Churchill's Stepping Stones To Greatness

Churchill's Stepping Stones To Greatness  by Rosemary McKittrick

Photo courtesy of Christie's.

Winston Churchill  had been on the run for two nights.  It was the Second Boer (South African) War in 1899.  The 25-year-old war correspondent had just escaped from a prison camp in Pretoria by climbing over a wall and running. 

Jack, you silly ass. You’ve only been here five minutes and you’ve got yourself shot.
— Winston Churchill

He was thirsty, hungry and tired.  Churchill  could see lights up ahead and headed for the nearby house.  A man answered the door pointing a pistol at Churchill thinking he was a Boer spy.

Churchill was lucky.  The man, John Howard, was an Englishman.  He hid Churchill for three days in a nearby mine before smuggling him onto a railway wagon headed for Portuguese East Africa and freedom. 

Just short of the border the train stopped for 18 hours.  The Boers searched Churchill’s wagon but missed the young war correspondent hiding underneath bales of wool.

The train started up again heading toward the border and Churchill knew he was safe when he heard the first station being announced with a Portuguese name.

He jumped out from underneath the bales covered with coal dust, shouted as loud as he could, and shot off two-or-three rounds from his revolver. 

Churchill worked as a reporter for the London Morning Post.  His publicized adventures were making him famous in England and he wasted little effort letting the press know he was OK.

When he arrived by ship at Durban in South Africa two days before Christmas in 1899 crowds jammed the harbor to catch a glimpse of the hero.

"Fighting is vigorously proceeding, and we shall see who can stand the bucketing best--Briton or Boer," he announced.

After his escape Churchill joined the South African Light Horse serving as a lieutenant.  The unit was a cavalry regiment fighting the Boers.  Its duties included tracking the movements of transient fighters.

Churchill remained as a soldier/correspondent in South Africa for another six months entertaining British readers with stories of battle and the army's pursuit of victory.  He also wrote two books about the Boer War.

As a hero Churchill sought fame and wasn’t shy about claiming it.  He was a celebrity at age 25 and achieved it first, not as a soldier, but as a war correspondent.

He also arranged a commission for his brother Jack, who arrived in South Africa in early-1900.  Jack was wounded on February 12 by a Boer bullet while he stood next to Churchill. 

Churchill was never wounded in battle himself and reportedly said, "Jack, you silly ass. You’ve only been here five minutes and you’ve got yourself shot.”

Churchill’s exploits during this period served as a stepping stone for the brilliant political career that was waiting ahead.

On June 2, Christie’s, London, featured the Winston Spencer Churchill collection of Malcolm S. Forbes Jr., Part 1 on the block.  Featured in the sale was a bust-length image of Churchill in his uniform as a lieutenant in the South African Light Horse, early-1900. 

Mounted on cardboard and signed, the photo sold for $7,355. 

Winston Churchill

Photograph; half-length; young Churchill as a Member of Parliament, and privy counselor; signed; circa 1909;  $4,413.

Photograph; Churchill and Stanley Baldwin; the prime minister and his chancellor; signed by both men; 1929;  $7,355.

Photograph; Churchill and wife Clementine; showing the couple seated in a drawing room; mounted on card; signed; 1950s;  $7,722.

Photograph; formal image; Churchill and members of his War Cabinet in the garden of 10 Downing Street; laid onto board; signed by Churchill and others; 1941;  $17,468.

Speeches; “For Free Trade, A Collection of Speeches delivered at Manchester or in the House of Commons during the Fiscal controversy preceding the late General Election”; by Winston Churchill; 1906;  $58,325.      

Rosemary McKittrick is a storyteller.  For 26 years she has brought the world of collecting to life in her column.  Her website is a mother lode of information about art, antiques and collectibles.  Rosemary received her education in the trenches working as a professional appraiser.

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