Churchill knew that the fastest way to political advancement lay in active service – ‘the glittering gateway to distinction’. He bemoaned the fact that the world was growing so ‘sensible and pacific’. There weren’t any battles close to home – as yet – so he had to look further afield to find action. For the moment, though, there was action to be found on a far-distant island – Cuba – and, through his mother’s contacts, Churchill managed to wangle a commission as a war correspondent for the Daily Graphic. Off he went, spirits high, to see some action. In late 1895, he and a friend Reginald Barnes were given leave to travel to Cuba, to observe the military campaign by the Spanish government troops against Cuban guerrilla rebels. Churchill spent some of his twenty-first birthday under fire when the column he was travelling with was attacked. Despite only being in Cuba for sixteen days, he was recommended for the Spanish Cross of the Order of Military Merit.
‘Luckily … there were Zulus and Afghans, also the Dervishes in the Soudan. Some of these might, if they were well-disposed, ’put up a show’ some day.’
Churchill, My Early Life