A great-grandson of Sir Winston Churchill looks back on his own service in the British Army.
Alexander Perkins is a great-grandson of Sir Winston Churchill. He served in the Scots Guards from 2007 to 2013.
More than five years ago, after serving seven years in the British Army with the Scots Guards, I called it a day and have since started a career in the commercial world. As much as I love what I do now, hardly a day goes by when I do not think back to my time in the army. When asked to write about my military service, I felt mixed emotions. It was a great experience—but not always a happy one. That said, I would not trade any of it away, because I feel those times have made me who I am today.
In January 2006, aged nineteen, I began my military career as an Officer Cadet at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst—the first of my great-grandfather Sir Winston Churchill’s descendants to attend his alma mater. Twelve months later, I was commissioned into the Scots Guards. What followed were six incredibly varied years. Over this time, I saw and did things that I could not have imagined at the start of the adventure. The highlights of my career were the two tours of duty I served in Afghanistan.
Winston S. Churchill
by Sir John Lavery
the First World War,
Finest Hour 181, Summer 2018
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
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.
In 1892, when Churchill was 17, he won the Public Schools fencing championship, presaging his future career as a fighting man. Generally, however, his other achievements at school didn’t seem to suggest an academic future. His parents decided that he wasn’t university material and instead they wanted him to try to enter the Royal Military College at Sandhurst and the military career for which he had already shown an inclination.
He left Harrow in 1892 and went to a ‘crammer’ to help him pass the entrance exam, which he eventually did on the third attempt in 1893. Churchill’s poor maths meant he couldn’t join the artillery and engineers, and he didn’t do well enough in the final exam to qualify for the infantry, much to his father’s disappointment. Against his father’s wishes, he qualified for a cavalry cadetship (the cavalry was more expensive than the infantry; the family would need to buy one or two costly ‘hunters’, polo ponies).
Join or Renew NowPlease join with us to help preserve the memory of Winston Churchill and continue to explore how his life, experiences and leadership are ever-more relevant in today’s chaotic world. BENEFITS >BECOME A MEMBER >
Finest Hour Image
The most recent issues of Finest Hour are available online to members. Join to automatically receive a subscription to BOTH Finest Hour and the Churchill Bulletin.LEARN MORE >VISIT FINEST HOUR ARCHIVE >
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.