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1896-1900

Returns from Cuba for a six month stay in England

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."

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Making Connections

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!"

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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.

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"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."

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"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."

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Churchill looking for 'Action'

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.

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Churchill makes his 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.

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Lt Churchill writes his first book

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."

"No ice - no soda - intense heat - but still a delightful experience."
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."

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"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." (At his mother's insistence Jack later became a stockbroker.)
"Everybody is reading it, and I only hear it spoken of with praise."
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 said later "consistently urged my friends to abstain from reading it."

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Departs for Egypt and fights in the Battle of Omdurman in the Sudan

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.

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