March 12, 2015

Finest Hour 159, Summer 2013

Page 20

By Paul H. Courtenay

Cover Story

In 1899, after four years’ regular service in the 4th Queen’s Own Hussars, Churchill resigned his commission to stand in a by-election for a seat in the House of Commons. He had seen active service on three continents, none of it with his own regiment. While the 4th Hussars were still in England in 1895, he was attached to the Spanish Army in Cuba before moving with his own regiment to southern India in 1896; from there he was detached for duty on the Afghan border in 1897. A year later he was attached to the 21st Lancers in Egypt and Sudan.

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These adventures were made possible not by normal Army postings, which would have kept him on regimental duty for several years, but by his own initiative and persistence. They resulted in his first two books, The Story of the Malakand Field Force (1898) and The River War (two volumes, 1899).

After Churchill failed to secure a seat in Parliament in 1899, the Boer War conveniently began and he became a war correspondent, was captured and escaped, took a local commission in the South African Light Horse (a precaution in the event of recapture), returned home and won his seat in the 1900 general election. He had a wealth of military experience  which none of his contemporaries could match. It seemed a waste not to make use of what he had greatly enjoyed, so in 1902 he became officially a part-time soldier and joined the Queen’s Own Oxfordshire Hussars (QOOH).

The QOOH was a Yeomanry cavalry regiment whose members undertook military training on evenings, weekends and an annual camp, and were available for national emergencies, as evidenced by their operational service during both World Wars. In 1908 the QOOH became part of the newly designated Territorial Force (TF), renamed the Territorial Army (TA) in 1920. The regiment had a number of sub-units around Oxfordshire, and Churchill began his service as second-in-command of the squadron at Woodstock. He was promoted to the rank of major in 1905 and took command of the squadron at Henley-on-Thames, which had better train service to London. A conscientious squadron leader, he nearly always attended annual camp.

Churchill’s tenure at Henley lasted at least until 1913. Once while First Lord of the Admiralty, he took his squadron to visit the fleet at Portsmouth; we can be sure that his men were given a much better tour than would have been usual! In late 1915 Major Churchill resigned from the government, donned his QOOH uniform, and reported for duty in Flanders, where he gained military experience on a fourth continent. His first forty days were spent under instruction with the 2nd Battalion, Grenadier Guards, when he continued to wear his QOOH uniform. But in 1916, on promotion to the rank of lieutenant colonel in command of 6th Battalion, the Royal Scots Fusiliers, he changed into the latter’s Lowland uniform with Glengarry cap. He was appointed Colonel, 4th Hussars in 1941, and also became Honorary Colonel, QOOH in 1953.

The unusual photograph on the cover shows Churchill in the full dress uniform of the Queen’s Own Oxfordshire Hussars, wearing a captain’s rank badges, so must have been taken in 1902-05. It is published by kind courtesy of the Oxfordshire Yeomanry Association ( and its honorary secretary, Major (retd.) R.J. Sheldon.

It is interesting to note that he is wearing four medals which he had earned while in the regular army: the India Medal with the clasp Punjab Frontier 1897-98; the Queen’s Sudan Medal; the Queen’s South Africa Medal with six clasps: Cape Colony,
Tugela Heights, Orange Free State, Relief of Ladysmith, Johannesberg, Diamond Hill; and the Khedive’s Sudan Medal (Egypt).

Churchill had also earned two Spanish medals in Cuba. The first was the Cross of the Order of Military Merit, First Class (lowest of four classes). British regulations did not permit him to wear this decoration, though he often did so. The second was the Cuban Campaign Medal, which was not instituted until 1899, more than three years after Churchill had left Cuba. This was presented to him personally by King Alfonso XIII in Madrid in early 1914.

The next medal he was to receive was the Coronation Medal of King George V and Queen Mary in 1911.

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