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Lancers. He took part in the charge at Omdurman, one of the most famous feats in British military history. Four hundred horsemen charged a compact mass of dervishes and, with heavy loss, forced their way through. As the battered Lancers reformed after the charge, Churchill saw one of his men, wounded and dismounted, beset by the enemy. He immediately turned his horse, galloped back and rescued him from mutilation and death.
Then came the Boer War. Churchill was no longer in the army. He had resigned his commission in order to devote himself to politics, and only a few weeks before the outbreak of hostilities, he made an unsuccessful attempt to enter Parliament. His interest in politics dated from his boyhood, when he first sat in the public gallery of the House of Commons. "What did you think of my speech?" a member asked him then. "I concluded, sir," replied young Churchill, "that the Ship of State is struggling in heavy seas.'
He went out to South Africa, ostensibly as a newspaper correspondent, determined as ever to be in the thick of the fighting. His chance soon came. Outside Ladysmith, he defended a British armored train which was caught in an ambush by the Boers. For over an hour he rallied his handful of soldiers under a hail of bullets and shells, until at last they were overwhelmed. "Keep cool, men," he was overheard to say; "this will make good copy for my paper.' He himself was rounded up by a Boer horseman who, disregarding with grim laughter his ingenious claim that, as a civilian correspondent, he
should be allowed to go free, drove him to join the other captives.
Six years later General Botha, the Boer statesman, came to London to discuss the future political organization of South Africa. At a dinnerparty he met Churchill, then undersecretary of state for the colonies, who told him the story of his capture by the mounted Boer. "So you were the man?" said Botha; "I was the Boer on the horse."
Once again Churchill was unlucky to miss the Victoria Cross. It has been stated on good authority that, had he still been a regular officer, his heroic defense of the armored train would undoubtedly have gained for him this glorious guerdon of valor.
Captivity irked him; but it was not for long. Within a few weeks of his internment, Churchill effected the most sensational escape of the whole
His political enemies have sometimes spread the slander that he broke his parole, but this is a lie. He scaled the wall of the prison one night and, though he could not speak the Boers' tongue and was ignorant of the country and almost without food, he succeeded in escaping to the Portuguese-African frontier, hundreds of miles away. His luck served him in this, as once before it had saved him from dying of thirst in the Egyptian desert and as it has saved him times without number, from enemy bullets. Thirst-racked, foot-sore and utterly exhausted, he dared to approach a Boer village, half-way to safety, and tap at one of the doors. It was the house of the only Englishman for a hundred miles around and, with his aid, Churchill consummated his
The news reached England at a
moment when depression over the war was deepest. It seemed an omen of eventual success, and Churchill, now back at the Front again, was acclaimed the hero of the day. When at last the tide of battle turned and the British forces were in sight of victory, Churchill returned home to fight another election. The youth of twenty-five was met in triumph. His constituents elected him to Parliament, and the leaders of the Conservative party vied with each other to secure his presence on their platform. No man ever made a more sensational entrance into politics. Parliament seemed at his feet. Yet less than three years later he threw away all his popularity, all the prestige he had inherited from his father, all the influence of the Marlboroughs, all his hopes in the Conservative party, and went over to the Liberals in opposition.
The ostensible reason for his change of party was the protectionist issue raised by the late Mr. Joseph Chamberlain. Churchill declared himself a rabid free-trader. But there were deeper reasons. The memory of Lord Randolph Churchill, the brilliant paladin of "tory democracy," and of the Fourth party's fight against the traditional stupidity of the Conservative leaders-these were the underlying forces, whether or not the young man was aware of it. He had indeed already committed the sin of independence. After a maiden speech in the House of Commons, which was well received and well supported by later speeches, Churchill fell foul of the Government's new army scheme. His father's political ruin had been due to an attempt to reduce expenditure on the army;
son, in his own words, "raised again the tattered banner I have found lying on a stricken field," and in his turn, made a plea for military economy. From that moment he was a marked man. His Conservative leaders distrusted him; his colleagues jeered him; the preferment that he might have expected, was withheld; and bitter, unpopular and unhappy, the young man crossed to the Liberal benches, taking his seat there beside another young man who was afterward to become famous-Mr. Lloyd George.
The elections of 1906 overthrew the Conservatives and sent back the Liberal-Radicals with an overwhelming majority. Churchill was returned for Manchester. He was now, at thirty-one, one of the most forceful speakers in the country. His courage, evident in war and in his change of party, was no less conspicuous in his speeches, for, apart from the vigor and brilliance of his utterances, often outspoken to indiscretion, he had to fight an affliction of speech that would have deterred lesser men from ever entering politics. He had, and has still, a lisp which turns every "s" to an "sh." This may seem a small thing; it is true that the House of Commons soon became used to it, but it is a very serious affliction for a sensitive man called on to address large public gatherings. But Churchill, a modern Demosthenes, steeled himself to conquer his disability. He could not eradicate it, so he ignored it. He never chose his words to avoid sibilants, so common in English. He has had his reward, for to-day his audiences no longer heed the roughness of utterance, but concentrate on the eloquent and brilliantly phrased
periods of which Churchill is, after Lord Birkenhead, probably the greatest and most popular master in England.
The Liberals included Churchill in their ministry, with the office of under-secretary for the colonies. He soon displayed his courage in his new sphere. One of the principal Liberal election cries had been the "slavery" of Chinese coolies employed in the South African mines. In early official utterances Churchill, on behalf of the Colonial Office, admitted that to describe the terms of the Chinamen's employment as slavery was a "terminological inexactitude"-one of the first of his phrases to pass into common use. His Radical colleagues were aghast at this admission; the Conservatives were delighted. But their delight was not of long duration, for Churchill soon showed himself one of the most effective House of Commons speakers of the time.
He and Lloyd George were indeed jointly responsible for maintaining the Liberal party in power. Together they planned the audacious budget of 1909, which was intended to force the House of Lords into a constitutional struggle with the Commons. The Lords fell an easy prey, and as a result, England was convulsed with a carefully staged war between the "forces of privilege" and "the will of the people." Election succeeded election. The Liberals retained power, though only by pledging themselves to the Irish Nationalist party to introduce Home Rule. Churchill went from office to office. He became president of the Board of Trade and then home secretary; Mr. Asquith spoke of him as "my right honorable and picturesque colleague" and, with
Mr. Lloyd George and Sir Edward Grey, Churchill became one of the inner circle that dictated cabinet and foreign policy.
His great chance came in 1911, when the Agadir crisis forced on the British Government the realization that war with Germany was, if not inevitable, at least well within the bounds of probability. Hitherto both Churchill and Lloyd George had been enthusiastic pacifists, discounting in private, and sometimes in public, the forebodings of Lord Haldane and Sir Edward Grey. Now both became alive to the peril and, though Lloyd George changed his mind more than once in the next three years, Churchill never doubted that the only way to maintain peace was to prepare for war. He was appointed to the admiralty and, by his own energy and initiative and with the help of a naval genius, the late Lord Fisher, whom he called in as his principal technical assistant, he deserves the credit of bringing the British fleet into the war superlatively strong, well-equipped and well-led. His building up of the fleet and the prompt measures he took (turning, Nelson-like, a blind eye to official formality) in the fateful days preceding the actual outbreak, secured the safety of the Allies against the German menace in 1914. Had Churchill done nothing else, had he died then, before he was forty, this great achievement would secure his place in history. But this was only the beginning.
Yet fortune, which till then had smiled on him, now frowned. His best work was unknown to the general public and, in the storm of criticism which burst on Mr. Asquith's
government soon after the beginning of the war, Churchill was marked out as a scapegoat. Two great failuresone of them not a failure at all, the other only a partial failure-were unjustly held against him. These were the expeditions to Antwerp and to the Dardanelles. Democracy is often unjust; it loves to devour its own children; Churchill fell because a name had to be linked with the losses at Antwerp, and with the distressing muddle that stained the rugged shores of Gallipoli with the blood of countless British and dominion slain.
Yet responsibility for the Antwerp expedition was not Churchill's. He was sent there by Mr. Asquith and Lord Kitchener to persuade the brave but desperate Belgian garrison to maintain its defense until reinforcements, already promised, arrived. He did his part well. He put new life into the Belgians; he reconnoitered the positions under fire; he urged speed upon his own countrymen and must be given credit for protracting the defense of the doomed city long enough to secure the safety of the rest of the channel ports.
The Dardanelles story is more complicated. There was always a difference of opinion among the allied commanders whether it was wiser to seek to withstand and defeat the enemy on the bloodsodden battlefields of France or to endeavor to outflank him, by the British mastery of the seas. Churchill belonged to the wiser school that counseled outflanking. He saw no hope of a decisive allied victory in the trenches, though even at this time he was seeking to bring into being the tanks, the one great new military discovery of
the war. But opinion was divided even among those who thought as he thought. Some sought to outflank the enemy in the North, by a landing in the Baltic; others in the South, by operations against Turkey. Lord Fisher adhered to the Northern school; the admiralty war staff had indeed drawn up plans for seizing an island off the Elbe, bottling up the German fleet in its harbors, and thus permitting a large allied force to be landed on the Baltic shores of Germany. But the plan was dangerous. If the German island could not be seized and, if seized, held, all must end in disaster, for the British fleet, strong as it was, could not afford to split itself in two sections, one in the North Sea, the other in the Baltic, if the German fleet was able at any time to break the blockade. Moreover, the whole operation would require much time, and many things might meanwhile happen to ruin it. For this reason Churchill decided in favor of the endeavor to outflank the central powers in the South. Thus the Dardanelles campaign was conceived.
The British cabinet favored the Dardanelles scheme, but Lord Kitchener stated definitely that no troops could be spared to assist in it. It must, therefore, be a purely naval enterprise. Discouraging though this was, it did not necessarily invalidate the project. In the first place, only old ships, which in any case would soon have to be dismantled, would be used; secondly, if at any time the operations failed, it would not be difficult to withdraw without serious loss. Orders were given and the British fleet began its attack on the Dardanelles. At first all went well.
Then suddenly, unexpectedly, disastrously, the army decided to take a hand. The naval operations were held up until the troops should arrive. Invaluable weeks were wasted. When the troops arrived, they came in driblets, too few to succeed, too many to risk in failure. There is no need to recapitulate the poignant story of the Dardanelles failure. Had Churchill exercised supreme authority over the forces of the empire, the Dardanelles would undoubtedly have been forced and the war shortened by two years. But the very measure of his subordination to other men was the measure of the failure of the operations and of his unjust disgrace. In the late autumn of 1916, he ceased to be a member of the cabinet, and went into the trenches of Flanders in command of a battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers.
"War is a game to be played with a smiling face," he declared to his officers, and he still indulged his fondness for strolling about under fire. His headquarters were in a farm-house close behind the line, which was repeatedly shelled. One day a fussy general on a tour of inspection, told Churchill that he ought not to put himself and his officers in a position of such danger. Churchill explained, with studious respect, that there was no other spot suitable for headquarters. "But I tell you it's very dangerous, very dangerous," insisted the general. "Yes, sir," said Churchill politely, "but, after all, this is a very dangerous war."
One evening he entertained at dinner a party of important staff
officers. "It's a lovely night," he remarked after dinner, "I expect you'd like to go out in front." No guest wished to appear hesitant and Churchill, conscious or unconscious of their discomfort, led them, to the delight of his battalion, on a long and dangerous tour of the trenches, from which they returned unharmed but extremely muddy and cross.
But at the same time he impressed on his men qualities suitable for present-day warfare, showing them how to do most harm to the enemy at least risk to themselves. In this admirable endeavor, it was his practice unexpectedly to harass the opposing trenches with a sudden feint of activity. The supporting artillery would be rung up in the middle of the night and requested to support Churchill's demonstration. It is not on record that his superior officers ever ventured to rebuke him for his independent zeal; perhaps his high political prestige made them chary of interference.
From raw recruits his men soon became the smartest and best disciplined battalion in the regiment. He brought the army also the promise of the tanks. He was not, of course, the inventor of this weapon; many men had sought to bring it into being. But without Churchill, tanks would never have existed. While he was still at the admiralty at the outbreak of the war, he was attracted by the idea and, carefully concealing the necessary expenditure from his own subordinates and from the treasury, he ordered the secret construction of several of the new engines of war. This was one of his most daring exploits, and is a good example of how much a “damned politician" as sol