Project Gutenberg's Real Soldiers of Fortune, by Richard Harding Davis



Download 0.66 Mb.
Page5/13
Date conversion29.04.2016
Size0.66 Mb.
1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   ...   13

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

ignorance.


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

Music Hall.
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

Empire Promenade."


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

patrons.
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

passed.
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

that campaign.
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

with clasp.


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

more enemies.


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

the dogs.
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

the tender.
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

marksmanship.'


"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

escape.
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

Boer sombrero.
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

shot.
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

1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   ...   13


The database is protected by copyright ©essaydocs.org 2016
send message

    Main page