February 5, 2015

Young Winston makes his first political speech

In his final term at Sandhurst Winston became involved in a major social protest in London inspired, as he tells the story in My Early Life, by the Purity Campaign of Mrs. Ormiston Chant. Mrs. Chant, a member of the London County Council, attempted to inhibit communication between the promenade of the Empire Theatre and the bars around it. Her cause was championed by the Daily Telegraph.

Winston responded to a newspaper notice from The Entertainments Protection League and was invited to their founding meeting in a London hotel. He spent considerable fame and energy composing his first public address focusing on the protection of constitutional liberties, the inherent rights of British subjects, and the dangers of State interference in the social habits of its citizens. He even asked for tolerance for their misguided opponents. ‘Was there not always more error than malice in human affairs?’ Upon arriving at the somewhat shabby hotel, almost penniless because he had spent his entire allowance getting there, he discovered that he and the founder were the only people in attendance.

Notwithstanding that inglorious beginning, with other students he participated in a demonstration against the placement of partitions between the promenade and the bars. This occasion afforded him an opportunity to make his first public speech and he drew a parallel between tearing down the barricades and pulling down the politicians responsible for their construction. He recalled later how he had thought of “the death of Julius Caesar when the conspirators rushed forth into the street waving the bloody daggers with which they had stain the tyrant. I thought also of the taking of the Bastille…” The end result was quite different than those history-making events. In this case Winston’s opponents won the County Council elections, the barricades were permanently reconstructed in brick and plaster and all his efforts were for nought.

Lord Randolph’s health deteriorated during the round-the-world trip and they returned home from India. They reached London on 24 December and the death-watch began. Meanwhile Winston was graduating from Sandhurst, ranking high in his class. As he later commented, “I could learn quickly enough the things that mattered.”

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He had enjoyed Sandhurst and he would be exhilarated by his military career, but a poignant passage in My Early Life conveys the tragedy that his generation faced. “In contrast with my school days, I had made many friends, three or four of whom still survive. As for the rest they are gone. The South African War accounted for a large proportion not only of my friends but of my company, and the Great War killed almost all the others. The few that survived have been pierced through thigh or breast or face by the bullets of the enemy. I salute them all.”

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