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.”
“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.”
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, Finest Hour 72.] 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 for more on this topic.]