Summer 1900 (Age 25)

“[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 Finest Hour 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.

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