as an officer of the Primrose League, as an editor of the _Anglo-Saxon
Review_, as, for many hot, weary months in Durban Harbor, the head
of the hospital ship _Maine_, she has shown an acute mind and real
executive power. At the polls many votes that would not respond to the
arguments of the husband, and later of the son, were gained over to the
cause by the charm and wit of the American woman.
In his earlier days, if one can have days any earlier than those he now
enjoys, Churchill was entirely influenced by two things: the tremendous
admiration he felt for his father, which filled him with ambition to
follow in his orbit, and the camaraderie of his mother, who treated him
less like a mother than a sister and companion.
Indeed, Churchill was always so precocious that I cannot recall the time
when he was young enough to be Lady Randolph's son; certainly, I cannot
recall the time when she was old enough to be his mother.
When first I knew him he had passed through Harrow and Sandhurst and was
a second lieutenant in the Queen's Own Hussars. He was just of age, but
appeared much younger.
He was below medium height, a slight, delicate-looking boy; although, as
a matter of fact, extremely strong, with blue eyes, many freckles, and
hair which threatened to be a decided red, but which now has lost its
fierceness. When he spoke it was with a lisp, which also has changed,
and which now appears to be merely an intentional hesitation.
His manner of speaking was nervous, eager, explosive. He used many
gestures, some of which were strongly reminiscent of his father, of
whom he, unlike most English lads, who shy at mentioning a distinguished
parent, constantly spoke.
He even copied his father in his little tricks of manner. Standing with
hands shoved under the frock-coat and one resting on each hip as though
squeezing in the waist line; when seated, resting the elbows on the arms
of the chair and nervously locking and unclasping fingers, are tricks
common to both.
He then had and still has a most embarrassing habit of asking many
questions; embarrassing, sometimes, because the questions are so frank,
and sometimes because they lay bare the wide expanse of one's own
At that time, although in his twenty-first year, this lad twice had been
made a question in the House of Commons.
That in itself had rendered him conspicuous. When you consider out of
Great Britain's four hundred million subjects how many live, die, and
are buried without at any age having drawn down upon themselves the
anger of the House of Commons, to have done so twice, before one has
passed his twenty-first year, seems to promise a lurid future.
The first time Churchill disturbed the august assemblage in which so
soon he was to become a leader was when he "ragged" a brother subaltern
named Bruce and cut up his saddle and accoutrements. The second time was
when he ran away to Cuba to fight with the Spaniards.
After this campaign, on the first night of his arrival in London, he
made his maiden speech. He delivered it in a place of less dignity
than the House of Commons, but one, throughout Great Britain and her
colonies, as widely known and as well supported. This was the Empire
At the time Mrs. Ormiston Chant had raised objections to the presence in
the Music Hall of certain young women, and had threatened, unless they
ceased to frequent its promenade, to have the license of the Music Hall
revoked. As a compromise, the management ceased selling liquor, and
on the night Churchill visited the place the bar in the promenade was
barricaded with scantling and linen sheets. With the thirst of tropical
Cuba still upon him, Churchill asked for a drink, which was denied him,
and the crusade, which in his absence had been progressing fiercely,
was explained. Any one else would have taken no for his answer, and
have sought elsewhere for his drink. Not so Churchill. What he did is
interesting, because it was so extremely characteristic. Now he would
not do it; then he was twenty-one.
He scrambled to the velvet-covered top of the railing which divides
the auditorium from the promenade, and made a speech. It was a plea in
behalf of his "Sisters, the Ladies of the Empire Promenade."
"Where," he asked of the ladies themselves and of their escorts crowded
below him in the promenade, "does the Englishman in London always find a
welcome? Where does he first go when, battle-scarred and travel-worn,
he reaches home? Who is always there to greet him with a smile, and
join him in a drink? Who is ever faithful, ever true--the Ladies of the
The laughter and cheers that greeted this, and the tears of the ladies
themselves, naturally brought the performance on the stage to a stop,
and the vast audience turned in the seats and boxes.
They saw a little red-haired boy in evening clothes, balancing himself
on the rail of the balcony, and around him a great crowd, cheering,
shouting, and bidding him "Go on!"
Churchill turned with delight to the larger audience, and repeated his
appeal. The house shook with laughter and applause.
The commissionaires and police tried to reach him and a good-tempered
but very determined mob of well-dressed gentlemen and cheering girls
fought them back. In triumph Churchill ended his speech by begging his
hearers to give "fair play" to the women, and to follow him in a charge
upon the barricades.
The charge was instantly made, the barricades were torn down, and the
terrified management ordered that drink be served to its victorious
Shortly after striking this blow for the liberty of others, Churchill
organized a dinner which illustrated the direction in which at that age
his mind was working, and showed that his ambition was already abnormal.
The dinner was given to those of his friends and acquaintances who "were
under twenty-one years of age, and who in twenty years would control the
destinies of the British Empire."
As one over the age limit, or because he did not consider me an
empire-controlling force, on this great occasion, I was permitted to
be present. But except that the number of incipient empire-builders was
very great, that they were very happy, and that save the host himself
none of them took his idea seriously, I would not call it an evening of
historical interest. But the fact is interesting that of all the
boys present, as yet, the host seems to be the only one who to any
conspicuous extent is disturbing the destinies of Great Britain.
However, the others can reply that ten of the twenty years have not yet
When he was twenty-three Churchill obtained leave of absence from his
regiment, and as there was no other way open to him to see fighting, as
a correspondent he joined the Malakand Field Force in India.
It may be truthfully said that by his presence in that frontier war he
made it and himself famous. His book on that campaign is his best piece
of war reporting. To the civilian reader it has all the delight of one
of Kipling's Indian stories, and to writers on military subjects it is
a model. But it is a model very few can follow, and which Churchill
himself was unable to follow, for the reason that only once is it given
a man to be twenty-three years of age.
The picturesque hand-to-hand fighting, the night attacks, the charges up
precipitous hills, the retreats made carrying the wounded under constant
fire, which he witnessed and in which he bore his part, he never
again can see with the same fresh and enthusiastic eyes. Then it was
absolutely new, and the charm of the book and the value of the book are
that with the intolerance of youth he attacks in the service evils that
older men prefer to let lie, and that with the ingenuousness of youth he
tells of things which to the veteran have become unimportant, or which
through usage he is no longer even able to see.
In his three later war books, the wonder of it, the horror of it, the
quick admiration for brave deeds and daring men, give place, in "The
River War," to the critical point of view of the military expert, and
in his two books on the Boer war to the rapid impressions of the
journalist. In these latter books he tells you of battles he has seen,
in the first one he made you see them.
For his services with the Malakand Field Force he received the campaign
medal with clasp, and, "in despatches," Brigadier-General Jeffreys
praises "the courage and resolution of Lieutenant W. L. S. Churchill,
Fourth Hussars, with the force as correspondent of the _Pioneer_."
From the operations around Malakand, he at once joined Sir William
Lockhart as orderly officer, and with the Tirah Expedition went through
For this his Indian medal gained a second clasp.
This was in the early part of 1898. In spite of the time taken up as
an officer and as a correspondent, he finished his book on the Malakand
Expedition and then, as it was evident Kitchener would soon attack
Khartum, he jumped across to Egypt and again as a correspondent took
part in the advance upon that city.
Thus, in one year, he had seen service in three campaigns.
On the day of the battle his luck followed him. Kitchener had attached
him to the Twenty-first Lancers, and it will be remembered the event of
the battle was the charge made by that squadron. It was no canter, no
easy "pig-sticking"; it was a fight to get in and a fight to get out,
with frenzied followers of the Khalifa hanging to the bridle reins,
hacking at the horses' hamstrings, and slashing and firing point-blank
at the troopers. Churchill was in that charge. He received the medal
Then he returned home and wrote "The River War." This book is the last
word on the campaigns up the Nile. From the death of Gordon in Khartum
to the capture of the city by Kitchener, it tells the story of the many
gallant fights, the wearying failures, the many expeditions into the
hot, boundless desert, the long, slow progress toward the final winning
of the Sudan.
The book made a distinct sensation. It was a work that one would expect
from a lieutenant-general, when, after years of service in Egypt, he
laid down his sword to pen the story of his life's work. From a Second
Lieutenant, who had been on the Nile hardly long enough to gain the
desert tan, it was a revelation. As a contribution to military history
it was so valuable that for the author it made many admirers, but on
account of his criticisms of his superior officers it gained him even
This is a specimen of the kind of thing that caused the retired army
officer to sit up and choke with apoplexy:
"General Kitchener, who never spares himself, cares little for others.
He treated all men like machines, from the private soldiers, whose
salutes he disdained, to the superior officers, whom he rigidly
controlled. The comrade who had served with him and under him for many
years, in peace and peril, was flung aside as soon as he ceased to be of
use. The wounded Egyptian and even the wounded British soldier did not
excite his interest."
When in the service clubs they read that, the veterans asked each other
their favorite question of what is the army coming to, and to their
own satisfaction answered it by pointing out that when a lieutenant of
twenty-four can reprimand the commanding general the army is going to
To the newspapers, hundreds of them, over their own signatures, on
the service club stationery, wrote violent, furious letters, and the
newspapers themselves, besides the ordinary reviews, gave to the book
editorial praise and editorial condemnation.
Equally disgusted were the younger officers of the service. They
nicknamed his book "A Subaltern's Advice to Generals," and called
Churchill himself a "Medal Snatcher." A medal snatcher is an officer
who, whenever there is a rumor of war, leaves his men to the care of
any one, and through influence in high places and for the sake of the
campaign medal has himself attached to the expeditionary force. But
Churchill never was a medal hunter. The routine of barrack life irked
him, and in foreign parts he served his country far better than by
remaining at home and inspecting awkward squads and attending guard
mount. Indeed, the War Office could cover with medals the man who wrote
"The Story of the Malakand Field Force" and "The River War" and still be
in his debt.
In October, 1898, a month after the battle of Omdurman, Churchill
made his debut as a political speaker at minor meetings in Dover and
Rotherhithe. History does not record that these first speeches set fire
to the Channel. During the winter he finished and published his "River
War," and in the August of the following summer, 1899, at a by-election,
offered himself as Member of Parliament for Oldham.
In the _Daily Telegraph_ his letters from the three campaigns in India
and Egypt had made his name known, and there was a general desire to
hear him and to see him. In one who had attacked Kitchener of Khartum,
the men of Oldham expected to find a stalwart veteran, bearded, and with
a voice of command. When they were introduced to a small red-haired boy
with a lisp, they refused to take him seriously. In England youth is an
unpardonable thing. Lately, Curzon, Churchill, Edward Grey, Hugh Cecil,
and others have made it less reprehensible. But, in spite of a vigorous
campaign, in which Lady Randolph took an active part, Oldham decided
it was not ready to accept young Churchill for a member. Later he was
Oldham's only claim to fame.
A week after he was defeated he sailed for South Africa, where war with
the Boers was imminent. He had resigned from his regiment and went south
as war correspondent for the _Morning Post_.
Later in the war he held a commission as Lieutenant in the South African
Light Horse, a regiment of irregular cavalry, and on the staffs
of different generals acted as galloper and aide-de-camp. To this
combination of duties, which was in direct violation of a rule of the
War Office, his brother officers and his fellow correspondents objected;
but, as in each of his other campaigns he had played this dual role, the
press censors considered it a traditional privilege, and winked at it.
As a matter of record, Churchill's soldiering never seemed to interfere
with his writing, nor, in a fight, did his duty to his paper ever
prevent him from mixing in as a belligerent.
War was declared October 9th, and only a month later, while scouting in
the armored train along the railroad line between Pietermaritzburg and
Colenso, the cars were derailed and Churchill was taken prisoner.
The train was made up of three flat cars, two armored cars, and between
them the engine, with three cars coupled to the cow-catcher and two to
On the outward trip the Boers did not show themselves, but as soon as
the English passed Frere station they rolled a rock on the track at a
point where it was hidden by a curve. On the return trip, as the English
approached this curve the Boers opened fire with artillery and pompoms.
The engineer, in his eagerness to escape, rounded the curve at full
speed, and, as the Boers had expected, hit the rock. The three forward
cars were derailed, and one of them was thrown across the track, thus
preventing the escape of the engine and the two rear cars. From these
Captain Haldane, who was in command, with a detachment of the Dublins,
kept up a steady fire on the enemy, while Churchill worked to clear the
track. To assist him he had a company of Natal volunteers, and those who
had not run away of the train hands and break-down crew.
"We were not long left in the comparative safety of a railroad
accident," Churchill writes to his paper. "The Boers' guns, swiftly
changing their position, reopened fire from a distance of thirteen
hundred yards before any one had got out of the stage of exclamations.
The tapping rifle-fire spread along the hills, until it encircled the
wreckage on three sides, and from some high ground on the opposite side
of the line a third field-gun came into action."
For Boer marksmen with Mausers and pompoms, a wrecked railroad train
at thirteen hundred yards was as easy a bull's-eye as the hands of the
first baseman to the pitcher, and while the engine butted and snorted
and the men with their bare bands tore at the massive beams of the
freight-car, the bullets and shells beat about them.
"I have had in the last four years many strange and varied experiences,"
continues young Churchill, "but nothing was so thrilling as this; to
wait and struggle among these clanging, rending iron boxes, with the
repeated explosions of the shells, the noise of the projectiles striking
the cars, the hiss as they passed in the air, the grunting and puffing
of the engine--poor, tortured thing, hammered by at least a dozen
shells, any one of which, by penetrating the boiler, might have made an
end of all--the expectation of destruction as a matter of course, the
realization of powerlessness--all this for seventy minutes by the clock,
with only four inches of twisted iron between danger, captivity, and
shame on one side--and freedom on the other."
The "protected" train had proved a deathtrap, and by the time the line
was clear every fourth man was killed or wounded. Only the engine,
with the more severely wounded heaped in the cab and clinging to its
cow-catcher and foot-rails, made good its escape. Among those left
behind, a Tommy, without authority, raised a handkerchief on his rifle,
and the Boers instantly ceased firing and came galloping forward to
accept surrender. There was a general stampede to escape. Seeing that
Lieutenant Franklin was gallantly trying to hold his men, Churchill,
who was safe on the engine, jumped from it and ran to his assistance. Of
what followed, this is his own account:
"Scarcely had the locomotive left me than I found myself alone in a
shallow cutting, and none of our soldiers, who had all surrendered,
to be seen. Then suddenly there appeared on the line at the end of the
cutting two men not in uniform. 'Plate-layers,' I said to myself, and
then, with a surge of realization, 'Boers.' My mind retains a momentary
impression of these tall figures, full of animated movement, clad in
dark flapping clothes, with slouch, storm-driven hats, posing their
rifles hardly a hundred yards away. I turned and ran between the
rails of the track, and the only thought I achieved was this: 'Boer
"Two bullets passed, both within a foot, one on either side. I flung
myself against the banks of the cutting. But they gave no cover. Another
glance at the figures; one was now kneeling to aim. Again I darted
forward. Again two soft kisses sucked in the air, but nothing struck me.
I must get out of the cutting--that damnable corridor. I scrambled up
the bank. The earth sprang up beside me, and a bullet touched my hand,
but outside the cutting was a tiny depression. I crouched in this,
struggling to get my wind. On the other side of the railway a horseman
galloped up, shouting to me and waving his hand. He was scarcely forty
yards off. With a rifle I could have killed him easily. I knew nothing
of the white flag, and the bullets had made me savage. I reached down
for my Mauser pistol. I had left it in the cab of the engine. Between me
and the horseman there was a wire fence. Should I continue to fly?
The idea of another shot at such a short range decided me. Death stood
before me, grim and sullen; Death without his light-hearted companion,
Chance. So I held up my hand, and like Mr. Jorrock's foxes, cried
'Capivy!' Then I was herded with the other prisoners in a miserable
group, and about the same time I noticed that my hand was bleeding, and
it began to pour with rain.
"Two days before I had written to an officer at home: 'There has been a
great deal too much surrendering in this war, and I hope people who do
so will not be encouraged.'"
With other officers, Churchill was imprisoned in the State Model
Schools, situated in the heart of Pretoria. It was distinctly
characteristic that on the very day of his arrival he began to plan to
Toward this end his first step was to lose his campaign hat, which he
recognized was too obviously the hat of an English officer. The burgher
to whom he gave money to purchase him another innocently brought him a
Before his chance to escape came a month elapsed, and the opportunity
that then offered was less an opportunity to escape than to get himself
The State Model Schools were surrounded by the children's playgrounds,
penned in by a high wall, and at night, while they were used as a
prison, brilliantly lighted by electric lights. After many nights of
observation, Churchill discovered that while the sentries were pacing
their beats there was a moment when to them a certain portion of the
wall was in darkness. This was due to cross-shadows cast by the electric
lights. On the other side of this wall there was a private house set in
a garden filled with bushes. Beyond this was the open street.
To scale the wall was not difficult; the real danger lay in the fact
that at no time were the sentries farther away than fifteen yards, and
the chance of being shot by one or both of them was excellent. To a
brother officer Churchill confided his purpose, and together they agreed
that some night when the sentries had turned from the dark spot on the
wall they would scale it and drop among the bushes in the garden. After
they reached the garden, should they reach it alive, what they were to
do they did not know. How they were to proceed through the streets
and out of the city, how they were to pass unchallenged under its many
electric lights and before the illuminated shop windows, how to dodge
patrols, and how to find their way through two hundred and eighty
miles of a South African wilderness, through an utterly unfamiliar,
unfriendly, and sparsely settled country into Portuguese territory and
the coast, they left to chance. But with luck they hoped to cover the
distance in a fortnight, begging corn at the Kaffir kraals, sleeping by