The Place to Find All Things Churchill

Spring 1901 (Age 26)

“Rising Political Star”

The Spring of 1901, William Manchester wrote, was when Churchill “established himself as a rising political star.” In the House in March, he spoke in support of the Government against an amendment seeking to appoint a Commission to enquire into the Army’s dismissal of Major General Sir Henry Colville as Commander-in-Chief of Gibraltar. Colville had been dismissed when official enquiries into his conduct in South Africa disclosed he had failed to attempt to relieve beleaguered British troops despite being in a position to do so. Colville refused to go quietly, and appealed to supporters in Parliament, claiming that he had not been criticized at the time in official dispatches.

Churchill came to the rescue of a government described by his son, Randolph, as “hard-pressed to resist” the amendment, helpfully explaining to the House that “those who have not themselves had any actual experience of war may have some difficulty in understanding” why Colville was not criticized at the time. The reason, Churchill continued, was that the military in wartime typically did not tell the truth: “I say that I have noticed in the last three wars in which we have been engaged a tendency among military officers…to hush everything up, to make everything look as fair as possible, to tell what is called the official truth….all the ugly facts are smoothed and varnished over, rotten reputations are propped up, and officers known as incapable are allowed to hang on and linger in their commands in the hope that at the end of the war they may be shunted into private life without a scandal.”

Nevertheless, Churchill went on, politicians must rarely, if ever, interfere with the War Department’s promotion and dismissal of officers because that process‹Selection‹is “the only hope for increased efficiency in the army.” Secretary of State for War St. John Brodrick, expressed his gratitude in a note to Churchill: “May I say you will never make a better speech than you made tonight….It was a great success and universally recognized.”

Mr. Brodrick’s comments on the next Churchill speech in the House on military matters were not so kind, expressing the hope that one day “the hereditary qualities he possesses of eloquence and courage may be tempered also by discarding the hereditary desire to run Imperialism on the cheap.” Churchill had attacked Brodrick’s plan for Army Reform, featuring the creation of three regular army corps. On May 13th, Churchill spoke trenchantly against “Mr. Brodrick’s Army”: “I contend that [it] ought to be reduced by two army corps, on the ground that one is quite enough to fight savages, and three are not enough even to begin to fight Europeans….A European war cannot be anything but a cruel, heartrending struggle, which, if we are ever to enjoy the bitter fruits of victory, must demand, perhaps for several years, the whole manhood of the nation, the entire suspension of peaceful industries, and the concentrating to one end of every vital energy in the community….a European war can only end in the ruin of the vanquished and the scarcely less fatal commercial dislocation and the exhaustion of the conquerors. Democracy is more vindictive than Cabinets. The wars of peoples will be more terrible than those of kings.” In the event, Churchill’s views prevailed, with the support of the Liberal opposition, and Mr. Brodrick did not receive his three army corps.

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