Posted by: Dr Churchill | September 4, 2017

What Would Winston Churchill Do? (Chapter 26)

Six months after his defeat at the elections for Oldham, Winston Churchill’s name was ringing throughout England and the Commonwealth, because he was surely on his way towards fast becoming a true National Hero…

But first things first, since the scene of his triumph was far removed from the British Parliament that he aspired to join, but instead he found his fame and fortune, in the field of honor during the South African Boer War.

This was a difficult and yet peculiarly British war, which had been roundly denounced by most all Liberals, along with the Pacifists, and all the Radicals as “shameful” and thus it had become the subject of bitter debates inside and outside the English Parliament.

The war was brought about by the demands of the Tory Imperialists of the day led by Joseph Chamberlain. Since gold and diamond mines had been discovered near Johannesburg which, in the past ten years, had attracted a rush of British pioneers & businessmen, the new economic realities dictated a realignment of power and new balancing mechanisms to be in place to help the South African Republic cope with the various & diverse special interests of the new classes of immigrants that arrived in huge numbers daily. Because indeed, these newcomers were bitterly resented by the Dutch ‘Boer’ farmers, who had settled in South Africa a century and a half before, and who had established two independent republics, those of the Orange Free State, and of the Transvaal.

Now, the Dutch Boers, were determined not to allow the British settlers to gain political control of their affairs, while the British Government, toying with the idea of building a railway from Cairo to the most southerly place and the most Southern port of Africa, the Cape, became increasingly attracted by the possibility of ‘uniting’ the length of South Africa under British rule. This was the fundamental issue underlying the events of 1899, as Prime Minister Chamberlain demanded that British subjects residing in the Transvaal should be granted full rights of citizenship after five years of residence. As the crisis developed, the Boer President, Mr Kruger, finally agreed to the proposals, but his concession only drew further demands from the British, and he finally dug in his toes.

Mr Kruger, the Boer President of South Africa, then sent an official ultimatum to London that ended further negotiations, and within a few days came the declaration of war. Now as war had begun in South Africa, so did Winston’s agitations commence, in order to join the melee… He craved to join the fight, maybe because in those days Winston was not so much concerned with the rights and wrongs of an issue, as with getting himself to the front, to reap Glory and Merit, along with the special Bravery merit badge, the Victoria’s Cross represented for the young subaltern…

Only, this time he had no difficulty in getting there, because his book “The River War” had been hailed by the critics as a brilliant military history… So shortly after the Boer ultimatum was published, the Morning Post asked him to travel to South Africa as their special correspondent, and they suggested that they would pay all of his expenses, and a salary of 250 quid per month which, at that time, was an unheard-of astronomical figure.

Delighted by his stroke of good fortune he sailed in the Dunottar Castle on 11 October. The ship contained many distinguished passengers including General Sir Redvers Buller, the Commander-in-Chief of the British Army, and his entire Headquarters Staff. Winston would have liked to have made the acquaintance of the General, but the latter had no time for journalists, so Churchill was forced to content himself with lesser fry. His great fear, as the ship moved slowly through the waters, was that the show would be over before he arrived. The Army believed that a war against untrained Boer fanners could not possibly last more than three months, but in fact it dragged on nearly three years, and cost the Treasury upwards of 200,000,000 Sterling.

On the voyage Winston made friends with a young man, Mr J. B. Atkins, who was correspondent of the Manchester Guardian. In 1953, Atkins gave an interview when he was an old man of over eighty, a charming and soft-spoken person whose eyes gleamed with humour and pride when he talked of his trip with Winston Churchill.

He was immensely struck by young Churchill’s dynamic personality, and it is obvious that Winston found Atkins a sympathetic character, for he at once poured out his heart to him. Many years later Atkins recorded some of their conversation in his memoirs, thus producing the most sensitive and amusing pen portrait of Winston at this period that has ever been published:

“I had not been many hours on board before I became aware of a most unusual young man’ he wrote. ‘He was slim, slightly reddish-haired, pale, lively, frequently plunging along the deck with neck outthrust, as Browning fancied Napoleon; sometimes sitting in meditation, folding and unfolding his hands, not nervously but as though he were helping himself to untie mental knots. Soon we conversed. He told me that he was Winston Churchill, that he was correspondent for the Morning Post, that he had already seen fighting in Cuba in 1895, with the Malakand Field Force, with Lockhart’s Tirah Force, and in Egypt where he had been in the charge at Omdurman.”

“He coveted a political career above all.”

“It was obvious that he was in love with words. He would hesitate
sometimes before he chose one or would change one for a better. He
might, so far, have been just a young writer or speaker very conscious of
himself and his art. But when the prospects of a career like that of his
father, Lord Randolph, excited him, then such a gleam shot from him
that he was almost transfigured. I had not before encountered this sort of
ambition, unabashed, frankly egotistical, communicating its excitement,
and extorting sympathy He stood alone and confident, and his natural power to be himself had yielded to no man. It was not that he was without the faculty of self-criticism. He could laugh at his dreams of glory, and he had an impish fun: that was what it was in those days rather than an impish wit. It was as though a light was switched on inside him which suddenly shone out through his eyes; he compressed his lips; he contracted himself slightly as though gathering himself together to spring; the whole illuminated face grinned. I never heard him bring out jocular or mischievous remarks without these symptoms of his own preliminary relish.”

Indeed, as it was convenient, Atkins and Churchill agreed to knit their fortunes together. They then decided to travel to Durban, a four-day journey by rail and steamer, and then further agreed to try and get through to Ladysmith, where they believed the heaviest fighting would take place, and where Winston’s friend General Ian Hamilton had promised to give him ‘a good show.’ However, when they
reached the town of Estcourt they found that Ladysmith had been cut off, and that troops were being hurriedly concentrated to protect the southern part of Natal from an impending attack.

 

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Churchill and Atkins pitched their tent in the railway yard at Eastcourt and talked far into the night. Winston showed his friend articles which had been published in the Morning Post, and two still in manuscript, and invited his criticism. “He was gratified” wrote Atkins, by the wide interest which his work had already aroused.

When I read his articles, he said, “Now what do you think of them? Is the interest due to any merit in me, or is it because I am Randolph’s son?”

“Do you want a candid answer?”

“Naturally. Any other would be useless.”

“Well,” said Atkins, “I notice in your articles a sweep and a range of thought, particularly in your philosophical vision of a true Imperialism, which I should not find in articles of other correspondents. But, then, would your articles have excited so much interest if I had written them? I think not”

“A fair verdict. But how long will my father’s memory help me?”

“Curiosity is very keen for a time, but only a short time. I should think it
will help you for two or three years, but after that everything will depend
on you. But I honestly don’t think you will have to rely on your father.”

“Winston told me, (continued Atkins) that the Morning Post had been very kind to him in his political campaigning so far. It had given a good deal of praise to his speeches, and had even allowed him to visit the office to revise proofs. On one occasion the Editor was surprised at the modesty of youth when Winston struck out “Cheers” at the end of a speech, but was still more surprised when he substituted “Loud and prolonged applause”. “The worst of it is,” went on Winston, “that I am not a good life. My father died too young. I must try to accomplish whatever I can by the time I am forty.””

“He often turned our conversation to style, grammar and construction.
He admired the rhythm and resonance of Gibbon. Indeed it has been said that he had taken Gibbon for his own Mentor and Master.”

“Did I find anything Gibbonian in him?”

“But, after all, style was a matter of taste; what was more important
to him immediately was correctness in construction and grammar. What,
for instance, was a split infinitive and why was it wrong?”

“And what was an unrelated, or misrelated, participle, which was said to be a frequent source of ambiguity and which I had happened to mention?”

“He considered my explanations, such as they were, and sternly rejected my caveat that as great writers often carry a load of mistakes it is pedantic and priggish to let such things count for too much in a reckoning of genius. “It is better,” he pronounced, “to be correct.” I agreed to his maxim so far as it affected us. Ruskin could afford to invent his own grammar, but we could not.”

“Very well,” he concluded. “I am never going to write, ‘the plan is to frontally attack the position’.”

Winston had not been in Estcourt more than a few hours before he found old friends. First he ran into Leo Amery, the Harrow schoolboy whom he had pushed into the bathing pool, and who was now a war correspondent for The Times. That same evening as he was walking down the street he met Captain Haldane, the young officer who had been in India and helped him to secure an appointment on Sir William Lockhart’s staff for the Tirah expedition. Haldane had been wounded and had been given the temporary command of a company of the Dublin Fusiliers.

The position of the small force in Estcourt was precarious. No one knew from day to day whether a few thousand Boers might not sweep into the town. Each morning cavalry reconnaissances were sent out to find out if any sudden attack was likely. Then the General in command of the town decided to aid the cavalry by sending an armoured train along the sixteen miles of railway which was still intact The armoured train was regarded by ordinary soldiers as a huge joke. It rumbled along at a slow pace and was nothing more than an engine with a few ordinary iron railway trucks covered with steel plates through which rifle slits had been cut. Everyone except the General seemed to know that if the Boers wanted to capture the train all they had to do was to blow up a bridge or culvert, and it will lay at their mercy.

Captain Haldane was put in charge of the operation, and asked Winston if he would like to accompany him. The latter enthusiastically said yes, and hurried off to extend the invitation to Atkins. But Atkins declined. He thought it was a crazy idea, explaining that his instructions were to follow the war on the British side, not to rush off and let himself get taken prisoner, and miss the rest of the war. ‘That is perfectly true,’ said Winston,
‘I can see no fault in your reasoning. But I have a feeling, a sort of intuition, that if I go something will come of it. It’s illogical, I know.’

Winston’s instincts were right, for the journey on the armoured train was the beginning of a journey to fame.

The armored train travelled along the line just fourteen miles to Chieveley. Then two Boer guns opened fire. A few minutes later there was a crash and an explosion as the driver ran into a shell that had been placed on the track. Several trucks were derailed, and the engine trapped. Captain Haldane asked Winston to see what damage had been done to the line while he and his Dublin Fusiliers fired the small naval gun they had in the rear truck. Winston quickly surveyed the situation and decided that it might be possible to free the engine. With bullets rattling against the steel plates and shrapnel bursting overhead he called for volunteers, and was heard to say: ‘Keep cool, men.’

The engine driver was grazed on the head, and he reassured him by announcing confidently: ‘No man is hit twice in the same day.’

At last the engine was free.

Since it was impossible to reattach the tracks Captain Haldane decided that the engine should carry all the wounded, who were now numerous, and that the rest of the men should march home on foot, sheltering behind the vehicle which would travel very slowly. Winston climbed into the engine cab. Shells were still bursting overhead, and the driver could not seem to keep the pace slow enough.

Gradually the infantry were being left behind. Winston forced the engine driver to stop, but by this time there was a gap of three hundred yards. He jumped out and ran back to find Captain Haldane. Suddenly he saw two figures in plain clothes on the line and realized they were Boers. He ran back towards the engine, with the men firing after him. He scrambled up the bank trying to make a dash for the river, but now he was confronted by a horseman galloping furiously towards him with a rifle in his hand. The rider pulled up and took aim. Winston reached for his pistol but it was not there. He had taken it off when he was trying to free the engine. The Boer looked along the sights of his gun. There was nothing for Winston to do but surrender.

His captor led him back to the other British soldiers where he found Captain Haldane. Together they were taken to Colenso Station, and then on a three-day journey to Pretoria where they were imprisoned in the State Model Schools.

Captain Haldane describes in his memoirs their feelings as they trudged across the veldt together and relates how Winston thanked him for allotting him the ‘star turn’ of freeing the engine.

He told Haldane he was certain it would be given much prominence in the English papers; and although he would lose his job as a war correspondent the incident undoubtedly would help him to reach the House of Commons. This strange conversation in such depressing circumstances gives the reader an indication of Winston’s determination to succeed in life; it also shows how accurately he gauged the situation, for his fellow journalists received glowing accounts of his action which they sent home and which made front page news the Daily Telegraph printed Renter’s dispatch which said: ‘Mr Winston Churchill’s bravery and coolness is described as magnificent, and encouraged by him, all worked like heroes to clear the line and enable the engine and tender to get away.’

Still, Winston was a prisoner; but he was also well on the way to being a national figure.

Sixty British officers were imprisoned in the State Model Schools which stood in the middle of a quadrangle bounded on two sides by a corrugated iron fence about ten feet high, and on the other two by an iron grille.

Winston had no intention of remaining a captive for long. First he argued with the Boer authorities that he should be released because he was a civilian press correspondent. But the Boers had no intention of letting him go, for by this time they knew who he was. ‘It’s not every day,’ one of them said, ‘that we catch the son of a lord. Besides, they had the law on their side. He had forfeited his non-combatant status by the part he had taken in the train fight.

The moment Winston realized that their decision was final his thoughts turned to escape. He hated the feeling of being confined, and found it impossible to play cards with his fellow prisoners or enjoy any lighter moments. Meanwhile Captain Haldane was working out a plan of escape with a sergeant named Brockie who spoke Dutch fluently. Winston asked Haldane if he could join them but the latter was apprehensive at increasing their numbers. Besides, he felt that Churchill was already attracting too much attention to himself by engaging in animated discussions as to who was to blame for the war. Added to this, he was temperamental and unaccountable. For example, if any of the younger men indulged in whistling, Winston made no effort to conceal his extreme exasperation.

In his memoirs, ‘A Soldier’s Saga’ Haldane relates how Churchill continued to urge him to include him in his plan of escape. As bait, Winston emphasized that if they were successful, he would see that Haldane’s name was emblazoned triumphantly across the press. The Captain declared that this did not interest him, for he felt it was his duty to escape. What worried him was the fear that the talkative soldier-journalist might compromise their chances of success. He discussed the matter with Brockie, who shared his apprehension and was strongly opposed to Winston Churchill’s inclusion.

Nevertheless Haldane felt responsible for having invited Winston to join the armoured train, and in the end gave in. He made no secret of Brockie’s views and said that under the circumstances he could not extend a cordial invitation, but that if Winston, knowing of their mixed feelings, still wanted to join them, he could do so. Churchill at once replied that he would come, but said he did not think it would be fair to blame him if they were recaptured due to his presence. Haldane agreed, but made it clear that he expected Winston to “conform to orders.”

The plan, as outlined by Haldane, was as follows. Since it would be difficult for all three men to climb out of the latrine at the same time, Brockie was to follow as soon as it was known that Haldane, and Churchill, had succeeded. Haldane had noticed, that Churchill did not take much exercise and stood aloof while the other prisoners played fives (handball), and Rounders (baseball), and tried to keep themselves fit by skipping rope. Besides this, Winston had a weak shoulder…

Haldane therefore was worried for fear he might not be agile enough to reach the roof of the latrine, which was about seven feet high, without a “leg up.” In his effort to mount the top he might kick the metal side of the structure and attract the attention of the sentry. Haldane states bluntly in his book, that his major anxiety about the success of the operation arose from Winston’s “accession to the party.” With only Brockie, he continues, there was nothing to fear; but with the impulsive and loquacious Churchill, he was gravely doubtful.

Nevertheless the die was cast, and he had to go on with it.

The three men decided to leave on the evening of December 11th of 1899. About ten minutes before the dinner hour, at six-fifty, Churchill and Haldane strolled over to the latrine in the company of several officers. These prisoners would return one by one in the hope that the sentry might think that they all had left the latrines and returned to their barracks.

If the guards behaved as they usually did, they might move along a line of trees to talk to another sentry, which would give the three aspiring escapees, their chance to scale the wall. On this night, however, the sentry did not budge and after waiting fifteen or twenty minutes Churchill and Haldane whispered to each other that they must abandon their efforts and try another time.

The next day continued to be one of anxiety. Haldane was alarmed by Winston’s excited condition and the fact that he was striding up and down the yard with his head lowered and his hands clasped behind his back. He feared that the other prisoners would realize that something was up. Churchill said to Haldane, “We must go tonight.” The Captain replied that if the chances were favourable they would certainly undertake it again that evening, but he must remember that there were three of them.

Winston relates the story of his escape in his book “My Early Life.” The next evening, shortly after Haldane and Brockie had made another unsuccessful attempt, he strolled out and secreted himself in the lavatory. He had not been there long before the sentry turned his back and the great moment had arrived. He drew himself up, and jumped over the wall. He was in a garden and people were moving about. He hid himself in the shrubs and waited there for over half an hour, then he heard a British voice from within the camp say: “All up.” Winston coughed, and the voice continued in a low tone: “The sentry suspects. It’s all up. Can you get back?”

No sensible person could really have expected Winston meekly to climb back into captivity. So this evening hour of December 12th 1899, Winston Churchill simply reclaimed his freedom of his own accord, and through his own wits, running alone and in an uncertain direction fled the prison area of Pretoria and off he went towards the countryside. He had .75 in his pocket, four pieces of chocolate and a few biscuits, and although he was without a compass he decided to have a “run for his freedom” towards the sea, as Xenophon might have advised him from the pages of his book “Annabasis.”

And indeed this is what Winston Churchill did. He firmly grasped his Liberty, he tucked his shirt in, and he run with it.

And as Winston turned around and started trekking towards the eastern sea, going from the Cape towards the Indian ocean, Haldane and Broke, were fuming, because they had chosen to not take the risk that Winston took, and had now stayed behind to await his imminent capture and re-intenment. Indeed they were somehow hoping for it, same as the Boers, because they felt that he had bested them in their own game. And because at the moment, Winston was FREE, whereas they remained prisoners of the enemy, having failed to seize the opportunity to escape. By all accounts, even their own, they had stayed behind for fear of discovery, but somehow, they now blamed Winston for their own failure of nerves, and for the delay in springing themselves out of jail. Indeed even quite some time later, Haldane wrote in his memoirs, titled “Saga” that he was “bitterly disappointed to find that Winston had gone” and adds, “I resist the temptation of stating what Brockie said on the subject.”

And of course anything and everything about Winston and his monumental successes is open to interpretation with a healthy dose of conspiracy theorizing and political intrigue, because after all — Winston was WINSTON CHURCHILL, and not some kind of other tiny man, living “small” aspiring for a safe, secure, and quiet life…

Many years later, busy bodies and “friends” who heard the story from both men, say that a genuine misunderstanding must have arisen. Yet in retrospect, Winston fully believed he was acting within his rights, because procession is nine tenths of the law, and thus having grasped FREEDOM — he was not going to forfeit it.

Indeed he should have been stupid, lame and worse, to give up his Liberty voluntarily and return to jail when he was already on the outside. Saving that argument for whatever its worth — one can see how illogical Haldane’s rancor was, and how cruelly misplaced his malice against Winston might have been when we consider the situation cooly.

Of course in matters of competition amongst men, a pissing contest is never out of the question. Thus regardless of the logic of the situation, and the stark logic of Winston escaping alone, when none of the others followed him, nor jumped over the fence, within the following hour, Haldane still went on to say that he felt slighted, because Winston should have waited, and should have even returned into the Boer prison…

Go figure.

As for me and my readers, it is obvious now that there is a great wide gap in the memories of the two people that matter, and I am inclined to believe the One who got away from prison as the true Hero of the night. All others can nurse their sour grapes until kingdom comes, but the verdict of history holds firm. Winston escape the Boer jail all alone and won his freedom fair and square.

In later years, Winston Churchill having secured his Heroic status, ignored the subject and Haldane also did the same, except that at one point he alludes enigmatically to the popular proverb “There is many a slip” and declares that things did not go “according to plan.” Haldane apparently still smarting from his failure to escape that night alongside Winston, and he goes on to say, that at this point it is best “to draw a veil over subsequent events” although by doing so, he does not want his readers to suppose that he supports many of the versions of the story which appeared in print, often under the name of various other writers, who were not there, nor had any direct knowledge gained from interviews with those that indeed had first hand experience of the dramatic escape of Winston Churchill from the well guarded prisoner of war camp in the midst of South Africa’s Boer capital, Pretoria.

George Smalley, an American journalist who knew Churchill personally, and heard statements on both sides, including a full account from Winston, wrote this: “I think his conduct open to no reproach, nor even criticism of any kind.”

Nevertheless aspersions and innuendo were cast against Winston, by all those motivated by political enmity and competition in elections against Churchill. Those who continued this silly story, then went all crazy and sprang another fake news story, that Churchill had broken his parole. That is so far fetched, to be completely bonkers, and very much like the shit that Hillary and Podesta made up against Donald Trump when they got wind that they were going to be the giant losers of the 2016 elections…. Because as it turns out, No parole system existed for British soldiers captured in the field of battle, and all the British prisoners were under heavily armed guard, ordered to shoot to kill any potential escapees who even attempted to climb the fences.

This can be verified to this day, because that particular military prison building and the surrounding grounds still exist undeveloped, and although they are in the middle of Pretoria, the compound has been converted into a school — but it has a room preserved as a Winston Churchill museum from that era, where the photographs and assorted maps of the place and the relics, make clear the double lines of high wire fence, with additional razor topped concertina wire, on the fences, and the guard stations demarcating the dangers that Winston had to go through to escape. Indeed it all conforms, confirms, and supports the story, as it has been exclusively told by Winston Churchill in his ample memoirs from this Boer War.

Yet the false rumors, the fake news, and the innuendo persisted. As it turns out, many years later Winston Churchill even went ahead and sued Blackwood’s Magazine amongst others, for libel, and on other occasions, he obtained and issued writs of Court, to cease and desist from libel against him. All these just and legal actions drew forth many and profuse apologies from the scofflaws that had previously lied about Winston’s glorious escape from military gaol.

Winston’s lucky escapes in India and Egypt had made him superstitious. He was increasingly certain that he was destined for great events. Certainly there was an astonishing element of luck in his flight from the Boers. After waiting in the garden for nearly an hour he began to walk. He found the railway line, headed along it for some time, then managed to climb on a goods train. Before dawn he jumped off and making for the hills, hid in a grove of trees near a ravine. That night he walked back to the tracks with the idea of taking another train. But he saw lights in the far distance, which he thought were native African village fires, and his instinct made him approach…

He walked for many hours and as he drew nearer he suddenly realized that he was nearing a coal mine instead of a ‘Kaffir’ village.

He had heard that there were a number of English residents in the mining district of Witbank and Middelburg and with trepidation decided to chance his luck. He knocked on a door and a tall man with a pale face and a moustache let him in. Winston said he was a burgher but the man eyed him with suspicion. Then he decided to make a clean breast of it.

When he gave his name his host’s face relaxed. ‘Thank God you have come here,’ the man said. ‘It is the only house for twenty miles where you would not have been handed over.’ The man was Mr John Howard, the British mine manager, and living in the house with him was a plump man named Mr Dewsnap, of Oldham of all places. Howard decided that Winston must hide in the coal pit and Dewsnap led him there, shook his hand and whispered in his ear: “Don’t worry — they’ll all vote for you next time.”

Churchill remained with John Howard and Mr Dewsnap from Oldham England, his electoral constituency, hidden in the coal mine for three days and nights, and was sustained well, by writing about his adventures.

What both men knew, was that the Boers and many renegades, had been seriously looking for him with ill intent, because there had been posted bills all over the territory that advertised Winston Churchill’s escape widely; and by offering 25 Sterling pounds, for his capture — Dead or Alive.

 

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Upon hearing these news, Winston Churchill not wanting to place his hosts in any danger — thanked the two men and then made good his escape by jumping on a coal train that was heading East, and hopefully all the way towards the Portuguese East African ports, to offload its black gold load — king coal.

Winston waited all night for a freight train to reach a steep upwards incline and to slow down enough for him to catch it and climb aboard. That is when he jumped in one of the wagons in the rear, unseen by the engineers and the train guards. He ran, climbed, and hid aboard. His plan worked, and Winston stayed hidden in one of the last freight wagons covered in coal bags… and he settled in for some much needed sleep during the long journey towards freedom.

He had courageously hopped onto that fateful coal train and mostly wrote & slept for three days and three nights until he reached the city of Lourenco Marques, in what is today Maputo the capital of Mozambique — which back then was a Portuguese territory. Winston had bid his time and fortune, as he waited patiently because his freight train ride lasted a little more than three days and three nights. Yet finally after that long journey — he smell & saw the sea, the coast, and Lourenco Marques, where he jumped off the train, a free man.

Thus Winston Churchill made his escape regardless of his adversaries efforts to capture him and shoot him dead…

Once at Lourenco Marques, he asked around to find his bearings, and then promptly made his way to the British Consulate where he was given a hot bath, new clothes, and a square meal.

It was there that he learned that newspapers all over Europe had been speculating on his fortunes, and survival, because the Boers had advertised his escape widely, offering 25 pounds for his capture dead or alive, and because of that, there were quite a few bounty hunters in hot pursuit for his hide.

Even the English press had taken a pessimistic view of his chances. One of the London daily newspapers had remarked laconically: ‘With reference to the escape from Pretoria of Mr Winston Churchill, fears are expressed that he may be captured again before long, and if so, he will probably be shot.’

But they were all wrong. Churchill made them wrong.

Winston’s star had held. His star shone brightly in the firmament of the sky.

He was safe, sound, and free.

He was maybe a little hungry and thirsty, and a little worse for wear, but the important thing is that he was FREE…

And he was now making his way to secure Liberty, in order to get ready to fight another day, and win another battle.

And as the fortunes of war frequently turn — up to that point, the war in South Africa, had been going rather badly for the British forces. Great Britain was losing, and smarting under a series of military rebuffs, the likes of which they hadn’t seen since General Gordon’s massive defeats in Sudan…

And suddenly, that was the time when the news that Winston Churchill had escaped military prisoner of war jail, and had reached the safety of a neutral port city — reached the telegraph office, the military command, and consequently the journalists and the press. Yet it was the English newspapers and the rest of the press that made a Great Big Deal out of it, because Winston’s daring and dramatic escape, was just the tonic the war weary nation needed at this moment of his existence.

Blessedly, back home, the British public went wild with joy.

That is when the popular adulation for Winston Churchill started in earnest.

Overnight he became a symbol of British invincibility.

People took up the call and cried INVICTUS as the newspaper headlines had written, upon seeing him…

As for the resilient Winston Churchill, the captive soldier, who through sheer courage had made good on his escape, and thus regained his liberty — the very same day that he had arrived in Lourenco Marques — he caught a steamer ship back to Durban, the sea port in the British sector of South Africa, facing the Indian ocean.

There as luck would have it, the news of his daring escape had preceded him — and Winston Churchill arrived to find the whole city waiting for him, fully decorated with flags, bands playing, a public parade, taverns and pubs overflowing with free glasses of beer and whiskey for everyone who could belly up to the bar, and with crowds cheering him all about, in a state of happy excitement and exhilaration…

General Redvers Buller leader of the expeditionary British Army in South Africa sent for Winston Churchill and asked: “Is there anything we could do for You?”

The young escapee replied simply: “I would like a commission in the Army.”

This was difficult to arrange since a new regulation had been introduced, largely because of Winston’s activities, forbidding serving officers to work for the Press. Still General Redvers Buller, found a way to hack the system and circumvent this anti-Winston order emanating from his old foe Lord Kitchener — by granting young Winston Churchill, an unpaid Army commission.

Immediately thereafter, Winston Churchill, sent a dispatch to the Morning Post giving the War Office and the generals some clear, practical advice by writing this: “We must face the facts, because the individual Boer, mounted in suitable country, is worth from three to five regular British soldiers. The power of modern rifles is so tremendous that frontal attacks must often be repulsed. The extraordinary mobility of the enemy protects his flanks. The only way of treating the problem is either to get men equal in character and intelligence as riflemen, or failing the individual, huge masses of troops. … It would be much cheaper in the end to send more than necessary. There is plenty of work here for a quarter of a million men, and South Africa is well worth the cost in blood and money. More irregular corps are wanted. Are the gentlemen of England all fox-hunting?”

The gentlemen of England did not take too kindly to this sarcasm. Indeed a group of colonels and generals in one of the London clubs sent back a telegram to Winston in Durban: “Best friends here hope you will not continue making further ass of yourself.” And the Morning Leader wrote acidly: “We have received no confirmation of the statement that Lord Lansdowne has, pending the arrival of Lord Roberts, appointed Mr Winston Churchill to command the troops in South Africa, with General Sir Redvers Buller, V.C., as his Chief of Staff.”

For the next few months Winston served in the South African Light Horse which he nicknamed the Cockyollybirds because of the plumes which they wore in their slouch hats. It was a thrilling life, riding half the day and talking over a campfire at night. He took part in the fighting at Spion Kop and in the relief of Ladysmith. His brother Jack, now a lieutenant, joined him in this adventure but was wounded on the first day and put out of action. Lady Randolph Churchill arrived in Durban on a hospital ship which had been equipped with funds raised by a committee of American ladies married to Englishmen, and the three members of the family celebrated a reunion.

By the summer the British had captured Johannesburg and Pretoria. It looked as though the war would soon come to a close. The Conservative Government decided to take advantage of the public exuberance. In September the ‘khaki election’ was held and Winston hurried back to Oldham to try his luck.

His Star held firm, and so did his Lady Luck.

The electors of Oldham gave Winston a spectacular welcome. The town was decorated,
crowds lined the streets and the band struck up: “See the Conquering Hero Comes.” That night he addressed a large meeting in the assembly hall, and told them for the first time the full details of his escape. When he mentioned the name of Mr Dewsnap, the Oldham man who had hidden him in the coal mine, the audience shouted: “His wife’s in the gallery” and there were tremendous cheers. A girl in the front row expressed the sentiments of his supporters by wearing a sash with the words embroidered on it: “God Bless Churchill, England’s Noblest Hero.”

He fought his election campaign in a blaze of national publicity. Many London papers sent reporters to give it full coverage. Dozens of descriptive articles appeared about him. Julian Ralph of the Daily Mail wrote: “Young Churchill is a genius. The species is not so broad or so over familiar that one can carelessly classify a man as such. In this case there is no doubt.”

He then went on to describe his personality. “He finds it easier to vault out of a landau, than to open the door when he is getting out to address his electors and win their unqualified admiration if he can. He will take a bath thirteen minutes before dinnertime, will not hesitate to advise or admonish the Government in a newspaper letter, and will calmly differ from a bishop on a point of ecclesiastical law. But, mark you, he is usually diplomatic and considerate in speech and tone; he is boyishly handsome, has a winning smile, and is electric in brilliance and dash. That is why people rushed after him in crowds in Oldham, to see, and hear him, and to wring his hand. They called him “Young Randy” and shouted God’s blessing after him.”

The election was fought largely on the issue of the Boer War. The radical Liberals were bitterly opposed to the conflict; they thought it was wicked and unnecessary, and had been deliberately engineered by Joseph Chamberlain as a commercial venture. Winston was bound to defend the Government and as a result the Radicals made him the target for a malicious and outrageous whispering campaign. They suggested that he had left the Army in disgrace; that he had gone to South Africa as a correspondent rather than a soldier because he was a coward; that he would have been cashiered from the Army had he not resigned; and many other cruel slanders.

On 27th of September, the Daily Mail reporter wrote: “In nothing does Winston Churchill show his youth more than in the way he allows slanders to affect him . . . They deeply wound him and he allows men to see it. When some indiscreet supporter brings these stories to him, his eyes flash fire, he clutches his hands angrily, and he hurries out to find opportunity of somewhere and somehow bringing his traducers to book.”

The campaign grew in violence as the climax neared. Chamberlain had uttered the slogan: “Every seat lost to the Government is as a seat gained to the Boers” which had increased the temperature still further. He came to Oldham to speak for Winston and the two men drove together to the meeting in an open landau. The hall was jammed with supporters and the entrance and streets were crowded with booing opponents. Both men loved the ‘roar of the multitude and Chamberlain’s speech was an outstanding success. Polling day came and when the count was finally announced Winston had won by two hundred and thirty votes.

In those days constituencies polled over the space of six weeks. Churchill’s result was one of the first. He walked to the Conservative Club to find a telegram of congratulation from the Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury, and a few hours later invitations were pouring in from all over the country asking him to address meetings. He spoke in Manchester for Arthur Balfour, the Leader of the House, and when he walked on to the platform the whole Hall rose and cheered him. After this he seldom addressed audiences of less than five or six thousand. “Was it wonderful that I should have thought I had arrived? he wrote in My Early Life. But luckily life is not so easy as all that: otherwise we should get to the end too quickly.”

Winston was now a Member of Parliament, which in those days was a thrilling but expensive occupation. He took stock of his financial position. His book The River War had sold well; besides he had written two small books on his South African experiences which, together with his salary from the Morning Post, gave him a net sum of £ 4,000. He felt that he must increase his capital by a lecture tour before taking his seat. First, he toured England speaking every night for five weeks at a fee of £ 100 to £ 300 a lecture. He banked £ 4,500. Then he travelled to the United States and for two months carried out a similar program in America and Canada. In New York his meeting opened under the auspices of Mark Twain. His manager advertised him enthusiastically as “the hero of five wars, the author of six books, and the future Prime Minister of Great Britain.” Altogether the New World provided another £ 10,000 for Winston’s nest egg.

And then at just twenty-six years old Winston returned to London eagerly, and joyously, and a little wiser having again seen the New World — re-establishing himself in England, in order to take his seat in the House of Commons.

 

To be continued:


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