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Finest Hour 181

The Military Churchill

Finest Hour 181, Summer 2018

Page 10

By Douglas S. Russell

Douglas S. Russell is author of Winston Churchill, Soldier: The Military Life of a Gentleman at War (2005).


Winston S. Churchill in his memoir My Early Life famously wrote, “Twenty to twenty-five, those are the years.”1 Indeed, those were years of great adventure and real achievement for the young lieutenant of the 4th Queen’s Own Hussars. During those years from 1895 to 1900, Churchill saw combat in Cuba, India, Sudan, and South Africa, was mentioned in dispatches and recommended for a decoration, earned four campaign medals and the Spanish Order of Military Merit, wrote five books, established himself as a popular war correspondent and lecturer, gained international fame as an escaped prisoner of war, and was elected to a seat in Parliament, all before his twenty-sixth birthday.

Churchill was interested in things military from a young age. His earliest surviving letter, written at age seven, is about toy soldiers, flags, and castles. It was, according to Churchill’s autobiography, his large collection of toy soldiers that led Lord Randolph Churchill to choose a military career for his son when Winston was only fourteen years old.2 As a schoolboy at Harrow, he was placed in the army class to prepare for the entrance examinations for the Royal Military College Sandhurst. He also actively participated in the Harrow School Volunteer Rifle Corps, where he wore a uniform and received military training for the first time. Churchill had an early and strong belief in his own star. As a schoolboy at Harrow he told a classmate in 1891, “I have a wonderful idea of where I shall be eventually…. London will be in danger and in the high position I shall occupy, it will fall to me to save the Capital and save the Empire.”3

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LETTERS – Finest Hour 181 WHAT’S IN A NAME?

Finest Hour 181, Summer 2018

Page 05

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HAMPSHIRE—I am pleased that this issue is about Churchill’s long association with the British Army. From experience, I know that there is understandable confusion as to the name of the institution where Churchill received his training as an officer and believe it will be helpful to sort this out for readers.

Originally there were two separate institutions for training Army officers: the Royal Military Academy (RMA) at Woolwich (for “technical” branches, viz. Artillery, Engineers, and later Signals); and the Royal Military College (RMC) at Sandhurst (largely for Cavalry and Infantry). Churchill attended this second institution in 1893–95.

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FROM THE EDITOR – Finest Hour 181 Churchill and the British Army

Finest Hour 181, Summer 2018

Page 04

By David Freeman, July 2018


Winston Churchill was a professionally trained army officer. It would have been surprising if he had started out as anything else. From boyhood, he was fascinated by military history and deeply proud of his descent from one of Britain’s greatest generals, John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough. Identifying these traits in his son, Lord Randolph Churchill steered him in the direction of the army. The rest is history.

Major General P. A. E. Nanson, the present Commandant of The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, begins this issue for us reflecting on the impact his institution had on Gentleman Cadet Winston Churchill. Douglas Russell then surveys Churchill’s army career in peace and war—a period that lasted nearly thirty years and was not without danger.

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