In 1897, British forces launched a bloody campaign against Afghanistan’s Pashtun tribesmen—forebears of the Taliban—on India’s North-West Frontier (now the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan). It was the first time Winston Churchill, then twenty-two and a junior cavalry lieutenant as well as an aspiring war correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph, had taken part in military action as a combatant. The experience would have a profound bearing on his subsequent career as a writer and politician.
A week into the campaign, Churchill was still a knight of the pen, rather than one of the sword, so he concentrated his energy on finding good copy for his Telegraph dispatches. He kept himself busy by accompa- nying the daily reconnaissance patrols and observing their map-making efforts. As he told his friend Reggie Barnes, he spent most days with the 11th Bengal Lancers and the evenings in the general’s mess. When out riding with the Lancers, Churchill was always on the lookout for action, but had little luck. “I take every opportunity and have accompanied solitary patrols into virgin valleys and ridden through villages and forts full of armed men—looking furious—but without any adventure occurring. It is a strange war. One moment people are your friends and the next they are shooting. The value of life is so little that they do not bear any grudge for being shot at.” Read More >
St. Martin’s Church, Bladon, is well known, not least to members of The Churchill Centre, as the final resting place of Sir Winston Churchill. Many of you will have visited the church and the Churchill graves. This anniversary year has had quite an impact on us, and it has been a privilege to welcome even more visitors who make their pilgrimage to pay tribute to Churchill.
All readers of Finest Hour know the date of Churchill’s death: 24 January 1965. Exactly fifty years to the day since he died, his family attended a quiet service of thanksgiving and commemoration at St. Martin’s. At Churchill’s grave the Last Post and Reveille were played, some of his great-great-grandchildren laid wreaths, and the actor Robert Hardy, who has played Churchill on so many occasions, read the poem At Bladon, which concluded Richard Dimbleby’s celebrated television commentary at Churchill’s State Funeral. At the same service I was also able to dedicate Lady Soames’s Garter Banner. Lady Soames bequeathed her banner as a Lady of the Garter to the church, and that now hangs proudly on the west wall. This is the Bidding Prayer that I adapted from the one used at the funeral in St. Paul’s in 1965:
Today we gather,
in the name of Jesus Christ, Read More >
Ian S. Wood, Churchill: A Pictorial History of His Life and Times, G2 Entertainment, 2015, 194 pages, £12.99.
Ian S. Wood is a professor of History whose principal expertise is on Merovingian rule over the Franks (whose territory covered most of modern France plus much of northwest Europe) during the 300 years from the mid-fifth century AD. Despite this narrow field, he has strayed into the world of Winston Churchill before, having previously published Britain, Ireland and the Second World War (2010) and a respectable study simply called Churchill (2000).
This new work, though, is clearly intended for coffee tables in the fiftieth-anniversary year of Churchill’s death. It consists of eighty-one illustrations; of these, only thirty-four are of Churchill himself, of which eight are unfamiliar. The text is unexceptional and covers the outline of the subject’s life in some seventy-five pages; these deal with the main points with only a few questionable opinions.
Despite the brevity of the text, however, there was some careless proofreading. Numerous minor errors undermine the reader’s confidence in what the author wishes to say. A few examples: in 1893 Sandhurst was the Royal Military College (not the Royal Military Academy); Clementine was not the daughter of the Earl of Airlie (he was her maternal Read More >
Ellen Labrecque with illustrations by Jerry Hoare, Who Was Winston Churchill ? Grosset and Dunlap, 2015, 106 pages, $5.99.
I liked Who Was Winston Churchill? for two reasons. First it is just over 100 pages, and I had a reading assignment at school that called for a book with a minimum of 100 pages. Secondly, the book is about Winston Churchill. I really admire him and think he is super interesting.
When I flipped through the book at the store I noticed it had lots of nice pictures! That was cool, and it meant less reading too! I read it in one day and liked it. I learned new things about Churchill, and the drawings inside gave me a different perspective than just reading words. Read More >
Daniel Smith, How to Think Like Churchill, Michael O’Mara Books, 2014, 203 pages, £12.99.
The poet Rupert Brooke, well known to Churchill and to his secretary Edward (Eddie) Marsh, famously said, “A book may be compared to your neighbour: if it be good, it cannot last too long; if bad, you cannot get rid of it too early.” Of the books seeking to advise readers on how to live their lives, Daniel Smith’s How to Think Like Churchill is one of the least painful. A freelance author of more than twenty books, Smith writes in an amiable tone, brimming with fondness and respect for his subject. This book (one in a series by Smith) includes a refreshingly complete timeline of Churchill’s life, but, unsurprisingly, falls short of teaching us how to think like Churchill.
The fine, heavy paper and the aircraft bomber silhouettes in the table of contents add a certain charm, but the pleasant, breezy tone begins to wear rapidly as Smith trivializes that which he seeks to praise by heavily relying on catch-phrases and clichés. The author generally has his facts straight but still serves up slight inaccuracies, misquoting a passage written by Churchill here or excluding important details there. In his best moments, Smith’s writing flirts with history and biography, but altogether the sentences worth reading would fit only a pamphlet. Read More >
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The next issue of Finest Hour will be about "Churchill, Race, and Religion." In the foreword, Lord Boateng, Chair of the Churchill Archives Trust, writes: “Sir Winston did not run away from controversy in his life and would not expect anything less in that which has followed. We do owe him and each other, however, civility and respect in the conduct of those arguments—not least, since we owe to him and the global anti-fascist fight, which he helped lead to such good effect, the secure freedom to hold those arguments at all.” … See MoreSee Less
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.