As the armoured train inched along the low, rolling hills and flat, open spaces of the South African veldt on the morning of 15 November 1899, every man on board knew that the enemy was watching. Where exactly they were, however, and whether they would attack, remained a dark, seemingly impenetrable mystery. Although the Boer War had begun just a month earlier, the British had already learned a painful lesson: the harder it was to find the Boers, the more dangerous they were likely to be.
Of Dutch descent, the deeply religious Boers had not wanted war. On the contrary, they wanted nothing more than to be left alone. War, however, like wealth, had found them. The trouble had begun more than thirty years earlier, when diamonds and, later, gold were discovered in the Transvaal, one of two Boer republics. “This gold,” said Paul Kruger, who served as president of the Transvaal during the war, “will cause our country to be soaked in blood.”1
Kruger’s prediction had come true just a few years later. In 1880, Britain annexed the Transvaal, leading to what became known as the First Boer War, a war that, to the shock and horror of the British people, ended in Britain’s defeat. Although, as a condition of the peace agreement, Britain agreed to respect the independence of the Boer republics, before long it was once again pressing in on the Transvaal, amassing troops at its borders and claiming large swaths of new territory that effectively cut it off from the sea. Having had enough, the Boers issued an ultimatum in October 1899 that the British disdainfully ignored. Read More >
It was a grey day in January 1989 when I discovered that my leather-bound copy of The River War, one of thirty-four volumes of the Collected Works of Sir Winston S. Churchill that I had recently purchased, was but an abridgment. Like Churchill himself, if on a more modest scale, I have always lived a charmed life; and, by extraordinary good fortune, my wife Judith and I were halfway through a fifteen-month wedding trip, for most of which we lived in civilized but straitened splendor in London at William Goodenough College, near Russell Square. I was an academic visitor at the London School of Economics and Political Science, working on a book about Churchill’s writings. But half a dozen noble distractions—books on and by Churchill that I have been editing since then—are my apology for my original work remaining incomplete more than a quarter-century later. Four of these distractions have been published, with two more soon to appear: new editions of Churchill’s autobiography My Early Life: A Roving Commission and his most impressive early book The River War: An Historical Account of the reconquest of the Soudan.
Having just finished in autumn 1988a draft chapter about Churchill’s experiences on the Nile nine decades earlier, I was learning that winter about his time in South Africa. But an entry in the bound catalogue of the old British Library stating that the first edition of The River War, published in November 1899, was a two-volume work had led me to look at it. A rare book, it had to be consulted not at my usual seat in the round Reading Room, where Karl Marx had written his book on capital, but in the North Reading Room, where rules were stricter. After the book was delivered to me there, I kept it for days to find out what the differences were between it and the version I owned. It turned out that the first edition had Read More >
Churchill in Combat – By David Freeman, January 2016
One hundred years ago this winter Winston Churchill took command of the 6th Battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers and led it into combat on the Western Front. This was to be his last experience as a uniformed officer in battle but not his last time under fire. To mark the anniversary we have invited leading specialists to recount Churchill’s many adventures in combat.
The regions along the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan remain as dangerous today as they were in Churchill’s time. Con Coughlin, who reports on this area of the world, vividly describes Churchill’s first journey into battle on the North-West Frontier and notes the striking similarities between then and now.
Churchill’s account of his charge with the 21st Lancers at Omdurman (page 50) and the campaign surrounding it has excited readers for more than a century. Unfortunately, the full account set forth in the rare and costly first edition of The River War has remained unknown to most, since all subsequent editions have been abridgments. James W. Muller explains his prolonged effort to bring the restored and now fully annotated original text back into print this year. Read More >
Mark Herman, Churchill: Big Three Struggle for Peace, GMT Games, 2015, $70. ASIN: B013SCRACW
Three personalities dominated the allied conferences of the Second World War, whether or not they were all present in person: British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, US President Franklin Roosevelt, and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin. Now the ten major conferences are the subject of a new board game, appropriately named Churchill: Big Three Struggle for Peace, a 2015 release from GMT Games, one of the leading producers in the genre of table-top, conflict simulations.
Though technically classified as a “war game,” Churchill is more of a political design of simultaneous cooperation and competition where each of the three sides (the US, the UK, and the USSR) strives to advance its own national agenda. Long-time conflict simulation designer Mark Herman has injected a series of innovative concepts into the game that compel players to think and act in a manner similar to their historical counterparts.
This is not a family board game along the lines of Monopoly or Risk, nor is it nearly as easy to learn and as quick to play as chess. A session requires a minimum commitment of three hours for the tournament game (the last five conferences) and may take the majority of a day for all ten conferences. But the game is never boring because, unlike other multiplayer games, players are constantly involved, with almost no “down time.” Read More >
Charles L. Mee, Jr., The Deal: Churchill, Truman, and Stalin Remake the World, New World City, 2014, 348 pages, $2.99 on Kindle. ASIN B00HO6ZEHC
In 1975 Charles L. Mee published Meeting at Potsdam. His account of the July 1945 summit between the victorious “Big Three” Allied leaders became a standard popular history of the subject, one frequently reprinted for new audiences. Last year, on the eve of the seventieth anniversary of the conference, a book by Mee on the same subject but with a different title was released by Kindle. Has Mee revisited his work?
The answer is no. Mee’s The Deal is simply Meeting at Potsdam in a new format. Apart from the title, everything in the original text has been imported intact into the electronic version, with no effort to correct, modify, or update Mee’s original work. The only difference in the new format is the addition of Wikipedia links embedded within the text, which provide a useful way for readers to learn more about the principals and some of the other subjects that the author mentions in the text. Yet this alone is poor compensation for the deficiencies it contains. For all of the strengths that The Deal inherits from Mee’s original book, it is now burdened with an even greater share of weaknesses. Read More >
Churchill and the Generalsis a quick and excellent read for those looking for a concise primer on the unique leadership dynamics embodied by Churchill and the generals whom he led. Although brief, the portraits of the military leaders include engaging details that span their childhood, education, military service, personal quirks, and challenges or triumphs interacting with Churchill.
All of this comes wrapped in an attractive package that includes beautiful illustrations, numerous photos of the subjects, two DVDs containing vintage footage of the Second World War, and an excellent photo timeline from 1939 through the end of the war. Whether well acquainted with the subject or a beginner, you will find Churchill and the Generals to be a must read.
Lepine’s pen portraits start with Churchill himself. Naturally this takes up the largest section of the book as Lepine expertly pilots the reader through Churchill’s life and career. Some of the most engaging portions are descriptions of Churchill’s early life, such as his relations with his parents, his childhood nanny Mrs. Everest, and his interactions with senior military leaders when he was but a junior officer in the British Army. Readers will see taking root the seeds of character that germinated to create the national leader of the Second World War. Read More >
Warren Dockter, Churchill and the Islamic World, I. B. Tauris, 2014, 288 pages, £25.00 / $40.00.
A century ago Western politicians, as this book makes clear, were as clueless about Islamic culture and politics as they are today. But then as now that did not prevent Westerners from making airy pronouncements about the Islamic world or relieve their leaders of the need or temptation to formulate policies towards Islamic societies and initiate actions within them. Even a man such as Winston Churchill, who evinced a consistent interest in Islam and could bring to bear his intense intelligence, simply did not have a deep or objective enough knowledge to appear, in retrospect, well informed.
Finest Hour readers will be aware of the extent of Churchill’s association with the “Islamic world,” and the manner in which it presented itself to a politician of the period. The Ottoman Empire regularly intersected British imperial and foreign policy and influenced public awareness of the fault lines between east and west, Islam and Christianity. Further, the British Empire’s position as a “Muslim power” was never far from the thoughts of statesmen. Churchill experienced fighting on India’s North-West Frontier and was influenced by figures such as Wilfrid Scawen Blunt and T. E. Lawrence. He engaged with Islamic regions during stints at the Air Ministry, Colonial Office, and War Office, and was instrumental in determining the political contours of the Middle East following the Great War. Later came his engagement with political reform in India and the position of the subcontinent’s Muslim population, and the travails of British policy in Palestine.
John Addison, a member of The Churchill Centre, served as a Co-Chief Executive Officer of Primerica, Inc. from 1999 to March 2015.
“Leadership This Day” illustrates how Winston Churchill’s example guides and motivates today’s leaders.
Contributors come from many fields, including business, politics, and the military.
“Often in the casual remarks of great men one learns their true mind in an intimate way.” Marlborough, 1933
I have always been fascinated by the biographies of great leaders. Although many great men who seized their destiny at critical moments and rewrote history have influenced me during my rise through the leadership ranks in the financial services industry, it was the life and leadership of Sir Winston Churchill that always interested me the most. In 2009, Winston Churchill went from an interest to an inspiration as I entered the greatest battle of my career.
I was Co-CEO of a large division of Citigroup. We had approximately 2,000 employees and were doing over one billion dollars in annual revenues. Our business was successful, but we were ready to part ways with Citi. In fact, we had been working for two years on an Initial Public Offering (IPO) that would have granted our freedom. Then the world collapsed, and Citi was at the epicenter of the financial crisis. The fall-out of the crisis began to crush our division, and an exit from Citi went from a convenience to an absolute necessity. Read More >
Warren Dockter is a Research Fellow at Clare Hall, Cambridge, and the author of Churchill and the Islamic World, reviewed on page 36.
Few friendships shaped history as much as that between Winston Churchill and T. E. Lawrence. In Great Contemporaries, Churchill reminded his readers that Lawrence “flew best and easiest in the hurricane.” The same might be said of Churchill.1 Both were men of genius littered with paradoxes; both had an unyielding sense of justice; and both were products of the British Empire. Churchill admired Lawrence as a sort of Napoleon and undoubtedly saw traces of himself in Lawrence. Both men were early enthusiasts of air power, and both enjoyed not only making history but writing it. This helps explain the nature of what might appear to have been an unlikely friendship, especially after their first meeting in Paris during the 1919 Peace Conference.
The two were both attending a luncheon when Churchill was told a story about Lawrence refusing honours to be bestowed upon him by King George V. Churchill’s impression was that Lawrence, wishing to make a political statement, declined the honours during an official public ceremony. Churchill was outraged and quickly rebuked Lawrence, calling his actions “most wrong.”2 Only later did Churchill learn that Lawrence had refused the honours in a private reception with the King in order to demonstrate that “the honour of Great Britain was at stake in the faithful treatment of the Arabs and that their betrayal to the Syrian demands of France would be an indelible blot on our history.” Lawrence’s cool demeanour and “good humour” regarding the incident stood out in Churchill’s mind.3 Read More >
The author with Professor James W. Muller at the 32nd International Churchill Conference, May 2015
Finest Hour 170, Fall 2015
By Imam Ahmed Abdel Rahman El Mahdi
Imam Ahmed Abdel Rahman El Mahdi is the grandson of the Mahdi—Mohammed Ahmed ibn Abdallah—who led a jihadist uprising by the Ansar (as the Mahdi’s followers were known) against Turco-Egyptian rule in Sudan in the late nineteenth century. This brought about the demise of General Gordon in Khartoum in 1885, which in turn led to the River War of 1896–1899 involving a young Lieutenant Churchill. The Imam spoke at the thirty-second International Churchill Conference on 28 May 2015.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am delighted to be here today to take part in this important conference and to speak in this session on Churchill and Islam. Churchill’s involvement in the Sudan was an important aspect of his amazing life. Churchill showed a remarkable degree of interest and insight into Islam. The Muslim world formed an important part of the British Empire. Apart from the relations with the Ottoman Empire, which governed most of the Muslim world, there were millions and millions of Muslims under British rule.
Professor David Patterson holds the Hillel A. Feinberg Chair in Holocaust Studies in the Ackerman Center for Holocaust Studies at The University of Texas at Dallas.
Malcolm MacDonald, the son of Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald. As Secretary of State for the Colonies in 1939, he produced the controversial White Paper restricting Jewish immigration into Palestine.
Sir Winston Churchill was known for his foresight. Just as he saw the gathering storm over Europe long before the Second World War broke out, so he understood early on the singularity of what we now call the Holocaust, Shoah, Churban, Final Solution, Judenvernichtung, or simply, in Paul Celan’s words, “that which happened.”1 In his radio broadcast of 24 August 1941, just two months after the Einsatzgruppen killing units began the systematic murder of the Jewish people, Churchill announced that Jews in “whole districts are being exterminated,” adding, “We are in the presence of a crime without a name.”2
Well before the Nazis were gassing and burning Jews in the six extermination camps a year later, Churchill understood that what was to be called the Holocaust was something more than mass murder, something more than the annihilation of a people.3 Unlike most others, he had some sense of just what the Nazis set out to exterminate in their total extermination of the Jews, from Tromsø to Tunis, namely, the millennial teaching and testimony that the Jewish people represent by their very presence in the world.
Churchill’s insight into this aspect of the nameless crime can be seen in his view of the Zionists’ effort to seek a haven for the Jews in the Land of the Covenant. When as First Lord of the Admiralty he first met with Zionist leader Chaim Read More >
On 9 December 1905, Winston Churchill was given his first government post by Prime Minister Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman as the new Under-Secretary for the Colonies. As then required by law, an MP taking a government position had to contest his parliamentary seat in a by-election. The next day, 10 December 1905, Churchill was electioneering as the key speaker at a Manchester North West public protest meeting on the ill treatment of Jews in Russia.
As a third of the Manchester North West electorate was Jewish, a gathering of Jewish residents was present to hear Churchill speak. On the meeting’s podium when Churchill spoke was a Jewish chemist and Zionist named Dr. Chaim Weizmann.1
With the general election of January 1906 close at hand, Churchill later approached Weizmann through his representative to help swing the Jewish vote in his favour in Manchester. Weizmann, although he recognized Churchill’s authority, was disinclined to intervene so overtly in British politics, and he just referred the matter to David Wolffsohn, President of the Zionist Organization. Shortly afterwards, Weizmann met with Churchill “for a brief, introductory and uneventful talk.”2 Read More >
The Middle East is never not in the news. Winston Churchill’s involvement with the Jewish and Muslim worlds, however, began well before his first extended travels in the region and continued throughout his long life. His association with both cultures greatly influenced him, and his own impact upon the Middle East remains strong today.
The upheaval of the First World War destroyed the centuries-old Ottoman Empire. Churchill emerged as the key figure in the reconfiguration of the Middle East following the end of Turkish colonial rule. Warren Dockter describes how the counsel of T.E. Lawrence influenced Churchill’s decision making.
Churchill’s fulfillment of the pledge made in the Balfour Declaration opened the way for the establishment of a new nation for the Jewish people in their ancient homeland. Progress towards this goal became inextricably linked with the rise of Nazi Germany and the ensuing tragedy of the Holocaust. David Patterson illustrates these developments and Churchill’s reactions to them. Trying, and with much success, to influence Churchill along the way was Chaim Weizmann. Fred Glueckstein describes the relationship between Britain’s self-proclaimed “Zionist” prime minister and the first President of Israel. Read More >
Winston Churchill visited Leeds on 16 May 1942 at the height of the Second World War. Jane Brechner, the great-granddaughter of Lord Mayor, Hyman Morris, provided the accompanying family photos of her great-grandfather accompanying Churchill during his visit.
We shall go forward together. The road upwards is stony. There are upon our journey dark and dangerous valleys through which we have to make and fight our way. But it is sure and certain that if we persevere – and we shall persevere – we shall come through these dark and dangerous valleys into a sunlight broader and more genial and more lasting than mankind has ever known. Winston Churchill, Leeds, 16 May 1942
On this occasion of his visit Churchill ChurchillChusssaid in part, “In the height of the second great war, it is a great pleasure to come to Leeds and bring to the citizens a word of thanks and encouragement in all the work they are doing to promote the common cause of many nations and in many lands. That cause appeals to the hearts of all those in the human race who are not already gripped by tyranny or who have not already been seduced to its insidious voice. That cause is shared by all the millions of our cousins across the Atlantic who are preparing night and day to have their will and rights respected. It appeals to the patient millions of China, who have suffered long from cruel aggression and still fight with faithful stubbornness. It appeals to the noble manhood of Russia, now at full grips with the murderous enemy, striking blow for blow.”
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The International Churchill Society (ICS), founded in 1968 shortly after Churchill's death, is the world’s preeminent member organisation dedicated to preserving the historic legacy of Sir Winston Churchill.
At a time when leadership is challenged at every turn, that legacy looms larger and remains more relevant than ever.