Finest Hour 145, Winter 2009-10
Old Titles Revisited: Bindon the Great
Four Score Years and Ten: Reminiscences, by Sir Bindon Blood GCB GCVO. London: G. Bell & Sons., 1933. Availability: scarce. Five copies are offered on bookfinder.com from $130 to $450.
By David Druckman
David Druckman travels widely in search of Churchill; his articles have appeared in FH 47, 90, 129 and 132; his account of Livadia Palace, Yalta, will be in a forthcoming issue.
Lord Baden-Powell (creator of the Boy Scouts), Louis Botha (first Prime Minister of South Africa), Lord Chelmsford (British commander in the 1879 Zulu War), Lord Curzon (Viceroy of India), Charles Dickens, Edward VII, George V, Gordon of Khartoum, Queen Victoria, Lord Roberts, Winston Churchill: these are some of the extraordinary people Bindon Blood knew during his long life. At age 91 he published his memoirs, which have been out of print since 1933. After three years I finally obtained a copy, from New Zealand via the Internet.
The romantically named Bindon Blood was an important character in Churchill’s early military, sports and writing careers. In My Early Life Churchill describes their first meeting in 1896, when Blood was 54: Winston “extracted a promise that if he ever commanded another expedition on the Indian Frontier, he would let me come with him.”
The following year, Blood formed a field force to put down the revolt of the Pathan tribesman on the Indian frontier, and Churchill “telegraphed reminding him of his promise.” Out of the campaign came Churchill’s first book, The Story of the Malakand Field Force—dedicated to Blood. The experience was Churchill’s first taste of battle with British forces. Incidentally with the Malakand force, Churchill gained his liking for whisky, since the water was not fit to drink unless “purified” with alcohol.
Blood’s memoirs include two references to Churchill. In the preface he writes: “I owe and feel the utmost gratitude to a long list of authors— Winston Churchill and many others of the moderns.” There is an erratum correcting “The reference in the Index against Churchill, Lt. W. should be 303.” On that page we read: “When I returned from Upper Swat at the end of August, I had found my young friend (in his early twenties then), Lieutenant Winston Churchill, of the 4th Queen’s Own Hussars, who joined me as an extra A.D.C.—and a right good one he was….He was personally engaged in some very serious work in a retirement, and did some excellent service with a party of Sikhs to which he carried an order, using a rifle which he borrowed from a severely wounded man.”
In a passage that must have engaged Churchill’s romantic imagination, Blood describes his ancestor’s attempt to steal the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London, only to be appointed to command King Charles I’s bodyguard—not, in the long run, a very successful endeavor. (In My Early Life, Churchill recalled being grilled by his father about the Grand Remonstrance: “I said that in the end the Parliament beat the King and cut his head off. This seemed to me the grandest remonstrance imaginable.”)
Blood’s book is like those of many Victorian generals who wrote autobiographies. Trademarks of this style are modesty, an effort to offend no one, and passing over periods that may cause embarrassment, yet with some detail, especially of India. It seems as if every 19th century book by a British officer who served in India has chapters about tiger shooting and “pig sticking” (hunting wild boar with spears). Blood is no exception. There are spirited discussions of his fighting and playing in the 1879 Zulu War, the 1882 Tel-el-Kebir expedition in Egypt, and the Boer War in 1901.
His own memoirs end in 1906, as he writes gallantly: “I now beg to make my bow to my readers as on that day [in 1906, when, in India, two soldiers of the 9th Lancers were accused of beating a native to death], since I should have no pleasure in recording, and I fear they would have no pleasure in reading, what I might write about the time, nearly twenty-seven years now, that has since elapsed.” Yet in 1906, he had nearly four decades of active years ahead.
Blood and Churchill remained friends for life. The official biography finds the General encouraging WSC his change of parties in 1904, his Belfast Home Rule speech 1912, his publication of Marlborough in 1933. After Churchill sent him the fourth and final Marlborough volume in 1938 he thanked “Dear Winston,” wishing “my best salaams to you and Mrs. Churchill.” He died on 16 May 1940, having lived to see his protégé become Prime Minister.
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