Shortly after he arrived back in England from India Churchill, as author of The Story of The Malakand Field Force, was invited to meet “The Great Man, Master of the British world, the unchallenged leader of the Conservative party, a third time Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary at the height of his long career” (as he referred to Lord Salisbury).
Salisbury told him: “I have been keenly interested in your book. I have read it with the greatest pleasure and, if I may say so, with admiration not only for its matter but for its style.” He offered to be of any assistance requested by young Churchill. Winston responded immediately with a request to join the expedition to Khartoum.
For whatever reason, a vacancy occurred to which Churchill was appointed. In order to avoid a recall to India, he caught “a filthy tram” out of Marseilles, thus keeping himself out of touch from the authorities in London.
Before leaving for Egypt he made his second political speech (not in Robert Rhodes James’ Complete Speeches). He wrote his mother that the 15 July speech at Bradford was a complete success.
During preparations for the expedition up the Nile, he worked on his dispatches for the Morning Post. He could find little time to write letters but he did write his mother that “if I am [killed] you must avail yourself of the consolation of philosophy and reflect on the utter insignificance of all human beings. I do not flinch – though I do not accept the Christian or any other form of religious beliefs, I shall come back afterwards the wiser and stronger, and then we will think of other and wider spheres of action.”
As he prepared for battle, he commented about his Commander-in-Chief and future Cabinet colleague: “Kitchener said he had known I was not going to stay in the army – was only making a convenience of it; that he had disapproved of my coming in place of others.” He added that Kitchener “maybe a general – but never a gentleman.”
Churchill participated in the Battle of Omdurman on 2 September. The best account of this event is his own in The River War. Professor Paul Rahe (Finest Hour 85) presents a powerful argument for the book’s contemporary relevance: “Churchill’s great, neglected work is, like Thucydides’ history, a prose epic. His subjects: the Nile and its peoples; the conflict between Islam and modernity; the origins, character, and course of the Mahdist revolt against Egyptian rule with the Sudan; the resistance mounted by General Gordon at Khartoum; the fecklessness of Gladstone’s Liberal administration; and the campaign of reconquest ultimately mounted on behalf of Egypt and Britain by Sir Herbert Kitchener, offered him the same sort of canvas available to Thucydides, and he took the endeavor as an occasion for reflection on the moral responsibilities attendant upon a great power and as an opportunity to explore the relationships between civilization and decadence, between barbarism and courage, and between modern science and the changing character of war.
“In an age when the Great Democracies are likely to be called on to respond to ugly little conflicts marked by social, sectarian and tribal rivalries in odd corners of the worlds, I can think of no other historical work that better deserves our attention.”
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