend wrote that he had heard that Winston has having some difficulties and asked if he had yet had three canes broken over him.
Winston was pleased that his father's racehorse, L'Abbesse de Jouarre, had won the Manchester Cup. He was not so pleased with the demands of the Army Class which required two hours of his time each day. As he put it: "Harrow is a charming place but Harrow and the Army Class don't agree." He would have preferred to take his military training in the militia. He received an admonishing letter from his mother. "You work in such a fitful in- harmonious way . . : your work is an insult to your intelligence. If you would only trace out a plan of action for yourself and carry it out and be detemtined to do so - I am sure you could accomplish anything you wish." Winston replied that his mother's letter had "cut me up very much" and, once again, he promised to do his very best in what remained of the school term.
Lord Randolph rented a summer place near Newmarket and the family enjoyed the success of the filly L'Abbesse de Jouarre. Family members gathered together but according to Shane Leslie, Winston's cousin, "Winston had few admirers among adults except for his aunt Leonie, and his beloved old nurse Mrs. Everest. " He simply refused to follow the usual rules of politeness to his elders.
But the children liked and followed him. The cousins spent their time digging out a fort in the garden called "The Den," which was intended to protect them from the "enemies of their country. " Winston dominated the group and strictly enforcw two rules - he was always general and there were no promotions.
On returning to Harrow he received an admonition from his mother about his smoking and a promise that he would receive a gun and a pony if he ceased the habit. He did for a short time. He began work on his preliminary examinations for Sandhurst with the following "support" from his father: "I do hope you will work hard for yr 'preliminary.' It will be quite a disgrace to yourself and to Harrow if you were to fail."
Lord and Lady Randolph were not confident that their son would pass the required examinations that could lead to his admission to Sandhurst. However, on 10 December Winston wrote and passed his "preliminary." He had studied hard for it but he later attributed his success to a piece of good luck. "We knew that among other questions we should be asked to draw from memory a map of some country or other. The night before by way of final preparation I put the names of all the maps in the atlas into a hat and drew out New Zealand. I applied my good memory to the geography of that Dominion. Sure enough the first question in the paper was: 'Draw a map of New Zealand.' This was what is called at Monte Carlo an en plein, and I ought to have been paid thirty-five times my stake. However, I certainly got paid very high marks for my paper."
He had other good luck: this was the last Sandhurst preliminary in which Latin was optional and the essay question was on the American Civil War, a topic he had discussed numerous times with his mother. Of twenty-nine Harrow candidates for this examination, only twelve passed all subjects. Winston enjoyed his success and knew that his parents would likewise be pleased, so he suggested to his mother that "a remittance would not be altogether misplaced."
Lady Randolph proudly wrote her husband that their son had passed the Preliminary Examination for Sandhurst in everything and had been placed in the special Sandhurst class. Although naturally happy with the results, Winston suffered from a bad throat infection which improved after he visited a seaside house near Cheveley. After Christmas he experienced several other health problems. A tooth infection required many visits to a series of dentists and a strain created a hernia condition which was finally repaired sixty years later. Lord Randolph was visiting South Africa in an elusive search for his own improved health. Lady Randolph stayed home but seldom visited her son who pleaded, "please do do do come." Winston was "adopted" by a close friend of his parents, Lady Wilton, who called herself "your Deputy Mother." Thoughout this time, the ever reliable Elizabeth Everest ("Woom") visited and wrote him.
Winston proudly read the letters his father published in the Daily Graphic about his experiences and impressions in South Africa.
In early July Winston went to stay with his Grandmama Marlborough in Grosvenor Square because his mother's social life was too full to accommodate him in his own home in Banstead. When Reverend Welldon of Harrow suggested that Winston should go to France and Germany for the summer in order to prepare to enter Sandhurst the boy began a campaign to circumvent that plan. He wrote his mother that he was sure that she would not send him to live with "some horrid French Family." His preference was to study at home with a governess or even, as he quoted his father, "a German scullery maid. "
Lady Randolph was unable to find an appropriate Governess and determined to send him to the continent but changed her mind when she found "a rather nice young man from Cambridge. " There is no record that this young man was of much assistance. A highlight of the summer was a visit with Count Kinsky, a friend of his mother, to the Crystal Palace to see the visiting German Kaiser.
Winston temporarily tired of his preparations for Sandhurst and suggested that he might be better suited for the church. In My Early Life he returned to this thought: "I might have gone into the Church and preached orthodox sermons in a spirit of audacious contradiction to the age." Later, his own son speculated on how "some ingenious writer might come to indite a thesis on the supposition that Winston Churchill had taken Holy Orders and had pursued a career in the Church of England: of how he had later crossed the aisle and joined the Church of Rome and had become a cardinal; and how in his old age he had reconciled himself to the Church of England. The theme could concern the reunification of Christian Churches around the year 1937 after the summoning of an ecumenical conference, and the avoidance of the Second World War; with his own acceptance in 1940 of the Papal Tiara and his installation as the first English Pope since Adrian III, 1154-59. This might have been celebrated by the retrocession of the Papal States to the Vatican by that magnanimous and pacific statesman Signor Mussolini; and by the consequent political unification of Europe under the double leadership of Britain and the Church of Rome."
In early October Lady Randolph wrote to her husband that she had been to Harrow to see Winston and Mr. Weildon: "I am delighted to be able to give you a very good account of Winston ... he has worked very hard and he thinks he is certain to pass in June." Later in the month Lady Randolph apologized to Winston for being remiss in not writing: ". . . but dear child your letters always have the same refrain ‘please send me money’. You do get through it in the most rapid manner." Mrs. Everest had been sending him money but even she was now required to refuse:
I cannot oblige you this time. It is utterly impossible unless you wish me to starve. I got into disgrace last time for doing it."
Parental suspicions existed in other matters. Lady Randolph wrote to Lord Randolph: "Winston is going in for his Confirmation. Perhaps it will steady him —Weildon wrote that Winston wished to become a candidate — I am afraid only because it will get him off other work."
Dr. Welidon thought the boy would benefit from study in France during the Christmas vacation, but Winston was less than pleased by these plans and pleaded not to go. He wrote his mother: "I beg and Pray that you will not send me to a vile, nasty, fusty, beastly French family." He asked to be allowed to spend Chrismas with his father, after which he would willingly go to France.
Lady Randolph objected to her son’s letters: ". . . the tone of your letter is not calculated to make one over lenient. When one wants something in this world, it is not by delivering ultimatums that one is likely to get it. You are old enough not to play the fool . .
Not easily trumped, Winston replied: "I should like to know if Papa was asked to give up his holidays when he was at Eton." Lady Randolph told her husband of the dispute: "I can’t tell you what trouble I have had with Winston this last fortnight; he has bombarded me with letters, cursing his fate and everyone."
In the end, Winston went quietly to Versailles. While there, his greatest displeasure was that his mother did not keep her promise to write frequently: "it seems to me that with you [it is] ‘out of sight and out of mind’ indeed. Not a line from anybody." Lady Randolph did not receive her son’s letters because she was away preparing a party for the Prince of Wales.
In France to study French, against his wishes, Winston was pleased to receive invitations to dine from aristocratic French friends of his parents. He also enjoyed a visit to the morgue but he was somewhat disappointed that there were "only 3 macabres — not a good bag."
After returning to Harrow Winston took up his pen with letters to The Harrovian, over a series of pseudonyms, particularly ‘Junius Junior.’ He complained of the use of the Speech Room tower as a classroom, of the constant playing of organ music and of the shortage of towels in the gymnasiurn dressing room. On one occasion the editors of The Harrovian omitted parts of his letter "which seemed to us to exceed the limits of fair criticism."
Churchill later recalled receiving the following admonition from the Reverend Mr. Welidon: "My boy, I have observed certain articles which have recently appeared in The Harrovian, of a character not calculated to increase the respect of the boys for the constituted authorities of the school. As The Harrovian is anonymous I shall not dream of inquiring who wrote those articles, but if any more of the same sort appear, it might become my painful duty to swish you.
Winston’s great achievement this term was the winning of a fencing championship. He reported to his mother that he was "far and away first. Absolutely untouched in the finals." He also wrote to his father about his accomplishments, asking for more money. Lord Randolph’s response focused on the financial request: "I send you £1 but you are really too extravagant ... If you were a millionaire you could not be more extravagant ... This cannot last, and if you are not more careful should you get into the army six months of it will see you in Bankruptcy Court."
The Harrovian recognized the achievements overlooked in the paternal response. The comments in the student paper indicated how Churchill would fight battles all of his life: ". . . his quick and dashing attack ... took his opponents by surprise." It would not be the last time that "Churchill must be congratulated on his success over all his opponents . .. many of whom must have been much taller and more formidable than himself."
In July, Winston was unsuccessful in writing an entrance examination for Sandhurst. He stood 390th out of 693 candidates. However, out of 415 candidates who wrote English History he stood eighteenth. Harrow's Headmaster, the Rev. Welldon, advised him that "in coming back to school you should be resolved to work not in fits and starts but with persistent industry" and that the "grammatical foundation of your languages is so uncertain that you lose marks which other boys gain." Lord Randolph wrote the Duchess of Marlborough that if the boy failed another examination which he would write in November "I shall think of putting him in business." When Winston returned to Harrow he was joined by his brother, Jack, who shared a room with him.
The Churchill family was in difficult financial straits and this forced them to give up 2 Connaught Place and move in with the Duchess of Marlborough at 50 Grosvenor Square. The Unionist Government was defeated that summer by the Gladstone Liberals and the Irish Nationalists. Lord Randolph sat in the Opposition backbenches. He commented that he preferred the Liberals and would have become one were it not for Home Rule.
Although Lord Randolph's friends noted a new irritability in his character, he provided a rare and therefore special moment in his son's life. In My Early Life, Churchill recalled this event: "Only once do I remember my father having breathed a word of complaint about his fortunes to me ... He had reproved me for startling him by firing off a double-barrelled gun at a rabbit which had appeared on the lawn beneath his windows. He had been very angry and disturbed. Understanding at once that I was distressed, he took occasion to reassure me. I then had one of the three or four long intimate conversations with him which are all I can boast. He explained how old people were not always very considerate towards young people, that they were absorbed in their own affairs and might well speak roughly in sudden annoyance. He said he was glad I liked shooting, and that he had arranged for me to shoot on September 1 such partridges as our small property contained. Then he proceeded to talk to me in the most wonderful and captivating manner about school and going into the Army and the grown-up life which lay beyond. I listened spellbound to this sudden complete departure from his usual reserve, amazed at his intimate comprehension of all my affairs."
The Churchills had been forced to move from 2 Connaught Place and move to 50 Grosvenor Square with the Duchess of Marlborough. In October they were also forced to relinquish Banstend. This was particularly distressing because Lady Randolph was seriously ill at the time with peritonitis.
In November Winston made his second attempt at the Entrance Examination into Sandhurst. He would not obtain his results until January but Reverend Welldon wrote the boy's parents that he was confident of success.
Winston's son, Randolph, would later write these comments about his father's schooldays: "The legend, partly fostered by himself, that Winston was a preternaturally stupid little boy has doubtless encouraged habits of indolence in many generations of other school-boys, and has no doubt often afforded some solace to their parents. We have seen enough of his work to denounce this legend as false. He was not stupid; indeed he early showed originality of mind. He was obstinate, rebellious and mischievous. No one could make him do or learn anything against his will. Unthinking school-masters found it easier to write him off as stupid than to scrutinize and adapt their own methods. Yet despite his ostensible failure at school, these unhappy years were far from wasted. His parents kept him at a distance and this, combined with his mutinous outlook at school, early compelled him to stand on his own feet and to make his way in the world by his own exertions and by his own methods. He had to fight every inch of his road through life; nothing came easily to him, not even oratory and writing, in which he was later to excel. To achieve success he had to develop that intense power of concentration that, as it grew, was to serve him and his fellow countrymen so well."
While playing hare and hounds, Winston experienced another miracle in his life: he survived an attempt to leap from a bridge to the top of a fir tree, but the twenty-nine foot fall ruptured his kidney. The Times grossly understated the extent of the injury when it reported that "he was very much shaken and bruised." His parents spared no expense in providing the best medical care but he was six weeks in recovery and should have been longer.
In My Early Life, Churchill related a joke told around the Carlton Club at the time: "I hear Randolph's son met with a serious accident." "Yes?" "Playing a game of 'Follow my Leader .. .. .. Well, Randolph is not likely to come to grief in that way! On 20 January Winston heard that he had once again failed the examination for entrance into Sandhurst. Lord Randolph con- sidered apprenticing his son with Rothschild or Cassel, but was con- vinced by Rev. WeUdon that the boy would pass the next attempt. He was sent to the "Blue Ribbon of Crammers," Captain Walter H. James, who, Churchill later wrote, could predict "with almost Papal infallibility the sort of question which that sort of person would be bound on the average to ask on any of the selected subjects." Winston was a challenge even for Captain fames. On 7 March James wrote Lord Randolph: "I think the boy means well but he is distinctly inclined to be inattentive and to think too much of his abilities ... land] ... he has been rather too much inclined up to the present to teach his instructors instead of endeavouring to learn from them. " Captain James was not amused when Winston told him that he knew enough history and did not want any more teaching in it!
Winston spent the term with Captain James preparing for his third attempt to get into Sandhurst. As always, mathematics was a struggle for him. 'I am assured [that mathematical skills] are most helpful in engineering, astronomy and things like that," he wrote, and I am glad there are quite a number of people born with a gift and a liking for all this." He was not one of those people. Calling for single-minded devotion to studies, Dr. James was worried that Winston was distracted by his father's political fortunes. However, by May he noted progress and in June he predicted success. He had forecast correctly. Winston came 95th out of 389, four places too low to get into the infantry, but enough to qualify for a cavalry cadet. Appropriately, he would not receive a charger promised by Aunt Lily, Lord Blandford's widow.
Success and Failure at School: Winston was jubilant that, after three attempts, he had passed into the Royal Military College at Sandhurst. Although he had achieved a standard which admitted him to the cavalry and not to his father's desired infantry regiment, he wrote what his own son later called 'a somewhat insouciant letter to Lord Randolph. He received 'one of the most formidable rebukes of Lord Randolph that survive.' He was told that his failure to meet infantry standards 'demonstrated beyond refutation your slovenly happy-go-lucky harum scarum style of work for which you have always been distinguished." His father predicted that if Winston could not prevent him-self "from leading the idle useless unprofitable life you had during your schooldays and later months, you will become a mere social wastrel, one of the hundreds of the public school failures, and you will degenerate into a shabby unhappy and futile existence." He told his son not to reply because "I no longer attach the slightest weight to anything you say about your own acquirements and exploits."
A crushed Winston replied, 'I am very sorry indeed that you are displeased with me' and promised he would 'try to modify your opinion of me.'
Sandhurst Victories: Winston entered the Royal Military College at Sandhurst as a cavalry cadet because he had not qualified for the infantry, a circumstance of great disappointment to his father. He would soon be grant-ed an opening in the infantry, but shortly after he entered school he was invited to attend a mess of the Fourth Queen's Own Hussars, a light cavalry regiment. That experience and his love of horses convinced him that a successful military career would most likely be with a cavalry regiment. Eventually he would serve in nine British regiments - the Fourth Hussars, Thirty- first Punjab Infantry, Twenty-first Lancers, South African Light Horse, Oxfordshire Hussars, Oxfordshire Yeomanry, Grenadier Guards, Royal Scots Fusiliers, and Oxfordshire Artillery,
The Churchill family financial fortunes were depressed, as were their political experiences. This resulted in the dismissal of Mrs. Everest, Winston's beloved 'Woom.' In October he wrote Lady Randolph, "... if I allowed Everest to be cut adrift without protest in the manner which is proposed I should be extremely ungrateful - besides I should be very sorry not to have her at Grosvenor Square - because she is in my mind associated more than anything else with home. She is an old woman - who has been your devoted servant for nearly 20 years - she is more fond of Jack and I than of any other people in the world and to be packed off in the way the Duchess [of Marlborough] suggests would possibly, if not probably, break her down altogether." Although Lord Randolph gave Mrs. Everest periodic "presents," she had to depend on her sisters for support. Nevertheless, she never forgot Jack and Winston on their birthdays and at Christmas.
Winston's first set of examinations at Sandhurst showed his inclination for military studies (maximum 300): Military Administration 230, Military Law 276, Tactics 278, Fortification 215, Military Topography 199. Of a possible 1500 marks he received 1198. His conduct was rated 'good but unpunctual."
Calvary and Horses:It was intended that Winston would join the 60th Rifles Infantry Regiment upon graduation from Sandhurst but his fervent desire to join the cavalry was expressed in a letter to his mother: "Promotions much quicker in Cavalry; Obtain your commission in Cav much sooner, 4th Hussars are going to India shortly. Cavalry regiments are always given good stations in India and generally taken care of by the Government; If you want to keep a horse you can do it much cheaper in the Cavalry. Sentimental advantages: uniform, increased interest of 'life among horses', advantages of riding over walk, advantages of joining a regiment some of whose officers you know. i.e. 4 Hussars."
The love of horses remained with him throughout his life. In My Early Life he wrote: "And here I say to parents, especially to wealthy parents, 'Don't give your son money, give him horses.' No one ever came to grief - except honourable grief - through riding horses. No hour of life is lost that is spent in the saddle. Young men have often been ruined through owning horses, or through backing horses, but never through riding them; unless of course they break their necks, which, taken at a gallop, is a very good death to die."
Swiftly Fading Shadows: Although Winston was almost twenty years old he still received letters of admonition from his father who thought that he wasted too much time and travelled to London too frequently. Lord Randolph wrote his wife that he had written Winston that "in all qualities of steadiness taking care of things and of not doing stupid things Jack is vastly his superior."
Unknown to his father Churchill was making plans for his future career. He was accompanied by Sir Julian Byng, who later commanded the Canadian Corps at Vimy Ridge and served as Governor-General of Canada, on a visit to the 4th Hussars, a cavalry regiment.
From his mother he received the following: 'A bird whispered to me that you did not sleep in yr own bed last night. Write to me all about it. I am not sure if Papa wld approve." Winston replied that his father only expressed disapproval about visiting London. Once again he expressed his career desire. "How I wish I were going into the 4th instead of those old Rifles. It would not cost a penny more and the regiment goes to India in 3 years which is just right for me. I hate the Infantry - in which physical weaknesses will render me nearly useless in service and the only thing I am showing an aptitude for athletically - riding - will be no good to me." The ambitious young man pointed out that "of all regiments in the army the Rifles is slowest for promotion." He knew that only when he did well at Sandhurst would it be the time to tackle his father on his career path.
When the opportunity arose, however, he declined to raise his specific wishes with his father. "It was very pleasant staying with Colonel Brabazon at Aldershot. He has made such a smart regiment of the 4th. They used to be considered very slack - bt he has worked a wonderful change. It was quite extraordinary how clean and smart the men were. It was the first time I have ever messed with a regiment - and the ceremony interested me very much.'
The deterioration of Lord Randolph's health was quite noticeable. Against his doctor's advice, he decided to embark, accompanied by Lady Randolph, upon a world tour. He telegraphed to the Secretary of State for War, Sir Henry Campbell-Banneman, a request that Winston be released from Sandhurst for 'my last day in England. 'Winston and lack came to London to see their parents depart. His father had less than a year to live. Winston later wrote of the event: 'We drove to the station the next morning - my mother, my younger brother and I. In spite of the great beard which he had grown during his South Africa Journey four years before, his face looked terribly haggard and worn with mental pain. He patted me on the knee in a gesture which however simple was perfectly informing. There followed his long journey round the world. I never saw him again, except as a swiftly-fading shadow."
Winston Churchill later wrote, "in the spring of 1894 it became clear to us all that my father was gravely ill," but when he said farewell as his parents embarked upon a world tour in June he was still unaware of just how grave it was. During the summer he began a stream of correspondence which totalled thirty letters before they returned.
While Lord Randolph rested in Bar Harbor, Maine, he wrote to his son to remind him that he was committed to enter the 60th Rifles infantry regiment and that he should forget about his wish for the 4th Hussars. Winston's heart and goal, however, remained on the cavalry regiment.
Lord and Lady Randolph headed west across Canada after a dispute with the President of the Canadian Pacific Railway over the costs of a private railway car. "A Canadian is not a generous American, wrote Lady Randolph.
Because of Lord Randolph's deteriorating health, they stopped at the Banff Springs Hotel in Alberta. Sitting on the terrace Lady Randolph wrote her sister that "it is the finest scenery in the Rockies and is certainly beautiful. I am surrounded by enormous mountains - and a cascade just below me falling into a pale green river winding away as far as the eyes can reach."
Her enjoyment of this idyllic setting was marred by Lord Randolph's moods. "He is very kind and considerate when he feels well - but absolutely impossible when he gets excited - and as he gets like that 20 times a day - you may imagine my life is not a very easy one."
Winston and Jack were in the care of their grandmother, the Duchess of Marlborough, who was encouraging Winston's entry into "good society." He was a challenge to her, a fact she frequently mentioned to his parents…he is affectionate and pleasant but you know he is mercurial" and "...there is nobody but me to keep him in order and you know he requires checking sometimes."
During an August visit to Switzerland Winston received his term marks from Sandhurst- Although he continued to do well, his marks had dropped a little, to which he attributed "the fact that the papers did not suit me quite as well as last time - being rather apart from the notes from which I worked."
In his final term at Sandhurst Winston became involved in a major social protest in London inspired, as he tells the story in My Early Life, by the Purity Campaign of Mrs. Ormiston Chant. Mrs. Chant, a member of the London County Council, attempted to inhibit communication between the promenade of the Empire Theatre and the bars around it. Her cause was championed by the Daily Telegraph.
Winston responded to a newspaper notice from The Entertainments Protection League and was invited to their founding meeting in a London hotel. He spent considerable fame and energy composing his first public address focusing on the protection of constitutional liberties, the inherent rights of British subjects, and the dangers of State interference in the social habits of its citizens. He even asked for tolerance for their misguided opponents. 'Was there not always more error than malice in human affairs?" Upon arriving at the somewhat shabby hotel, almost penniless because he had spent his entire allowance getting there, he discovered that he and the founder were the only people in attendance.
Notwithstanding that inglorious beginning, with other students he participated in a demonstration against the placement of partitions between the promenade and the bars. This occasion afforded him an opportunity to make his first public speech and he drew a parallel between tearing down the barricades and pulling down the politicians responsible for their construction. He recalled later how he had thought of "the death of Julius Caesar when the conspirators rushed forth into the street waving the bloody daggers with which they had stain the tyrant. I thought also of the taking of the Bastille..." The end result was quite different than those history-making events. In this case Winston's opponents won the County Council elections, the barricades were permanently reconstructed in brick and plaster and all his efforts were for nought.
Lord Randolph's health deteriorated during the round-the-world trip and they returned home from India. They reached London on 24 December and the death-watch began. Meanwhile Winston was graduating from Sandhurst, ranking high in his class. As he later commented, "I could learn quickly enough the things that mattered."
He had enjoyed Sandhurst and he would be exhilarated by his military career, but a poignant passage in My Early Life conveys the tragedy that his generation faced. "In contrast with my school days, I had made many friends, three or four of whom still survive. As for the rest they are gone. The South African War accounted for a large proportion not only of my friends but of my company, and the Great War killed almost all the others. The few that survived have been pierced through thigh or breast or face by the bullets of the enemy. I salute them all."
Churchill remembered his years at Sandhurst, from which he "retired" with a commission in the 4th Hussars, as "hard but happy." He felt that he had demonstrated that he "could learn quickly enough the things that mattered."
Thirty years later he made a poignant reflection on the fate of young soldiers of his generation. "In contrast with my school days, I had made many friends, three or four of whom still survive. As for the rest, they are gone. The South African War accounted for a large proportion not only of my friends but my company; and the Great War killed almost all the others."
Nevertheless, he continued, his world opened like Aladdin’s Cave. ‘From the beginning of 1895 down to the present time of writing I have never had time to turn around. I could count almost on my fingers the days when I have nothing to do. An endless moving picture in which one was an actor. On the whole Great Fun! But the years 1895 to 1900 which are the staple of this story exceed in vividness, variety and exertion anything I have known — except of course the opening months of the Great War."
The momentous years of the Second World War and the nuclear age lay ahead.
While at Aldershot, serving with the 4th Hussars, Winston learned of the final illness of Mrs. Everest, his beloved "Woom." He rushed to London and engaged a nurse to tend to her. He could not save her but he was sure that his presence eased her final pain.
The Regiment was his home and he was grateful that he was readily accepted: "I have a great many friends and I know my ground — I don’t think anybody realizes who does not know — how important a day in one’s life is the day one first joins a regiment. If you aren’t liked you have to go and that means going through life with a very unpleasant stigma."
He loved the cavalry, particularly what he later called "that greatest of all cavalry events —the Charge." He lamented its loss to war waged by "chemists in spectacles and chauffeurs pulling the levers of aeroplanes or machine guns." But when he was at Aldershot "the Dragoon, the Lancer and above all, as we believed, the Hussar still claimed their time-honoured place upon the battlefield. War, which used to be cruel and magnificent, has now become cruel and squalid. In fact it has been completely spoilt. It is all the fault of Democracy and Science."
His principal amusement was polo but he was also a perceptive observer of the political scene. His comments to his mother show a precocious political development.
Looking into his own future he saw politics, not the army. "It is a fine game to play — the game of politics and it is well worth waiting for a good hand before really plunging. At any rate — four years of healthy and pleasant existence — combined with both responsibility and discipline — can do no harm to me — but rather good. The more I see of soldiering the more I like it — but the more I feel convinced that it is not my metier."
Later in life Churchill reflected on his years in the Fourth Hussars. He recalled that the young officers envied the decorations and experiences of their senior colleagues and wondered whether their own chance to win glory would ever come.
The ever pro-active young Winston created his own opportunities by procuring permission to go to Cuba during his five months’ leave from the army. He also contracted I with the Daily Graphic for occasional reports.
He travelled to Cuba via New York. Although his mother warned he would find that city boring, his experience was quite the opposite. In America he first encountered a paper dollar, which he called "the most disreputable coin the world has ever seen." Nor was he impressed by American newspapers:
("... the essence of American journalism is vulgarity divested of truth") but he found "that vulgarity is a sign of strength. A great, crude, strong, young people are the Americans — like a boisterous healthy boy among enervated but well-bred ladies and gentleman."
When he finally saw Cuba he felt as if he had "sailed with Long John Silver and first gazed on Treasure Island." On his twenty-first birthday he "heard shots fired in anger, and heard bullets strike flesh or whistle through the air." Later he was in more immediate personal danger with bullets passing within a foot of his head.
From Cuba Churchill planned to bring back a quantity of Havana cigars to lay down in the cellar of his mother’s house. In Cuba he also learned the merits of a midday siesta, concluding that "the rest and spell of sleep in the middle of the day refresh the human frame far more than a long night. We were not made by Nature to work, or even to play, from eight o’clock in the morning till midnight."
Back home there was some criticism of Churchill’s escapades. One newspaper suggested that "sensible people will wonder what motive could possibly impel a British officer to mix himself up in a dispute with the merits of which he had absolutely nothing to do. Mr. Churchill was supposed to have gone to the West Indies for a holiday, having obtained leave of absence from his regimental duties at the beginning of October for that purpose. Spending a holiday in fighting other peoples’ battles is rather an extraordinary proceeding even for a Churchill."
NEW YORK newspapers announced that Churchill and a brother officer from the 4th Hussars had set sail for England on the Cunard liner Etruria. The New York World reported that he was returning "without a wound and with a conviction that there are few occupations more salubrious than that of a Cuban insurgent,". adding that, although Churchill I reached the Cunard dock only five I minutes before scheduled sailing I time, "the pleasant faced young officer submitted as gracefully to the requests of the waiting group of interviewers as though there were hours of leisure on his hands. Churchill concluded that interview by emphatically denying all reports attributing a political significance to his Cuban trip.
Back in England, as he later recalled, he "passed a most agreeable six months; in fact they formed almost the only idle spell I have ever spent." His definition of idle was peculiar to him. He lobbied Fleet Street for a foreign assignment —Crete, Egypt, Rhodesia — anything to avoid going back to India, an event he believed would delay his political career. He also assiduously developed social and political contacts.
He continued to observe the Cuban scene. Writing in the Saturday Review he noted that the Cuban rebels "neither fight bravely nor do they use their weapons effectively." Although he thought that the Spanish were bad, "a Cuban government would be worse, equally corrupt, more capricious and far less stable."
He predicted that improvements would come only with American control of the island, but he worried about problems between Britain and America over it. He wrote his Amen-can friend and mentor, Congressman Bourke Cockran, to "please be pacific and don’t go dragging the 4th Hussars over to Canada in an insane and criminal struggle."
Winston later called this period "among the most agreeable six months I have ever spent." He had just come through a particularly trying situation in which he successfully sued and received an apology from a father of a fellow cadet who resented Churchill’s role in an unseemly attempt to exclude the cadet from the 4th Hussars as "unsuitable."
Although on one occasion he was scolded by the Prince of Wales for arriving late at a social event, his encounters with society were generally quite favourable and augured well for a later political career. Among the famous and powerful he met "the former Home Secretary and future Prime Minister (Asquith); the Leader of the House, First Lord of the Treasury and another future Prime Minister (Balfour); the Colonial Secretary (Chamberlain); the Commander-in-Chief of the British Army (Wolseley); the President of the Local Government Board (Chaplin), the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (James); the President of the Probate Division and Judge Advocate General (Jeune); and the Lord President of the Council (Devonshire)." He also lobbied personally or through friends and family, Sir Herbert Kitchener regarding a Nile expedition, Sir Frederick Carrington regarding an expedition in Matabeleland and newspapers for special assignments
And this was the period which he later recalled as "the only idle spell I have ever spent!"
Sailing to India
Churchill prepared to embark or India with the 4th Hussars he found his future "utterly unattractive. I look upon going to India as useless and unprofitable exile. I feel that I am guilty of an indolent folly that I shall regret all my life." To his mother he wrote, "It is useless to preach the gospel of patience to me. Others as young are making the running now and what chance have I of ever catching up." Notwithstanding these concerns and many other pleas to his mother, he sailed for India on the Britannia on September 11th.
"The long Indian day..."
Churchill’s regiment, the 4th Hussars, arrived at Bombay Harbour and then travelled by train to Bangalore in southern India. In My Early Life, he wrote, "If you like to be waited on and relieved of home worries, India thirty years ago was perfection. All you had to do was to hand over all your uniform and clothes to the dressing boy, your ponies to the syce, and your money to the butler, and you need never trouble any more. Your Cabinet was complete; each of these ministers entered upon his department with knowledge, experience and fidelity.. .No toil was too hard, no hours too long, no dangers too great for their unruffled calm and their unfailing care. Princes could live not better than we.
A typical day began with reveille at 5:30 am., "a dusky figure with a clammy hand adroitly lifting one’s chin and applying a gleaming razor to a lathered and defenceless throat. By six o’clock the regiment was on parade, and we rode to a wide plain and there drilled and maneuvered for an hour and a half. We then returned to baths at the bungalow and breakfast in the Mess. Then, at nine, stable and orderly room till about half-past ten; then home to the bungalow before the sun attained its fiercest ray. The noonday sun asserted his tyrannical authority, and long before eleven o’clock all white men were in shelter. We nipped across to luncheon at half-past one in the blistering heat and then returned to sleep till five o’clock. Now the station begins to live again. It is the hour of Polo. It is the hour for which we have been living all day long. As the shadows lengthened over the polo ground, we ambled back perspiring and exhausted to hot baths, rest, and, at 8:30, dinner, to the strains of the regimental band and the clinking of ice in well-filled glasses. Thereafter those who were not so lucky were caught by the Senior Officers and made to play a tiresome game then in vogue called Whist. I sat smoking in the moonlight till half-past ten or eleven at the latest signalled the end. Such was "the long Indian day" as I knew it for three years; and not such a bad day either."
But Churchill wrote to Lady Randolph on 12 November that "nice people in India are few and far between. They are like oases in the desert. This is an abominable country to live long in. Comfort you get—company you miss. I meet few people worth talking to and there is every tendency to relapse into a purely animal state of existence." His discontent was based on his frustrated political ambitions. He wrote his mother that "If I can only get hold of the right people my stay here might be of value. Had I come to India as an MP—however young and foolish—I could have had access to all who know and can convey.
He lamented that he was in India during a by-election in a friendly constituency in England. "Had I been in England I might have contested it and should have won—almost to a certainty. Instead of being an insignificant subaltern I should have had opportunities of learning those things which will be of value to me in the future."
Although he looked forward to leaving the army, he thought a campaign in Egypt would enhance his political prospects. He pleaded with his mother to arrange for him to accompany Kitchener’s advance up the Nile. "I should not have forgiven myself if an expedition started next year and I felt it was my own fault I was not there. I revolve Egypt continuously in my mind. Two years in Egypt my dearest Mamma—with a campaign thrown in—would I think qualified me to be allowed to beat my sword into a paper cutter and my sabretache into an election address."
"The University of My Life"
Churchill always regretted that he did not have a university education but he covered this disappointment with his famous wit. He once noted that he had received many more degrees than he had passed examinations. Nevertheless, he was extremely well-read. That process began while he was in India, a period which called "the university of my life."
His reading was prodigious. In the intense Indian heat he devoured Gibbon's eight-volume Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and twelve volumes of Macaulay. He thought that Macaulay "is easier reading than Gibbon and in quite a different style. Macaulay crisp and forcible, Gibbon stately and impressive. Both are fascinating and show what a fine language English is since it can be pleasing in styles so different."
He was, however, shaken by Macaulay's indictment of his famous forebear, the First Duke of Marlborough. In My Early Life, Churchill recalled how he had been misled by Macaulay: "There was no one at hand to tell me that this historian with his captivating style...was the prince of literary rogues, who always preferred the tale to the truth, and smirched or glorified great men and garbled documents as they affected his drama."
Reading "three or four books at a time to avoid tedium," young Winston read Schopenhauer, Malthus, Darwin, Aristotle (on politics), Henry Fawcett's Political Economy, William Lecky's European Morals and Rise and Influence of Rationalism, Pascal's Provincial Letters, Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations, Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, Liang's Modern Science and Modern Thought, Rochefort's Memoirs and Hallam's Constitutional History. He read no novels.
To supplement this list he asked his mother to send him all one hundred volumes of the Annual Register, the record of British public events, founded by Edmund Burke. He wanted to know "the detailed Parliamentary (debates, divisions, parties, cliques and caves) of the last one hundred years."
Because of the cost, Jennie sent him the volumes covering the years since his birth. In them he made detailed notations of his views on the various issues. He was building up "a scaffolding of logical and consistent views which will perhaps tend to the creation of a logical and consistent mind. Of course the Annual Register is valuable only for its facts. A good knowledge of these will arm me with a sharp sword. Macaulay, Gibbon, Plato etc. must train the muscles to wield that sword to the greatest effect."
May marked the end of Churchill's almot superhuman effort to educate himself by reading yards of classic literature and studying the Annual Register for all years since his birth. Now his search for fame and action demanding his return from India. Though Lady Randolph resisted this on grounds of cost, and feared he would get a reputation for not sticking to anything, Churchill wanted action. The Greeks and Turks were at war in Crete, where he asked his mother to get him a correspondency. On May 8th he sailed on the Ganges but the war in Crete was over before they reached Port Said. So Churchill visited Naples, climbed Vesuvius, "did" Pompeii and Rome, and visited his brother in Paris before returning to England. Aboard ship he made friends with a Colonel, Ian Hamilton, who was to affect his life greatly in later years.
He and his mother worked to advance his political prospects while in London as seen in this letter from the Conservative Central Office to a local Conservative association: "Will you allow the late Lord Randolph Churchill's son, Mr. Winston S. Churchill, also to speak at your gathering on [July] 26th? He is very keen about politics and about the Primrose League and has told us he would like to address a few political meetings before rejoining his regiment, the 4th Hussars, shortly in India. We have no doubt you would be rather glad to have him at your meeting; he is a clever young man and his presence would no doubt be of some interest to the Bath Conservatives." The result was Churchill's maiden political speech.
On July 26 Churchill made his maiden political speech. He was pleased with the press reports on his efforts.
On the same day an uprising began on the Indian frontier. Sir Bindon Blood had offered to let him join future expeditions in the area, and Churchill left England so quickly that he had no time to say goodbye to his brother and mother. Aboard the SS Rome, near Aden, he wrote of the conditions to his mother: "We are just in the hottest part of the Red Sea. The temperature is something like over 100 degrees and as it is damp heat it is equal to a great deal more. Several people who have been about 20 years in India tell me that they have never known such heat. It is like being in a vapour bath. The whole sea is steamy and there is not a breath of air - by night or day." It was so hot, he said, that his views on a new novel he had just read (Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure) had melted.
While he waited in Bangalore, India, for word from Blood, he worked on his own novel, subsequently published as Savrola. When word did come, it was disappointing news: Blood was unable to get "his pals" appointed to his staff. He advised Churchill to come to the frontier as a war correspondent and, as soon as possible, he would have him appointed to the staff of the Malakand Field Force.
Churchill sent his brother the following comments on India: "Nothing can impress one with the size of this country so much as to take a journey....I asked how far my destination was. Two thousand and twenty seven miles. Nearly as far as across the Atlantic. It is a proud reflection that all this vast expanse of fertile, populous country is ruled and administered by Englishmen." In a letter to his mother he reflected on the irony of risking his life in a profession which he soon intended to discard: soldiering. "I feel that the fact of having seen service with British troops while still a young man must give me more weight politically, must add to my claims to be listened to and may perhaps improve my prospects of gaining popularity with the country. Besides this, I think I am of an adventurous disposition and shall enjoy myself not so much in spite of as because of the risks I run."
Upon arrival at the Malakand camp, he began writing a series of letters for the Daily Telegraph on the adventures of the Malakand Field Force. He told his mother not to worry about him. "A philosophical temperament should transcend all human weaknesses from fear or affection."
Malakand Field Force
After rushing back to India, Churchill waited impatiently for word from Sir Bindon Blood that the commander of the Malakand Field Force would appoint him to his headquarters staff. On 22 August he received word that there was no room for him, but that he could join the expedition as a war correspondent. "Army Head Qrs make all appointments except personal staff and are very jealous of their patronage. I have hardly managed to get any of my pals on my staff‹though I have asked for several. However if you were here I think I could and certainly would if I could, do a little jobbery on your account."
From India Churchill wrote a series of unsigned telegrams and letters for the Pioneer Mail. To identify them, Frederick Woods compiled a schedule of Churchill's movements during the Malakand campaign. He notes that "the stylistic evidence in their favour is also tolerably strong." He did not, Woods however noted, write The Risings on the North-West Frontier. But Churchill did write The War in the Indian Highlands by a Young Officer. Personally he wanted to sign them because it would advance his political career. The first of fifteen articles was published in the Daily Telegraph on 6 October, the last on 6 December. They formed the basis for his first book, The Story of the Malakand Field Force. He was paid five pounds per column.
Privately he wrote his mother about his ambitions and experiences. He warned her that he had to take risks so that his behaviour would be noted and get him attached to Blood's staff. "I mean to play this game out and if I lose it is obvious that I never could have won any other. The unpleasant contingency is one which could have permanent effects and would while leaving me life‹deprive me of all that makes life worth living."
About conditions, he wrote: "No ice - no soda - intense heat - but still a delightful experience."
His First Book
As the year ended, Winston's mother informed him that Longman's had agreed to publish The Story of the Malakand Field Force. He was hopeful that the publicity would improve his prospects for earning money. He quoted Dr. Johnson: "No one but a blockhead ever wrote except for money."
But he also hoped it would advance his political career as well: "the publication of this book will certainly be the most noteworthy act of my life. Up to date (of course). By its reception I shall measure the chances of my possible success in the world."
He also knew that he had the potential to get better: "With a larger subject and with more time I am capable of a purer and more easy style and of more deeply considered views, yet it is a sample of my mental cast." Learning was still very important to him. "I am still reading, though I prefer to write. The novel [Savrola] lies still unfinished and I am longing to take up the threads. But the balance between Inputs and Exports must be maintained."
Reflecting on his own character and prospects, he insightfully wrote to his mother: "In Politics a man gets on not so much by what he does, as by what he is. It is not so much a question of brains as of character and originality. It is for these reasons that I would not allow others to suggest friends a name good advice well followed all these things count but they lead only to a certain point. As it were they may ensure admission to the scales. Ultimately every man has to be weighed and if found wanting nothing can procure him the public confidence."
Nevertheless he did not hesitate to promote his connections. He asked his mother relentlessly to pursue an assignment for him in Egypt and he went to Calcutta to lobby for himself. There he dined with the Viceroy and the Commander-in-Chief. Not exactly the normal social activity of a subaltern!
For recreation he played polo and distinguished himself with the 4th Hussars in the Regimental Polo Tournament, although he could not prevent a loss in the finals to the Durham Light Infantry, the only Infantry Regiment ever to win the tournament.
"Everybody is reading it..."
Winston thought that his brother Jack would follow him into the Army but his mother knew that he would not pass the medical examination because of his eyesight, and she could not provide him with the necessary allowance. She had other plans for her second son "He will go to Germany for a year, learn bookkeeping and German, and one of these days make a fortune." (Jack became a stockbroker.)
Meanwhile her elder son was pursuing a military and literary career in India, while laying the groundwork for his eventual entry into political life in England. He wanted to write a life of Garibaldi and a short and dramatic History of the American Civil War, but while The Story of the Malakand Field Force was being edited and published, he worked on his first and only novel, Savrola. He later recalled that his fellow officers had made suggestions for "stimulating the love interest which I was not able to accept. But we had plenty of fighting and politics, interspersed with such philosophisings as I was capable of." He later "consistently urged my friends to abstain from reading it."
The Malakand was received with much praise, which pleased Churchill greatly. "The reader must remember," he wrote in My Early Life, "I had never been praised before. The only comments which had ever been made upon my work at school had been ‘Indifferent,’ ‘Untidy,’ ‘Slovenly,’ ‘Bad,’ ‘Very bad,’ etc. Now here was the great world with its leading literary newspapers and vigilant erudite critics, writing whole columns of praise!"
One letter that particularly pleased him came from the future King Edward VII: "I have read (Malakand) with the greatest possible interest and I think the descriptions and language generally excellent. Everybody is reading it, and I only hear it spoken of with praise." He went on to say that he thought Winston had a good chance to win the Victoria Cross and expressed the hope that Churchill did not intend to leave the Army in order to go into politics.
That was indeed exactly what the young subaltern did intend, but first he had to win more glory. As his son later phrased it. ‘like Antony and Napoleon before him, Churchill ardently aspired for action on the Nile." Winston urged his mother~ "You must work Egypt for me.. .have no scruples but worry right and left and take no refusal." Jennie went to Egypt but had little success advocating for her son as well as facing complications in her own love life.
His fate in Egypt depended directly on Lord Kitchener, later a colleague, but at that time no admirer of Churchill nor his book on the Indian frontier. "It was," Churchill later said, "a case of dislike before first sight."
Because time was running out on him and Kitchener intended to advance on Khartoum in August, Churchill left India in June to plead his own case in London.
Shortly after he arrived back in England from India Churchill, as author of The Story of The Malakand Field Force, was invited to meet "the Great Man, Master of the British world, the unchallenged leader of the Conservative party, a third time Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary at the height of his long career" (as he referred to Lord Salisbury).
Salisbury told him: "I have been keenly interested in your book. I have read it with the greatest pleasure and, if I may say so, with admiration not only for its matter but for its style." He offered to be of any assistance requested by young Churchill. Winston responded immediately with a request to join the expedition to Khartoum.
For whatever reason, a vacancy occurred to which Churchill was appointed. In order to avoid a recall to India, he caught "a filthy tram" out of Marseilles, thus keeping himself out of touch from the authorities in London.
Before leaving for Egypt he made his second political speech (not in Robert Rhodes James' Complete Speeches). He wrote his mother that the 15 July speech at Bradford was a complete success.
During preparations for the expedition up the Nile, he worked on his dispatches for the Morning Post. He could find little time to write letters but he did write his mother that "if I am [killed] you must avail yourself of the consolation of philosophy and reflect on the utter insignificance of all human beings. I do not flinch - though I do not accept the Christian or any other form of religious beliefs, I shall come back afterwards the wiser and stronger, and then we will think of other and wider spheres of action."
As he prepared for battle, he commented about his Commander-in-Chief and future Cabinet colleague: "Kitchener said he had known I was not going to stay in the army - was only making a convenience of it; that he had disapproved of my coming in place of others." He added that Kitchener "maybe a general - but never a gentleman."
Churchill participated in the Battle of Omdurman on 2 September. The best account of this event is his own in The River War. Professor Paul Rahe (FH 85) presents a powerful argument for the book's contemporary relevance: "Churchill's great, neglected work is, like Thucydides' history, a prose epic. His subjects: the Nile and its peoples; the conflict between Islam and modernity; the origins, character, and course of the Mahdist revolt against Egyptian rule with the Sudan; the resistance mounted by General Gordon at Khartoum; the fecklessness of Gladstone's Liberal administration; and the campaign of reconquest ultimately mounted on behalf of Egypt and Britain by Sir Herbert Kitchener, offered him the same sort of canvas available to Thucydides, and he took the endeavor as an occasion for reflection on the moral responsibilities attendant upon a great power and as an opportunity to explore the relationships between civilization and decadence, between barbarism and courage, and between modern science and the changing character of war.
"In an age when the Great Democracies are likely to be called on to respond to ugly little conflicts marked by social, sectarian and tribal rivalries in odd corners of the worlds, I can think of no other historical work that better deserves our attention."
"In love, but not yet prepared to commit himself.."
The Nile War over, Churchill returned to England where he immediately became embroiled in controversy over his military and political activities. The Prince of Wales wrote him that "I think an officer serving in a campaign should not write letters for the newspapers or express strong opinions of how the operations are carried out."
"A General Officer" wrote to the Editor of the Army and Navy Gazette: "Can it be for the good of the Service that young subalterns, however influentially connected and able they may be, should be allowed as Lieut. Churchill is to go careering over the world, elbowing out men frequently much abler and more experienced (in a worldly sense at any rate) than themselves?"
Churchill responded: "Your correspondent’s quarrel is not with me but with the Army authorities. They are antagonists more worthy of his rank He should not bandy words with subalterns in the columns of the public press. What can be more pr~udicial to the discipline for which he professes so extravagant a regard? He should go to the War office with this new grievance. ...to make personal attacks on individuals, however insignificant they may be, in the publicity of print, and from out of the darkness of anonymity, is conduct equally unworthy of a brave soldier and an honourable man."
He continued to lay the foundation for a political career. Before returning to India, he made several speeches to Conservative Associations, identifying himself with the progressive wing of the Tory party. "To keep an Empire we must have a free people, an educated and well-fed people."
In his personal life Churchill was in love with Pamela Plowden but, as his son later wrote; "such were his ambition and his slender means that he was not yet prepared to commit himself."
Polo and The River War
Early in December 1898, Churchill returned to India to play in the annual Inter-Regimental Polo Tournament. On board ship, he worked on his manuscript for the River War, writing his mother on 11 December: "I have however made good progress with the book. Three vy long chapters are now almost entirely completed. The chapter describing the fall of Khartoum Gordon's death etc is I think quite the most lofty passage I have ever written." Churchill continued to be pleased with his progress on the book after he reached India. In another letter to his mother early in 1899, he told her that, while progress was slow, what he had written was "really good." He offered as an example, one sentence about the Mahdi who had been orphaned as a child (Martin Gilbert suggests that this may have been based on Churchill's own experience with his father):
"Solitary trees, if they grow at all, grow strong: and a boy deprived of a father's care often develops, if he escape the perils of youth, an independence and a vigour of thought which may restore in after life the heavy loss of early days."
Churchill had strong feelings about Kitchener and his destruction of the Mahdi's Tomb, writing in The River War: "By Sir H. Kitchener's orders, the Tomb has been profaned and razed to the ground. The corpse of the Mahdi was dug up. The head was separated from the body, and, to quote the official explanation, 'preserved for future disposal'....If the people of the Sudan cared no more for the Mahdi, then it was an act of vandalism and folly to destroy the only fine building which might attract the traveller and interest the historian. It is a gloomy augury for the future of the Sudan that the first action of its civilised conquerors and present ruler should have been to level the one pinnacle which rose above the mud houses. If, on the other hand, the people of the Sudan still venerated the memory of the Mahdi‹and more than 50,000 had fought hard only a week before to assert their respect and belief‹then I shall not hesitate to declare that to destroy what was sacred and holy to them was a wicked act, of which the true Christian, no less than the philosopher, must express his abhorrence."
On 9 February 1899, one week before the beginning of the Inter-Regimental Polo Tournament, Churchill fell down some stairs, spraining both ankles and dislocating his right shoulder. It was this dislocation, rather less prosaic than grabbing at a quayside ring on arriving in India, as stated in My Early Life, which long caused him discomfort. [See Barbara Langworth, "Churchill and Polo," FH 72. -Ed.] He wrote his mother: "I fear I shall not be able to play in the Tournament as my arm is weak and stiff & may come out again at any moment. It is one of the most unfortunate things that I have ever had happen to me and is a bitter disappointment. I had been playing well and my loss is a considerable blow to our chances of winning. I try to be philosophic but it is very hard. Of course it is better to have bad luck in the minor pleasures of life than in one's bigger undertakings. But I am very low & unhappy about it." In the event, Churchill played in the Tournament, with his right arm strapped to his side. He led his team to victory in the finals where Churchill, bound arm and all, scored three of his team's four goals.
Churchill left India in the latter part of March, never to return. Christine Lewis, a young American girl he befriended on the voyage from India to Egypt, describes Churchill's typically late arrival: "The gangplank was about to be raised when down the wharf ran a freckled, red-haired young man in a rumpled suit carrying an immense tin cake box. Although he had nearly missed the boat, he seemed utterly unruffled and, seating himself by the rail because there was not another spot left on deck, he carefully examined the other passengers." Lewis writes of Churchill as a travel companion: "At lunch, or tiffan as it was called then, we found ourselves sitting directly opposite Mr. Churchill. Hardly had he been seated when he bent across the table and said, 'You are American, aren't you?....'I love Americans. My mother is an American.'....Mr. Churchill at once took things in hand, ordering a small table for our party, himself and Captain Sandys. We found him a most amusing fellow traveler, full of fun, with a delightful sense of humor....Every day he sat beside us on the deck, working intensely on his book. He paid no attention to the gay chatter of young people on the adjoining chairs as he wrote and rewrote in that peculiar small hand. His concentration was an example to all of us....We often played jokes on him, which he seemed to enjoy. Perhaps his one fault at this time was being a little too sure about everything, which the other young people did not always appreciate." [See the Churchill-Lewis Correspondence, available from Churchill Stores. -Ed.]
The First Campaign
In late March, 1899, on his way home from Egypt, Churchill wrote to his grandmother explaining his decision to leave the Army for a writing career: "Had the army been a source of income to me instead of a channel of expenditure I might have felt compelled to stick to it. But I can live cheaper & earn more as a writer, special correspondent or journalist; and this work is moreover more congenial and more likely to assist me in pursing the larger ends of life."
To Churchill, "the larger ends of life" meant a career in politics. His son Randolph reports in the official biography that Churchill even "consulted a fashionable palmist, Mrs. Robinson, who claimed to see favourable omens in his hand." Churchill was courted by a number of Conservative constituencies who wanted him to stand as their candidate at the next general election.
One of them was Oldham, a working-class district where there were two members, one of whom, James Oswald, was in poor health. The other member, Robert Ascroft, asked Churchill to stand with him in Oswald's place at the next election. In the event, it was Ascroft who unexpectedly died on 19 June 1899 and Oswald resigned in turn, setting up a double by election.
Churchill's Conservative running mate was a trade union leader named James Mawdsley, the General Secretary of the Lancashire branch of the Amalgamated Association of Cotton Spinners, for which Ascroft had long served as its lawyer. Matching the young Churchill with a union leader‹ "The Scion and the Socialist"‹was thought to be a good way to appeal to the working class vote as their Liberal Party opponents were both wealthy men. It didn't work. As Churchill later said:
"My poor Trade Unionist friend and I would have had very great difficulty in finding £500 between us, yet we were accused of representing the vested interest of society, while our opponens, who were certainly good for a quarter of a million, claimed to champion in generous fashion the causes of the poor and needy."
Prior to the campaign Churchill had written to his namesake, the popular American novelist Winston Churchill, proposing a solution to the possible confusion engendered by the American's forthcoming publication of Richard Carvel and Churchill's own Savrola, then being serialized in Macmillan's Magazine, and his forthcoming The River War:
"Mr. Winston Churchill presents his compliments to Mr. Winston Churchill, and begs to draw his attention to a matter which concerns them both...Mr. Winston Churchill has decided to sign all published articles, stories, or other works, 'Winston Spencer Churchill' and not 'Winston Churchill' as formerly. He trusts that this arrangement will commend itself to Mr. Winston Churchill...He takes this occasion of complimenting Mr. Winston Churchill upon the style and success of his works, which are always brought to his notice..."
The American responded in kind: "Mr. Winston Churchill is extremely grateful to Mr. Winston Churchill for bringing forward a subject which has given Mr. Winston Churchill much anxiety. Mr. Winston Churchill appreciates the courtesy of Mr. Winston Churchill in adopting the name of "Winston Spencer Churchill" in his books, articles, etc. Mr. Winston Churchill makes haste to add that, had he possessed any other names, he would certainly have adopted one of them...Mr. Winston Churchill will take the liberty of sending Mr. Winston Churchill copies of the two novels he has written. He has a high admiration for the works for of Mr. Winston Spencer Churchill and is looking forward with pleasure to reading Savrola."
The First Defeat
Churchill spent the summer of 1899 in his first parliamentary election campaign, attempting, unsuccessfully, to persuade Pamela Plowden to join him. He wrote to her describing the campaign:
"I shall never forget the succession of great halls packed with excited people until there was not room for one single person more - speech after speech, meeting after meeting - three even four in one night - intermittent flashes of Heat & Light & enthusiasm - with cold air and the rattle of a carriage in between: a great experience. And I improve every time - I have hardly repeated myself at all. And at each meeting I am conscious of growing powers and facilities of speech, and it is in this that I shall find my consolation should the result be, as is probably, unfortunate."
Churchill's prediction was accurate. He and his running mate, the trade union leader Mowdsley, lost the two Tory seats to the Liberals in the July 6th election. The results were close, however, and The Manchester Courier reported that Churchill "might have been defeated but he was conscious that in this fight he had not been disgraced." Balfour agreed, writing Churchill, "this small reversal will have no permanent ill effect upon your political fortunes."
Churchill soon turned his attention to South Africa. In a speech to the Conservative Association at Blenheim Park in Woodstock on 17 August 1899, he said: "The trouble in the Transvaal is a very serious question, and the situation in South Africa has now reached an acute stage. It is not likely that the present condition of things can go on indefinitely without war breaking out, and I am no so sure that is such a very terrible prospect or one that we tremble at....England is a very great Power and the Boers are a miserably small people, and I ask how long is the peace of the country and the Empire going to be disturbed by a party of filibustering Boers."
Negotiations between the British and the Boers over the Boer refusal to grant voting rights to the largely British immigrants ("Uitlanders") who had come to South Africa during the gold rush of the late nineteen century broke down in early September. In September Churchill received an offer from The Daily Mail to serve as its war correspondent in South Africa, and used that offer as leverage to secure a more rewarding position from The Morning Post, which agreed to pay all of his expenses and £250 a month. Churchill promptly set about fortifying himself for the journey. His son Randolph wrote that "Churchill never believed that war should be needlessly uncomfortable" and listed some of the provisions, including six bottles each of 1889 vin d'Ay Sec, light Port and French Vermouth; and eighteen bottles each of St. Emilion and a ten-year-old scotch whiskey.
Autumn 1899 began with Churchill the war correspondent traveling by ship to South Africa to report on the Anglo-Boer War. It ended with Churchill the escaped prisoner traveling by train surreptitiously out of South Africa into Portuguese East Africa. In between these two journeys, Churchill became famous throughout the world.
As a special correspondent for The Morning Post, Churchill sailed to South Africa on 14 October, two days after hostilities began. It was not a pleasant voyage. Churchill called it "a nasty, rough passage" and wrote his mother that he had been "grievously sick." He arrived on 31 October at Cape Town and quickly made his way to Durban. Two weeks later he was a prisoner of the Boers.
Churchill had accompanied an armored train which was ambushed by the Boers on its way to Ladysmith. While technically a non-combatant, he had been armed with his Mauser pistol and had volunteered his services to the train's commander, Captain Aylmer Haldane, after the train came under fire. Several rail cars had been derailed by Boer artillery, preventing the engine from retreating to safety. Under constant machine gun and artillery fire from the Boers, Churchill directed the clearing of the line, helped load wounded onto the engine's tender and then accompanied the engine to safety at Frere Station. After doing so, he returned on foot to the action to assist the remaining wounded and was captured. The driver of the train was quoted in contemporary accounts as saying of Churchill that "there is not a braver gentleman in the army." One of the wounded officers who Churchill helped lead to safety called him "as brave a man as could be found."
Brave, but forgetful. In returning to help the wounded, Churchill had left his Mauser on the engine, so that he was unarmed when confronted by a Boer rifleman on a horse. Churchill described the moment of his capture in My Early Life:
"I thought there was absolutely no chance of escape, if he fired he would surely hit me, so I held up my hands and surrendered myself a prisoner of war. 'When one is alone and unarmed,' said the great Napoleon, in words which flowed into my mind in the poignant minutes that followed, 'a surrender may be pardoned.'"
Unfortunately for Churchill, his daring exploits in rescuing the train were widely reported in the press by his fellow correspondents. These news reports undermined his efforts to persuade the Boers to release him on the grounds that he was a noncombatant. Churchill claimed in a letter to the Boer Secretary of State for War that he had taken "no part in the defence of the armoured train" and was "quite unarmed." The Boers weren't fooled. They read the newspapers too. Contemporary correspondence from South African government officials gave Winston complete credit for the train's escape:
"...but for [Churchill's] presence on the train, not a single Englishman or solider would have escaped. After the train was forced to a standstill the officers and men would definitely have fallen into enemy hands had he not directed proceedings in such a clever and thorough way, whilst walking alongside the engine, that the train together with its load escaped capture."
Having failed in his efforts to secure his release voluntarily, Churchill determined to escape. He joined a plot conceived by Captain Haldane and a British sergeant who spoke Afrikaans and a native language. The plan was to escape through the window of a latrine. Churchill was the first out the window and over the wall. He was also the only one to make it, because patrolling sentries made it impossible for the other two. After waiting an hour and a half and conversing with Haldane through the latrine window, Churchill determined to go it alone and, as he later described it, "got up without any attempt at concealment and walked straight out at the gate" into the streets of Pretoria.
Churchill's escape made headlines around the world and one Boer official posted a £25 reward for him "dead or alive." He had walked through Pretoria unrecognized until he came to the railway leading to Portuguese East Africa and hopped aboard the train, concealing himself beneath empty coal bags. Churchill was lucky to make it as far as Witbank, 75 miles from Pretoria and still 200 miles from the frontier. He was luckier still to happen upon the house of John Howard, British manager of coal mines in Witbank, who hid him in one of the mines and engaged the local storekeeper, Charles Burnham, to smuggle him out of the country by train concealed in a consignment of cotton bales Burnham was shipping to Delagoa Bay in Portuguese East Africa. Having made it across the border 21 December to Durban by the 23rd, his son wrote in the Official Biography, "Churchill arrived to find that he had become world-famous overnight...."
"Continually Under Shell or Rifle Fire"
Churchill spent Christmas Eve at the headquarters of General Redvers Buller, scarcely a few hundred yards from where he had been captured by the Boers 36 days earlier. During January, General Buller gave Churchill a commission as a lieutenant in the South African Light Horse despite the fact that he continued to serve as a war correspondent for The Morning Post. The War Office had prohibited soldiers from holding a dual position, largely because of Churchill's dispatches during the Omdurman Campaign and his subsequent book. Buller indicated in a letter to a friend why he had been inclined to ignore the prohibition: "Winston Churchill turned up here yesterday escaped from Pretoria. He really is a fine fellow and I must say I admire him greatly. I wish he was leading irregular troops instead of writing for a rotten paper. We are very short of good men, as he appears to be, out here."
Buller specified Churchill was to receive no pay from the Army while serving as a correspondent. Churchill didn't care and was soon in the thick of fighting at the battle of Spion Kop, writing in late January to Pamela Plowden: "The scenes on Spion Kop were among the strangest and most terrible I have ever witnessed....I had five very dangerous days continually under shell and rifle fire and once the feather on my hat was cut through by a bullet. But in the end I came serenely through."
Pamela, not so serene, had been urging Churchill to come home as he had certainly achieved the notoriety and, indeed, the public acclaim he was seeking. His escape had been the one bright spot for the British in their Black Week of the Boer War when, Churchill wrote, they had "suffered staggering defeats, and casualties on a scale unknown to England since the Crimean War." Churchill declined Pamela's entreaties, writing to her: "I am quite certain that I will not leave Africa till the matter is settled. I should forfeit my self-respect for ever if I tried to shield myself like that behind an easily obtained reputation for courage. No possible advantage politically could compensate--besides believe me none would result...but I have a good belief that I am to be of some use and therefore to be spared."
Churchill's mother, Lady Randolph, joined him in South Africa in late January, along with his brother, Jack. Lady Randolph had organized and raised funds from Americans to send a hospital ship, the Maine, to South Africa; Jack, with his brother's help, had been named a Lieutenant in the South African Light Horse. Despite his brother being wounded in a minor skirmish on February 12th, Winston persevered, through heavy fighting, and was with the first relief column on February 28th which lifted the siege of Ladysmith. Churchill stayed in Ladysmith for over a month where he started work on his fourth book, London to Ladysmith via Pretoria.
"Politics, Pamela, finances and books all need my attention..."
Spring 1900 found Churchill very much engaged in the war against the Boers, heedlessly taking chances with his life on occasions where only his death would have afforded him any publicity. On one occasion, in April, 1900, Churchill, as a correspondent, joined a cavalry attempt to capture a small hill, racing a group of Boer horsemen to the summit. The Boers won and Churchill and the others were in danger of being cut off. They had just dismounted when the Boers arrived and started firing. Churchill's horse was spooked and bolted, leaving him behind and on foot. Dodging bullets, he ran towards his own men and was saved by a trooper who picked him up but whose horse was killed in the process. His son Randolph recounts that the trooper was unawed: "Oh my poor horse," moaned the trooper. "Never mind," said Churchill, "you've saved my life." "Ah," rejoined the scout, "but it's the horse I'm thinking about."
On another occasion in late May, WSC risked being shot as a spy when, based on a report from a Frenchman he had just interviewed for an article, he rode a bicycle through the middle of Boer-occupied Johannesburg, dressed in civilian clothes, carrying a British military report from General Hamilton to Lord Roberts. Manchester critically wrote: "Even the debonair Frenchman‹if indeed he was what he said he was; Winston, with his own atrocious French, was no judge of that, and no one else here had ever laid eyes on the man before‹conceded that armed Boers were thick in the streets. A simple search by any one of them and Winston would be shoved against the nearest wall and executed by an ad hoc firing squad."
As a reward for his daring in Johannesburg, however, Lord Roberts let Churchill and his cousin, the Duke of Marlborough, ride at the head of the column which entered Pretoria a few days later. Churchill and his cousin made a beeline towards the POW camp he had escaped six months earlier where, in poetic justice, they liberated the camp. As one of the freed prisoners wrote in his diary:
"...suddenly Winston Churchill came galloping over the hill and tore down the Boer flag, and hoisted ours amidst cheers and our people some of which had been in for six months or more were free and at once the Boer guards were put inside and our prisoners guard over them! It was roarable and splendid."
On 11 June, Churchill's initiative under fire enabled the British to win the Battle of Diamond Hill. General Hamilton wrote in his memoirs: "...Winston gave the embattled hosts at Diamond Hill an exhibition of conspicuous gallantry [the phrase often used in recommendations for the Victoria Cross] for which he has never received full credit....The capture of Diamond Hill meant the winning of the battle, ending as it did with a general retirement by the Boers; also it meant that it was the turning point of the war. The capture of Pretoria had not been the true turning point but rather this battle of Diamond Hill which proved that, humanly speaking, Pretoria would not be retaken." Hamilton recommended Churchill for the V.C. but Roberts and Kitchener refused because Churchill "had been only a Press Correspondent."
Two days before Diamond Hill, Churchill had written to his mother "...I need not say how anxious I am to come back to England. Politics, Pamela, finances and books all need my attention...." Such a ranking of Churchill's priorities probably explains as well as anything why Pamela Plowden faded from the picture, to be replaced a few years later by a life mate, Clementine, who understood perfectly well and agreed that this was how their lives together would be ordered.
"[A war] is not a long line of continuous successes"
Churchill returned home on 20 July 1900 on the Dunottar Castle, the same ship on which he had arrived in South Africa eight months earlier. On the very next day he began inscribing copies of his latest book, London to Ladysmith via Pretoria, beginning with an inscription to Oliver Borthwick, the Morning Post editor who had sent him there (see FH 105, p. 45). An election was in the offing so Churchill next set out for Oldham, for his second try at elective office.
"Over 10,000 people turned out in the streets with flags and drums beating and shouted themselves hoarse for two hours," Churchill wrote his brother Jack. "Although it was 12 o'clock before I left the Conservative Club, the streets were still crowded with people."
Churchill criticized opponents of the war: "I noticed this evening a flaring newspaper placard announcing another British military disaster....I do not like the exaggerated use of words. These incidents of war are the inevitable accompaniment of military operations. What is a war? It is not a long line of continuous successes. At least it is not usually that. It is an out and out fight with rough and tumble in which both sides must give and bear good blows. If we are going to call every insignificant operation on the line of communications a British disaster we should soon run a great danger of losing the calm and self-possession which has hitherto distinguished the demeanour of the country."
Churchill declined many invitations to speak for other candidates, but an exception was his appearance at Plymouth on behalf of his cousin, Ivor Guest, where he spoke at length on the sorry state of military defence, a theme that was to recur thirty-five years later in his life:
"The fear of invasion seems to influence our daily lives as little as the fear of death. Somewhere perhaps, in the future, how or where we know not, the hour will come....These are matters worthy of most serious attention. Indeed, they are exciting the concern of British statesmen of all parties [who] are agreed that this country has entered on a period of grave national danger, that the great Powers of Europe, armed to the teeth, view us with no friendly eye, and that our arrangements for military defence are not such that we can contemplate the situation without anxiety....For seven years I have been trained in the theory and practice of modern war. Heaven forbid that I should pose as an expert; but I know enough to tell you that there are very few things in military administration which a business man of common sense and a little imagination can not understand if he turns his attention to the subject; and any one who tells you the contrary is nothing better than a humbug."
Parliament was not dissolved until 17 September, and the election was spread over a three-week period with the Oldham constituency scheduled for an early vote on October 1st. Two Liberal seats were up and the Conservatives took both. It was close. Churchill placed second, sixteen votes behind the leading vote-getter but only 222 votes ahead of the third-place finisher out of over 50,000 votes cast.
"...you must remember how much money means to me..."
Money, or his lack of it, was very much on Churchill's mind after his election to Parliament for Oldham on 2 October. Thereafter, he toured the country during the remainder of the three-week polling period speaking on behalf of many Conservative candidates, including Balfour and Chamberlain. Of a proposed lecture tour in England after the election concluded, he wrote to his mother, "But you must remember how much money means to me and how much I need it for political expense and other purposes, and if I can make £3000 by giving a score of lectures on the big towns throughout England on the purely military aspect of the [Boer] war, it is very hard for me to refuse...."
Churchill didn't refuse and ended up with over £3700 for twenty-nine speeches during a thirty-day period in November. In one speech, he defended British tactics in South Africa against accusations that they constituted "atrocious barbarities...[in] violation of all the practices of civilised warfare," stating that "the justification of the measures resorted to in order to put an end to guerrilla warfare is that no methods, however stringent, or painful, or severe, can possibly cost so much misery as the continuance of the anarchy and disorder now prevailing."
Churchill had even higher hopes for a lucrative pay day from a North America tour. As he wrote his mother: "I will not go to the United States unless guaranteed at least £1000 a month for three months and I should expect a great deal more. Five thousand pounds is not too much for making oneself so cheap." It was not to be. In the event, he was to clear only £1600 in a tour which started on 8 December and continued through 2 February 1901.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 16 September 2008 07:45