Winston Churchill (1874 - 1965)
English statesman Sir Winston Churchill successfully
led Britain through World War Two. He described this
achievement as his 'walk with destiny' - a destiny
for which he believed he had spent all his life in
He was born son of a prominent Tory politician, Lord
Randolph Churchill, at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire,
and attended the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst,
before embarking on an army career. He saw action
in 1897 with the Malakand field force, which he described
in The Story of the Malakand Field Force, and also
in 1898, with a Nile expeditionary force, when he
famously fought hand-to-hand against the Dervishes.
During the Boer war he was ambushed while reporting
for a London paper, The Morning Post, but he escaped
- and a price of £25.00 was put on his head.
political career began in 1900, when he became Conservative
MP for Oldham, a seat that he had previously failed
to win. When he became disaffected with his party
he migrated to join the Liberals in 1906. His presence
in the House of Commons was notable, marked particularly
by his rehearsed rhetorical method (meticulously prepared)
- and this was despite a speech impediment, which
never left him. Although he styled himself on his
father, his concerns were somewhat different. He was
an arbitrator who fought for peace in the Boer war,
and he believed in effective military management and
in modesty of ambition.
In 1917 he was appointed Lloyd George's minister of
munitions, and was involved in the mass production
of tanks, believed to have played a large part in
Britain's subsequent victory in World War One. Then
from 1919 to 1921 he acted as secretary of state for
war and air, and in 1924 he became chancellor of the
The next decade saw a decline in his status, as political
turmoil prevailed. But when war loomed in May 1940,
and Neville Chamberlain lost power, Churchill came
into his own - face-to-face with his 'destiny'. His
national spirit and unflinching determination in the
face of Germany and Italy's warmongering won massive
support across the country. Even though he promised
nothing more than 'blood, toil, tears and sweat',
he mobilised and inspired courage in an entire nation.
Throughout the war he worked tirelessly, and built
good relations with President Roosevelt at the same
time as maintaining an alliance with the Soviet Union.
Churchill, however, was regarded with suspicion by
some, for his ability to change parties at regular
intervals. Many trade union members, and sections
of the working class also hated him, as he was instrumental
in helping to break the 1926 General Strike. After
the war, even though he was seen as a great leader
who had not given an inch to the enemy, he was not
considered necessarily to be the man to establish
a better Britain during peacetime.
Suspicions and doubts about him may have been compounded
by his delay in the implementation of the Beveridge
Report, which outlined plans for a national health
service. Even though Churchill lost power in the 1945
post-war election, he remained a vital leader of the
opposition, voicing apprehensions about the Iron Curtain
and encouraging European and Atlantic unity, finally
conceived as NATO.
A final stint as Prime Minister came at the age of
77, and Churchill continued as a backbencher into
even older age. His contribution was rewarded with
a string of decorations, including an honorary US
citizenship and accolades listing him among the greatest
living Englishmen. As well as his many political achievements,
he left the legacy of an impressive number of publications.
captured in South Africa
Winston Churchill arrived in Estcourt in Natal in
1899 at the age of 25. He came to report on the Anglo
Boer War for the London Morning Post. The British
troops were waiting to march on Ladysmith. Churchill
later described Ladysmith as "the poor little
persecuted town – famous to the uttermost ends
of the earth".
In November of that year Churchill joined an armoured
train reconnaissance heading towards Colenso North
where Boer patrols had been spotted. Boers just north
of Frere in Natal ambushed the train. A huge stone
had blocked the line. When the train hit it, it was
derailed. General PJ Joubert decided that Churchill
had played too active a role in the skirmish. So he
was taken to Pretoria (near Johannesburg) to be imprisoned.
Churchill did not stay captive for long, however.
Within two months he had escaped and stowed away on
a coal train heading east in the direction of Mozambique.
The following evening the train stopped at Clewer
siding near Witbank (the Transvaal Highveld). Churchill
decided to knock on some doors in search of food.
Fortune definitely favors the brave for the door he
chose to knock on was that of John Howard. He was
an Englishman and manager of the Transvaal and Delagoa
Bay Colliery. Churchill was fed well and later hidden
in the underground stables of the mine. The Boer forces
were searching high and low. Still later he hid behind
some packing cases in the office.
General Joubert was not overly concerned about Churchill's
escape. He actually offered less cash reward (27shilling)
for Churchill's recapture that the British officers
were paying for a bottle of Scotch. "He is just
'n klein koerant-skrywertjie", (a little bit
of a newspaperman) was Joubert's opinion of the man
who would later become the British Prime Minister.
Six days after his arrival at Clewer, he was hidden
on a railway truck loaded with wool and bound for
Mozambique. The train finally reached its destination
two days later on 21 December. The British Consul
was not immediately convinced of Churchill's identity.
But after two days a cable reached Howard at Witbank.
It read, "Goods arrived safely".
Of the Boers, Churchill was to comment, "the
individual Boer, mounted, in a suitable country, is
worth four or five regular soldiers. The only way
of treating them is to either get men equal in character
and intelligence as riflemen, or failing that, huge
masses of troops…., 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. Are the
gentlemen of England all out fox hunting? For the
sake of our manhood, our devoted colonists and our
dead soldiers, we must persevere with the war".