Young Winston and My Early Life
Above: Lord Randolph Churchill (Robert Shaw, known widely to film buffs for his grim role as Quint in “Jaws”) and Young Winston Churchill, MP (Simon Ward). In the film this scene never occurs, since Winston did not enter Parliament until six years after Randolph’s death. (Columbia Pictures). James Muller speaks on the movie “Young Winston” and Winston Churchill’s life before World War II at Hillsdale College’s fourth event of the Center for Constructive Alternatives in the 2018-2019 school year: “Churchill and the Movies.”
Ladies and gentlemen, I’m delighted to be here again at Hillsdale College, which I came to the first time when I was a student, not at this college, but another one that begins with “H” (laughter). I’ve been here a number of times since and have many friends here, but it’s a special time to come especially with Larry Arnn as president, and Judith and I have been so delighted with the wonderful hospitality that he and so many other friends here have afforded to us. And the chance to participate in one of these CCA programs in situ, at the college, is really a treat.
I admit, it is a little bit colder than it was in Anchorage when we left. So please don’t blame us for bringing the weather here. But we’ve had a wonderful time, and we’re looking forward to the rest of the program tomorrow too, especially. And I certainly agree with Larry that we’ve had a wonderful program so far, and as he said, that must be partly because I haven’t spoken yet. I think I first met Larry in the 70s, when we were both undergraduate students and he’s been a friend for a long, long time too.
So, for all of those of you who are friends, it’s wonderful to see you, and for those I’m having a chance to meet this time, I’ve enjoyed that very much too, and part of the pleasure has been meeting Hillsdale students who have been very, very polite, intelligent, and have been asking good questions throughout this program (applause), so that’s been a lot of fun.
About Young Winston
I think this film we saw tonight was the longest of the films that we have. And the one that was about Churchill himself. And I don’t need to explain, perhaps, quite so much of the background of that movie as was required to understand—for instance, the film describing events many hundreds of years earlier that we heard about last night. But I did want to say, just in beginning, a few words about the film, and the I’m going to talk chiefly about the book that was quickly described as being the basis for the film, Churchill’s autobiography, which he called My Early Life.
The film, and here you see one of the posters for it, starred of course a young British actor, one of several young British actors who portrayed Churchill at various ages. But the one who was Churchill most of the time was Simon Ward when Richard Attenborough cast him as Winston Churchill in Young Winston in 1972. He had to pick a relatively little-known actor, because he needed somebody who was quite young to go with better known and better-established actors, like Robert Shaw who was Lord Randolph, and Anne Bancroft, who was Lady Randolph Churchill. (Not “Lady Churchill.”)
The way the British use titles is almost impossible to keep track of for Americans. One of the curious things about the film, since it was made in Britain, was that they did pronounce the name of Churchill’s intended and the woman he married, at the end of the film, “Clementine Hozier” wrong, they pronounced it “Clemen-tyne”
I was once sitting in Anchorage when a professor pronounced Churchill’s wife’s name that way. And her daughter, who was sitting in the audience, rose out of her seat and said “Clemen-teen!” The poor professor was duly chastened, and I think now knows how to say the name. So it’s not like the song “My Darling Clementine.” But I didn’t find too many other odd mistakes in the film. There was one. And that was that in the showing of the Battle of Omdurman. The most damaging part of the battle in terms of British casualties was the very dangerous cavalry charge in which Winston himself was a serving officer.
They charged into a ravine that was filled with about ten times as many armed dervishes as they supposed it would be. Most of the British casualties in the battle occurred there. But in the movie they said it was the day after the main battle in the mopping-up operations, whereas in fact, the battle began very early in the morning and the cavalry charge was only a few hours after that on the same day, 2 September 1898. But aside from that, there were very many things that I thought were done very well.
Afterwards, Simon Ward, who was this young actor, had a long career in film and television, and continuing on the legitimate theater where he had first come from. But all his life he remained best known for this portrayal of Churchill as a young man. He did play Churchill once again, two decades later. This is an interesting bit of trivia which I found on the internet. He played Churchill on a Turkish mini-series for television called “Kurtulus,” named after a part of Istanbul, which was an epic Turkish story of patriotic resistance to the British, the French, and other meddlers after the first World War.
Churchill’s My Early Life
There are many fine biographies of Winston Churchill, and Andrew Roberts’, added this year, has been the latest. But when somebody asks me, “What’s the first book I ought to read about Churchill?” I always suggest instead reading a book by Churchill: My Early Life: A Roving Commission. This book was first published in Britain and in America in 1930. It’s been translated into dozens of languages, and it’s never since been out of print.
The current American edition of My Early Life has an introduction by Churchill’s biographer William Manchester. Unfortunately, it omits the book’s dedication. Churchill dedicated the book to “A New Generation.” The edition also omits most of the illustrations that were in the first edition, and the index. The current British edition is a little bit more adequate. It does have Churchill’s dedication, which I think is quite important, and it has an index, which is a nice thing. And here (picture on screen) is one of the many other more specialized editions that’s appeared over the years.
Now, in the preface to a book, an author often explains why he wrote the book. And in Churchill’s preface, he tells us one of the themes of this book. The theme is the difference between the world in which Churchill came of age, and the world in 1930. The most obvious intervening event that no one could miss was the First World War. But Churchill does also emphasize the political revolution that had taken place around the time of that war in Britain, as aristocracy was giving way to democracy.
And here are the words he gives in the preface, which show just how all encompassing that revolution was. In the second sentence which I’ve put up on the screen, Churchill mentions five things that have changed, each of which he’s going to explore in this book, his autobiography: the character of society, the foundations of politics, the methods of war, the outlook of youth, and the scale of values.
Churchill of course had been borne into one of the great aristocratic families of Britain. Born in 1874 at Blenheim Palace, and although the palace was the ancestral seat of his paternal grandfather, the Duke of Marlborough, and the place where his father had grown up, Churchill himself never lived at Blenheim palace, though he was frequently a visitor there. He was born at the palace because his parents were visiting the palace with his father’s parents when he was born, perhaps prematurely.
Churchill’s great ancestor was John Churchill, the First Duke of Marlborough, who served the Kings of England, and also one of her Queens, at the time of the glorious revolution in 1688, and then defeated the armies of the French King in four great battles at the beginning of the 18th century: Blenheim, Ramillies, Oudenarde, and Malplaquet. Blenheim Palace, which was named after the first of these great victories over Louis XIV, at Blindheim in Bavaria in 1704, was erected on Crown land, in grateful thanks from a nation which had been spared from dominance by a foreign tyrant on the continent of Europe
Churchill’s father, Lord Randolph, had the courtesy title of “Lord” as the third son of the Duke, and the second surviving son. But, pursuant to the law of primogeniture, he would inherit neither the title nor the estates of his father, which went to his older brother. Instead, after he had studied at Eton, and at Oxford, he pursued a political career, which, because of his imagination and his wit and his propensity to pick fights with political mediocrities, whatever their high positions in his party, made him quickly one of the leading young figures in the Conservative Party, and quickly he rose to be Chancellor of the Exchequer and Leader of the House of Commons.
Winston Churchill shared his father’s remarkable memory and his facility with words. He longed for the chance to pursue a political career like Lord Randolph, but his father never really appreciated the boy’s abilities. Lord Randolph, having picked a fight with the Prime Minster, Lord Salisbury, which led to his resignation from the government, was frozen out of political office until he died in his late forties. The Prime Minister, asked later, if he wouldn’t relent and let Lord Randolph back into the government after all, said, “Sir! When a man has had a boil on his neck and has managed to get rid of it, do you suppose he wants it to return?”
Churchill’s mother, Jennie Jerome, was the daughter of an American businessman and civic leader Leonard Jerome, whose wife had taken their three daughters to be educated in Europe. Lord Randolph, who met her at a party on the Isle of Wight in 1873, proposed to her and was accepted three days after he met her. Despite opposition from both families, they were married half a year later at the British Embassy in Paris, in the presence of members of neither of the two families.
In My Early Life, Winston Churchill remembered his mother as a fascinating but distant presence in his life as a boy. But, as we saw in the film, when he was older, and then particularly after his father’s death, she helped him to advance his political career.
In a way, Churchill and his younger brother Jack had two mothers. It was their nurse, Elizabeth Everest, who looked after them every day. Winston, who was devoted to her, not only kissed her in the high street at Harrow, when she came to visit him when he was a boy at school there, which people thought was a very brave thing for a Harrow boy to have done. But also, with his brother arranged for the perpetual care of her grave in a London cemetery, and writes gratefully about her in his autobiography.
Not long after Churchill’s birth, the Marlborough family was consigned to a sort of exile for several years, after Lord Randolph picked a fight with the Prince of Wales. Churchill’s grandfather, the Duke of Marlborough was named Lord Lieutenant, or Viceroy of Ireland. Lord Randolph accompanied his father to Dublin as private secretary, and that’s why Churchill’s earliest memories are of life in the Phoenix Park at Dublin. There he says he was first menaced with education disrupting his play. And after being educated at home by a governess who had to teach him reading and arithmetic. When his family returned to England, he was sent off, as you saw, to boarding school.
Churchill’s first school, which was in the country near London, had been founded only in the previous decade, and it had been founded specifically to prepare boys for public school at Eton. Here on his very first day he was made acquainted with Latin, and it was there that he frequently got into trouble with the authorities, because he had a propensity to work at his lessons only if he was interested in them—and he wasn’t always interested in them.
This is his first report card, which shows that his headmaster found him hard to manage, and, well, it says that the boy is “a regular pickle” and he hasn’t quite fallen into school ways yet, and other things of that sort. But the Headmaster, as you saw, responded to Churchill’s intractability by beating him severely. This eventually caused him to be withdrawn from the school, after Mrs. Everest pointed out the abuse to his parents. In the film, the headmaster was played by Robert Hardy, who later in his career played Churchill himself in the Masterpiece Theater series “The Wilderness Years,” which I think is still the most wonderful portrait of Churchill on film.
Churchill was next enrolled in a less pretentious school, not actually in Brighton, but very close by in Hove, which was run by the Misses Thomson, two kind ladies who let him study poetry and French and books of cartoons, and other things that came to interest him. The blue historical plaque on the building, which is no longer a school, but now I think the headquarters of the local Conservative organization, misspells “Thomson” and gives the wrong dates for Churchill’s time there. But at least it does correctly record the fact that he was a student there.
By 1888, it was time for Churchill to go to what the British call “public school,” by which they mean one of the highly selective, independent schools that traditionally prepared English boys from aristocratic families to go to the university, or, as people said, less reverently, to soak up the prejudices of their class.
His father, Lord Randolph, had studied at Eton, which is probably the most famous British public school. But Eton is near Windsor Palace, which means it’s in a swamp, and Churchill by this time was judged to have delicate lungs. So he was sent instead to Harrow school, which is up on a hill, about ten miles from central London. It’s now in effect part of Greater London, and if you go to London you can go there on the Underground. You get off at the stop called “Harrow on the Hill,” and then you have to climb the hill, and it’s quite a hill to climb.
It was founded in 1572 by John Lyon as a free grammar school for boys at Harrow. Over the years, as the older practice of educating sons of the aristocracy by having them get private tutors at home gave way to sending them off to boarding schools, Harrow became, instead of an exclusive scholarship school for poor boys, one of England’s leading public schools.
Churchill went up to Harrow in April of 1888, when he was thirteen, somewhat older than most boys who go there, and left four years later. Having had some trouble, as you saw in the film, with the Latin part of his entrance exam, Churchill was, accordingly, put into the lowest grade or form at Harrow, which he never left.
So when the boys lined up, so the school could take attendance, which they did three times a day, with his hyphenated surname, “Spencer-Churchill,” spectators were surprised to see that of all the boys at the school, he was the last one of all on the list. Churchill never did very well in Latin or Greek, which was the basis of the classical education that Harrow provided. But he did excel at History and English. Early in his time at Harrow he won a prize, open to the whole school, by reciting 1200 lines of Macaulay’s “Lays of Ancient Rome” without making a single mistake.
In My Early Life he understates his achievements at Harrow, where he distinguished himself as the English public-school fencing champion and wrote essays that attracted the attention of his masters. Nevertheless, he does remember a few of his masters with gratitude, among them Robert Somervell, his English master, who was the fellow who invented the diagramming of sentences and was just writing a little book about it when Churchill was in his class. And he was the one who, I think more than any other single person, aside from Churchill’s own reading, taught Churchill how to use the English language.
Churchill didn’t excel at team sports, but he contributed some telling letters to the school newspaper. One of them complained that there were not enough towels for the hundreds of boys who were there in the gymnasium. Only a couple dozen towels were there at any given time, and he thought that was quite inadequate. One of his great delights at Harrow was swimming in the wonderful outdoor swimming pond, which has now been unfortunately replaced by a much smaller, indoor Olympic-sized swimming pool.
I think Harrow is still looking for a headmaster as talented as Larry Arnn and a benefactor as wonderful as many of you have been to this college, to put the swimming pond back into action. The boys used to relax in Churchill’s time on the banks of the pond, and then when they had a chance they would sneak up on other boys and, grabbing their towels out of generosity before they pushed them into the pool, would shove them into the water from behind. This was exactly what Churchill did one day to a little fellow who turned out to be senior to him at the school, Leo Amery, who later became a cabinet minister in his government in World War 2, who swiftly punished Churchill for what he had done.
Churchill apologized to him by explaining that since he was so little, he had mistaken him for a younger boy. Amery wasn’t much mollified by that, but Churchill then quickly added that his father, Lord Randolph, who was a great man, was little too, and Amery signified that the incident was over.
Churchill does remember some happy memories from the four years he spent at Harrow. For one thing he very much enjoyed keeping a dog, which was completely against the school rules, but on the whole he thought his schooling was the only unhappy part of his life.
In the last years he spent at Harrow, Churchill was part of what was called “The Army Class.” That prepared boys for the Royal Military College, rather than a university. For years, as you saw, he had enjoyed playing at home with his collection of lead soldiers, which by this time numbered almost a thousand. Lord Randolph had asked him whether he wanted to be a solider like Marlborough, and after that he was headed for an army career.
But he didn’t immediately begin his studies at the military college because he had trouble with the entry exam. After a lot of private tutoring, with a crammer, a fellow who had had a good record in difficult cases, eventually he did gain admission to Sandhurst, disappointing his father though because his marks were too low for him to qualify for the infantry, and he had to go in as a cavalry cadet.
The course of training he had at the Royal Military College wasn’t the same that you would get at American military academies, which provide students with four-year undergraduate liberal arts education, as they also train them as cadets to be future officers. Churchill’s course of study at Sandhurst lasted only a year and a half, and it completely excluded the kind of academic subjects that he’d not always enjoyed studying in his previous schools.
Instead, what he studied were fortification, tactics, strategy, map-making, blowing up bridges, and other agreeable subjects.
His First Public Speech
While Churchill was a cadet at Sandhurst, he and some of his brother officers enjoyed seeing shows at the Empire Theatre in London’s Leicester Square. It was there in 1895 that he gave his first, unofficial public speech, addressed to the theater audience, along with some of the ladies who enjoyed drinks with him at the bars there, objecting to the effort on the part of well-meaning moral reformers, to install barriers, I think they were a kind of curtain, between the bars and the patrons of the theater.
Churchill began his speech, “Ladies of the Empire, I stand for liberty.” Those of you who have defied the injunction not to walk through the curtain at your own peril, have some sense of what he and his brother officers did to the barriers with their walking sticks as they poked holes in them and made fun of the theater managers for trying to keep them away from the bars and the ladies.
Even more important though than this early foray into political controversy, were Churchill’s lessons at equitation, which he thoroughly enjoyed. Churchill’s father had spent much of his time, while he was a student at then university, riding to hounds with the Blenheim Harriers, and his son learned at Sandhurst, as he writes, how to sit and manage a horse.
In all the many studies of the faults of American education today, which are many, little attention has been paid, to the neglect we’ve given the equestrian art. But Churchill considered this one of the most important things in the world. He came of age, and he passed out of Sandhurst as a second lieutenant, or as the British say “Left-tenant” in the 4th Hussars.
In 1895 then, looking for an opportunity to have a private trial of war before he embarked on his career, Churchill and his Sandhurst friend Reggie Barnes, visited Cuba, where Spanish troops were busy trying to put down an insurrection by nationalist guerillas. As he rode with the Spanish column on or probably more around his 21st birthday, he found himself under fire for the first time. He helped defray the costs of his trip and also put his name before the public by writing articles for the press.
He discovered while he was in Cuba that the Spanish were as much attached to their empire as the British were to their own. But he didn’t see how the Spanish could possibly prevail. At this time, sons of the British aristocracy, and certainly Churchill in particular, had a great attachment to their country’s empire, on which the sun never set. And the parts of the world, since they’d lost the best part over here in North America that were still painted pink, and they had the expectation that they would have a special role and obligation in maintaining and strengthening that empire.
“The long, long Indian day”
The most important part of the British Empire that was left was India, which then included also the countries we know as Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka, and to which Lord Randolph, while he was Secretary of State for India, had recently adjoined Burma. It was, in fact, to India that Churchill’s cavalry unit, the 4th Hussars, was destined. Before its planned deployment there, for 10 to 14 years, the officers were given considerable time to sort out their family affairs in England, and that gave Churchill the chance to experience English society in its old form before he departed. He was ambitious to see action and to make a name for himself, to help launch his political career. And so, he never intended to stay that long in India.
In one chapter of his autobiography, borrowing the words of a song, Churchill described what he calls the “long, long, Indian day,” which for the officers consisted of practicing their cavalry evolutions early in the morning, taking a long nap in the heat of the day, and then playing polo until dinner. Churchill diverted himself also by collecting butterflies and by romancing the daughter of the British resident in Hyderabad, with whom he rode through the city on an elephant, but of course he was eager to see action. Meanwhile, though, the long, long, Indian day was even longer for him, because instead of resting in the middle of the day like the other officers, Churchill used the time to make himself his own university.
He read the books he knew formed the mental architecture of educated men and women. From Gibbon and Macaulay to Plato and Aristotle, with newer books too, like those by Darwin and Malthus and Schopenhauer, along with the Annual Register, which recorded speeches and proceedings in Parliament over the last few decades, which helped him understand British politics and helped him decide what he would have said if he had been able to join in those debates he was reading.
Malakand Field Force
Before long, though, he was tired of India and he figured out a way to get back to England on leave, and that was when he met Sir Bindon Blood, who was likely to command the next expedition on India’s frontier, and Churchill extracted a promise from the General to find a place for him on his staff if fighting broke out again. Soon there was a rising on the northwest frontier of India. It was in difficult country in the foothills of the Himalayas, on the border of what is now Pakistan and Afghanistan, in the area where Bin Laden hid. This sketch gives a good idea of the terrain there. And Churchill managed to persuade his commanding officer to let him accompany Sir Bindon Blood’s troops in what was called the Malakand Field Force.
Here for the first time, he fought as an officer of the Queen, commanding native troops. He saw friends die in battle and he took part in very risky fighting. Meanwhile, he wrote despatches for the Morning Post in London and for an Indian newspaper for which Kipling wrote, called the Allahabad Pioneer. After the campaign, Churchill sat down and in six weeks turned his newspaper despatches into a book about the campaign, The Story of the Malakand Field Force. The book, which aimed to make that faraway frontier fighting on the edge of the British Empire come alive for readers back in London, discussed imperial strategy and diplomacy and the Great Game between Britain and Russia in South Asia. It put Churchill’s name and his writing before the public and it made the War Office increasingly uncomfortable about having a serving officer who doubled as a war correspondent with a famous name, considering questions that were usually reserved for generals or to statesmen.
Among those who noticed Churchill’s book was the Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury, who had not always had easy relations with Lord Randolph. After he invited Churchill to his office to talk about the book, which he told Churchill, and you can believe this, “had given him more insight into the frontier fighting than all the official documents he’d been obliged to read,” he offered to help Churchill in the future, and, as a matter of fact, Churchill needed just that kind of help, because he’d been stymied in his effort to conjure himself to the next campaign.
The River War
For several years, Herbert Kitchener’s Anglo-Egyptian Army had been advancing south along the Nile and then through the Sahara Desert toward Khartoum, to help reconquer the Sudan, which had revolted from Egypt under the regime of the Mahdi, in an early instance of political Islam. Churchill longed to take part in the climax of that campaign. But the commander, or “sirdar,” of the army refused to accept him, fearing that he would write about his experiences in the Sudan. Although Kitchener gently refused the Prime Minister’s own request to include Churchill in the expedition, a few regiments of regular British troops were attached to Kitchener’s army for the climax of the campaign, just to make sure there was no unfortunate difficulty in beating the Dervishes. And their composition was up to the War Office in London, not up to Kitchener.
Churchill was able to join one of those regiments, the 21st Lancers, just in time, barely, to reach the Sudan for the climactic battle against the Dervish army commanded by the Mahdi’s successor, the Khalifa. And that was why on the 2nd of September, 1898, Churchill watched as the army of the Dervishes was defeated by the superior arms of the British, who had gunboats and mortars and machine guns, and also why he participated in the cavalry charge of the Lancers, a very dangerous operation. Kitchener was right to be apprehensive about what Churchill might write about the campaign. Fifteen despatches, written in 115-degree weather, in the Sahara Desert, after a long march each day, were sent to the Morning Post during the fighting.
They were very controversial and included serious criticisms about Kitchener. And then afterward, Churchill spent a whole year after he left the army, turning them into a two-volume work, The River War, which described the whole history of the Sudan, from the revolution of the Mahdi to Britain’s new responsibility for governing the country after the reconquest. But by the time The River War was published on the 7th of November 1899,
The Boer War
Churchill had already found his way to his next war, the biggest one of his youth, the South African War against the Boers. By now, he was well-known because of his despatches, and his books, and he was again hired by The Morning Post as the highest-paid war correspondent in South Africa.
While many British officers, and in particular some of the British generals, looked for a quick defeat of the Boers, Churchill was impressed with their horsemanship and their marksmanship, and he didn’t think winning the war against them would be so easy. The Boers, the farmers in the Boer territory, were by now outnumbered by English-speaking settlers who had come to South Africa, but they didn’t extend the vote to those British settlers. As Churchill says, you can never persuade anyone by reasonable argument to give up his skin. The Boers quickly surrounded Ladysmith and Mafeking, trapping British armies in those cities. Churchill tried to reach the defenders of Ladysmith when he got to South Africa, but it was already too late.
Instead, as you saw, he accepted the invitation of a brother officer to ride with him on a misbegotten reconnaissance mission on an armored train doing reconnaissance in Boer territory. The Boers threw the train partly off the tracks. And then Churchill took the leading part in getting the engine and some of the wounded soldiers past the obstruction so they could return to friendly territory. In the course of those efforts, he was captured by the Boers on 18 November 1899, and made a prisoner of war. Although enlisted men who had been captured by the Boers had more primitive accommodations at the racetrack, officers like Churchill were immured in the State Model School in Pretoria.
Churchill hated his time in captivity, and he tried to persuade the Boers to release him since, after all, he was a war correspondent who had given up his commission in the army. But they resisted because of the part he had played in helping part of the armored train and some of the wounded men escape. And at the same time Churchill’s thoughts turned to plans of escape. He tells us in My Early Life that the officers considered a more ambitious scheme of orchestrating a general rising among the captured officers and men, but eventually they nixed that idea, which was probably Churchill’s idea, and he had to settle for joining in an escape attempt that had been planned by several other prisoners at the State Model School.
The diagram shows how Churchill managed to escape on 12 December 1899, almost four weeks after he had been captured, by hiding in the latrine and then climbing over the prison fence. But the others who had planned to escape with him weren’t able to get out, so he had to go on alone. The Boers were distressed to have lost their most celebrated prisoner and they looked high and low for him, both in Pretoria, and along the railroad line that stretched from the capital of the Transvaal to the border with Portuguese East Africa. Churchill nonetheless managed to escape by jumping first onto a train like a hobo, and then hiding in the veldt before daylight. Then he walked toward a mine that he hoped might be operated by some of the few British engineers who had been allowed by the Boers to stay.
He was lucky enough to find the right house, and the British then helped him to escape on the railroad. Later he was given a copy of this handwritten poster that put a prize on his head and offered anyone £25 sterling for Churchill, alive or dead, if he were returned to the Boer authorities. But historians have now pretty well concluded that, while Churchill thought this poster was real, it was a forgery.
After leaving his hiding place on the train, when he got to Lourenço Marques, now called Maputo, the leading city of Portuguese East Africa, which is now Mozambique. Churchill boarded a steamer to rather quickly get back to friendly territory in Durban in South Africa’s Natal province. And there he spoke before the crowd in front of the post office. His escape was the only good news that the British had had in the early months of the war, and so it was flashed all around the world, and then for the first time, Churchill became famous.
This was only the beginning, though, of Churchill’s South African adventures. Taking advantage of his now much stronger situation, he persuaded the reluctant authorities to given him an unpaid commission in a regiment of British settlers, the South African Light Horse. And from that position, Churchill continued to write despatches for The Morning Post, and soon published two books which described his adventures in South Africa up to the relief on Ladysmith in February 1900, including his escape, London to Ladysmith via Pretoria. That was the first of the two books. And he remained then in South Africa through the first half of 1900. He and his cousin were finally among the first British officers to enter the city of Pretoria when it was recaptured in June. And after having had more adventures and close scrapes and he soon published another book about the 1900 campaign, In Hamilton’s March.
But even these five volumes aren’t quite the whole of Churchill’s literary production before he was elected to Parliament in 1900 in his 26th year. He made it an even half dozen by publishing his first book he had begun to write, his only novel, Savrola, which describes a revolution in the imaginary country of Laurania, in the Balkans, led by a statesman who was aiming to restore the country’s traditional constitution after it had been subverted by a dictator. Churchill had begun to write this novel in India, before he was distracted by working on the Malakand Field Force, and his fellow officers had followed the progress of the story with interest.
Despite Churchill’s deprecation of the book to his friends, he arranged for the book first to be serialized and then to be published, both in the United States and in Britain and to be reprinted several times during his life, and for readers today, including my students, it still remains an exciting story that reflects Churchill’s fascination with the power of rhetoric and also his doubts about whether the political life leads to happiness. Among those who read Churchill’s book was his paternal grandmother, the Duchess Fanny, married to the Duke of Marlborough, who had a different take on it. She was relieved to discover that her grandson had, as yet, no knowledge of women or experience of love, as she wrote him after she read the book.
The Harrow Songs
Now, one of the places Churchill remembered most happily from his years at Harrow School was the speech room. That was the room where all the boys at the school gathered to listen to guest lectures. I think it would be a place like that wonderful Christ Chapel that we visited as it’s being built where everyone in the school could sit in the same room. And in My Early Life, Churchill remembers hearing no fewer than five of these lectures on subjects that ranged from climbing in the Alps to the protected coloring of butterflies, to the American Civil War. And he says he could have done a pretty fair job of delivering any of those lectures himself after having heard them. But even more important than the lectures for Churchill were the Harrow School songs…
[music plays] “This is Movietone, Geoffrey Sumner reporting. [singing in the background] The old schools change little through the years. Old customs die hard within their walls. There are still straws in the wind on Harrow Hill. And today, an old boy comes back to remember. Sir Winston came as a new boy to Harrow seventy-one years ago. Forty years on must then have seemed to him a lifetime, but nearly twice that span has passed, and with all his achievements, all his fame, he still treasures those far off days when his was one of those 500 faces on the hill.”
…Which had been introduced at the school by the music master John Farmer, who had studied in Germany, in the last half of the 19th century, were relatively new when Churchill went to Harrow. When he returned to Harrow school as Prime Minster, for the first time in many decades, during the Second World War, after the school had been bombed, he was serenaded by the boys. But on that occasion, they failed to sing one of the songs—a song written in the year of Churchill’s birth, which was a particular favorite of his. It was a song that had fallen out of favor, but one which Churchill particularly liked. He asked them to add back to the program, and since then it’s always been sung at the Churchill Songs.
I thought, especially in the spirit of Churchill’s dedication to My Early Life, dedicating it to a new generation, that we ought to sing that song together tonight. And I know that we’re not sitting in Christ Chapel, but what we’re going to do, and I mention this right now so that you can take a few deep breaths and so on, is in a minute—not yet—we’re going to stand up and sing this song together.
Before we do that, it’s going to be necessary for me to teach any of you who are Old Etonians and whose Greek is too rusty, a few ancient Greek words and how to pronounce them, because two of them crop up in one verse of the song, and you’ll have to know how to pronounce them. The Greeks have two alternative ways of expressing a negative in Ancient Greek. The first one looks like this and it’s pronounced “may.” So when you see that, sing “may.” And the other one, which I’m sure, nobody who takes Greek from my friend Paul Rahe at Hillsdale would mix up with may, is “oo,” pronounced like that, which is the other kind of negative.
So, now, what’s going to happen is that I’m going to show you the words for this song and we’re going to listen to the first verse being sung, so that you can hear the tune and you don’t have to stand up for that. But as soon as the first verse is finished with the refrain, we’re going to sing the first verse and the rest of the verses together. So get ready [laughter]. This is about to happen, and don’t be deterred please from joining in if you aren’t a strong singer. At Harrow, when they gather in the speech room, or in their own houses, all the boys sing. You know, at Harrow there are no girls, unless you’re the daughter of the Headmaster, you’re not allowed to be a student there if you were born a woman, or a female.
But all the boys have to sing, those who can’t carry a tune, at least have to speak the words along with the better singers. The ones with less talent are called the “Talking Josephs,” while professional singers are called “Canaries.” So, whichever one you are, do join in at least with the words. And we won’t sing the first time through the first verse, but then we’ll go right into it, so, here we go.
Ladies and gentlemen, please be upstanding.
[Music plays and audience sings]
“There were wonderful giants of old, you know,
There were wonderful giants of old;
They grew more mightily, all of a row,
Than ever was heard or told;
All of them stood their six feet four,
And they threw to a hundred yards or more,
And never were lame or stiff or sore;
And we, compared to the days of yore,
Are cast in a pigmy mould.
For all of we, whoever we be,
Come short of the giants of old, you see,
For all of we, whoever we be,
Come short of the giants of old, you see.
There were splendid cricketers then, you know,
There were splendid cricketers then;
The littles drove for a mile or so,
And the tallest drove for ten:
With Lang to bowl and Hankey to play,
Wenn and Walker to score and stay, —
And two that I know, but may not say –
But we are a pitiful race of clay,
And never will score again
For all of we, whoever we be,
Come short of the giants of old, you see,
For all of we, whoever we be,
Come short of the giants of old, you see.
There were scholars of marvelous force, you know,
There were scholars of marvelous force;
They never put μή when they should put ου,
And the circle they squared, of course.
With Blayds and Merivale, Hope, Monro,
Ridley and Hawkins, years ago, —
And one that I rather think I know—
But we are heavy and dull and slow,
And growing duller and worse;
For all of we, whoever we be,
Come short of the giants of old, you see,
For all of we, whoever we be,
Come short of the giants of old, you see.
But I think all this is a lie, you know,
I think all this is a lie;
For the hero-race may come and go
But doesn’t exactly die!
For the match we lose and win it again,
And a Balliol comes to us now and then,
And if we are dwarfing in bat and pen,
Down to the last of the Harrow men,
We will know the reason why!
For all of we, whoever we be,
Come up to the giants of old, you see,
For all of we, whoever we be,
Come up to the giants of old, you see.”
Thank you very much
Questions and Answers
Q: “I’m interested if you know, or can share with us something more about Jack, his brother?”
Muller: “Well, one curious thing about his brother, who also fought in South Africa, but much more briefly because he was almost immediately wounded. He was treated as one of the first, perhaps the very first, casualties on a hospital ship that Churchill’s mother had persuaded an American millionaire to fit out. One of the interesting things about Jack, his younger brother, is that he has a bit part in Churchill’s autobiography. Churchill has mention in the book of a time when he went to Switzerland when he was in school, and swam in the lake at Lausanne, and was out in a boat with another boy, and the two of them were swimming and the boat was about to blow away.He had to swim very rapidly, and with some difficulty, back to the boat to catch it before it blew out of reach because they were too far offshore to have swum back to shore.
He says his companion had not realized the danger. He doesn’t mention that his companion was his brother, which is kind of odd. Churchill’s brother became a stockbroker, the two of them shared accommodation in London at a time that was difficult financially for the family early in their career. They were always very close, and the brother died in 1947. There’s a good book about Churchill’s brothers, Winston and Jack, by Celia and John Lee that has some other details about that part of the family.”
Q: “I read that during the war, Churchill went back to the Harrow School and the headmaster told the young men, ‘Listen to this man, he’s one of the greatest orators you’ll ever hear.’ And I read that Churchill said to the young men ‘Never give up. Never give up. Never, ever, ever give up.’ Was that a true statement or statements?
Muller: “Not quite. Churchill did go back to Harrow school many times after he became an
Old Boy,” which is what they call alums of the school, but for a very long time he didn’t go back at all. And then in World War II he had a private secretary, Jock Colville, who wrote several very good books about Churchill, and was a very close associate of his after the war, who was an old Harrovian. After Hitler had scored a direct hit on Harrow School, including the speech room, the picture of which you saw, Churchill was persuaded to go back to address the boys.
He then went repeatedly both again during the war and after the war. Not every year, but many, many years until the early Sixties, and they would sing songs to him. At one of those wartime visits, I think the second one, if I’m not mistaken, he gave this speech, in which he didn’t say ‘never give up.’ He said ‘never give in.’ And I wish I could recite the whole quotation form memory of the part of the speech you remember. But it was ‘never give in’. And he repeated ‘never, never, never, except to convictions of honour and good sense.’ In other words, his idea was that you shouldn’t give in to any thing that was forced on you, but you should give in to your own prudence and sensible reason. So, I think his message there was considerably better than just the message of having a stiff unbending spirit, that one would think from the idea that he had said ‘never give up.’ He certainly wasn’t in favor of giving up, but he was willing to listen to reason, and I think he thought that was an important thing for the boys to know too.”