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- REAL SOLDIERS OF FORTUNE - 10/25 -
themselves the anger of the House of Commons, to have done so twice, before one has passed his twenty-first year, seems to promise a lurid future.
The first time Churchill disturbed the august assemblage in which so soon he was to become a leader was when he "ragged" a brother subaltern named Bruce and cut up his saddle and accoutrements. The second time was when he ran away to Cuba to fight with the Spaniards.
After this campaign, on the first night of his arrival in London, he made his maiden speech. He delivered it in a place of less dignity than the House of Commons, but one, throughout Great Britain and her colonies, as widely known and as well supported. This was the Empire Music Hall.
At the time Mrs. Ormiston Chant had raised objections to the presence in the Music Hall of certain young women, and had threatened, unless they ceased to frequent its promenade, to have the license of the Music Hall revoked. As a compromise, the management ceased selling liquor, and on the night Churchill visited the place the bar in the promenade was barricaded with scantling and linen sheets. With the thirst of tropical Cuba still upon him, Churchill asked for a drink, which was denied him, and the crusade, which in his absence had been progressing fiercely, was explained. Any one else would have taken no for his answer, and have sought elsewhere for his drink. Not so Churchill. What he did is interesting, because it was so extremely characteristic. Now he would not do it; then he was twenty-one.
He scrambled to the velvet-covered top of the railing which divides the auditorium from the promenade, and made a speech. It was a plea in behalf of his "Sisters, the Ladies of the Empire Promenade."
"Where," he asked of the ladies themselves and of their escorts crowded below him in the promenade, "does the Englishman in London always find a welcome? Where does he first go when, battle-scarred and travel-worn, he reaches home? Who is always there to greet him with a smile, and join him in a drink? Who is ever faithful, ever true--the Ladies of the Empire Promenade."
The laughter and cheers that greeted this, and the tears of the ladies themselves, naturally brought the performance on the stage to a stop, and the vast audience turned in the seats and boxes.
They saw a little red-haired boy in evening clothes, balancing himself on the rail of the balcony, and around him a great crowd, cheering, shouting, and bidding him "Go on!"
Churchill turned with delight to the larger audience, and repeated his appeal. The house shook with laughter and applause.
The commissionaires and police tried to reach him and a good-tempered but very determined mob of well-dressed gentlemen and cheering girls fought them back. In triumph Churchill ended his speech by begging his hearers to give "fair play" to the women, and to follow him in a charge upon the barricades.
The charge was instantly made, the barricades were torn down, and the terrified management ordered that drink be served to its victorious patrons.
Shortly after striking this blow for the liberty of others, Churchill organized a dinner which illustrated the direction in which at that age his mind was working, and showed that his ambition was already abnormal. The dinner was given to those of his friends and acquaintances who "were under twenty-one years of age, and who in twenty years would control the destinies of the British Empire."
As one over the age limit, or because he did not consider me an empire-controlling force, on this great occasion, I was permitted to be present. But except that the number of incipient empire-builders was very great, that they were very happy, and that save the host himself none of them took his idea seriously, I would not call it an evening of historical interest. But the fact is interesting that of all the boys present, as yet, the host seems to be the only one who to any conspicuous extent is disturbing the destinies of Great Britain. However, the others can reply that ten of the twenty years have not yet passed.
When he was twenty-three Churchill obtained leave of absence from his regiment, and as there was no other way open to him to see fighting, as a correspondent he joined the Malakand Field Force in India.
It may be truthfully said that by his presence in that frontier war he made it and himself famous. His book on that campaign is his best piece of war reporting. To the civilian reader it has all the delight of one of Kipling's Indian stories, and to writers on military subjects it is a model. But it is a model very few can follow, and which Churchill himself was unable to follow, for the reason that only once is it given a man to be twenty-three years of age.
The picturesque hand-to-hand fighting, the night attacks, the charges up precipitous hills, the retreats made carrying the wounded under constant fire, which he witnessed and in which he bore his part, he never again can see with the same fresh and enthusiastic eyes. Then it was absolutely new, and the charm of the book and the value of the book are that with the intolerance of youth he attacks in the service evils that older men prefer to let lie, and that with the ingenuousness of youth he tells of things which to the veteran have become unimportant, or which through usage he is no longer even able to see.
In his three later war books, the wonder of it, the horror of it, the quick admiration for brave deeds and daring men, give place, in "The River War," to the critical point of view of the military expert, and in his two books on the Boer war to the rapid impressions of the journalist. In these latter books he tells you of battles he has seen, in the first one he made you see them.
For his services with the Malakand Field Force he received the campaign medal with clasp, and, "in despatches," Brigadier-General Jeffreys praises "the courage and resolution of Lieutenant W. L. S. Churchill, Fourth Hussars, with the force as correspondent of the _Pioneer_."
From the operations around Malakand, he at once joined Sir William Lockhart as orderly officer, and with the Tirah Expedition went through that campaign.
For this his Indian medal gained a second clasp.
This was in the early part of 1898. In spite of the time taken up as an officer and as a correspondent, he finished his book on the Malakand Expedition and then, as it was evident Kitchener would soon attack Khartum, he jumped across to Egypt and again as a correspondent took part in the advance upon that city.
Thus, in one year, he had seen service in three campaigns.
On the day of the battle his luck followed him. Kitchener had attached him to the Twenty-first Lancers, and it will be remembered the event of the battle was the charge made by that squadron. It was no canter, no easy "pig-sticking"; it was a fight to get in and a fight to get out, with frenzied followers of the Khalifa hanging to the bridle reins, hacking at the horses' hamstrings, and slashing and firing point-blank at the troopers. Churchill was in that charge. He received the medal with clasp.
Then he returned home and wrote "The River War." This book is the last word on the campaigns up the Nile. From the death of Gordon in Khartum to the capture of the city by Kitchener, it tells the story of the many gallant fights, the wearying failures, the many expeditions into the hot, boundless desert, the long, slow progress toward the final winning of the Sudan.
The book made a distinct sensation. It was a work that one would expect from a lieutenant-general, when, after years of service in Egypt, he laid down his sword to pen the story of his life's work. From a Second Lieutenant, who had been on the Nile hardly long enough to gain the desert tan, it was a revelation. As a contribution to military history it was so valuable that for the author it made many admirers, but on account of his criticisms of his superior officers it gained him even more enemies.
This is a specimen of the kind of thing that caused the retired army officer to sit up and choke with apoplexy:
"General Kitchener, who never spares himself, cares little for others. He treated all men like machines, from the private soldiers, whose salutes he disdained, to the superior officers, whom he rigidly controlled. The comrade who had served with him and under him for many years, in peace and peril, was flung aside as soon as he ceased to be of use. The wounded Egyptian and even the wounded British soldier did not excite his interest."
When in the service clubs they read that, the veterans asked each other their favorite question of what is the army coming to, and to their own satisfaction answered it by pointing out that when a lieutenant of twenty-four can reprimand the commanding general the army is going to the dogs.
To the newspapers, hundreds of them, over their own signatures, on the service club stationery, wrote violent, furious letters, and the newspapers themselves, besides the ordinary reviews, gave to the book editorial praise and editorial condemnation.
Equally disgusted were the younger officers of the service. They nicknamed his book "A Subaltern's Advice to Generals," and called Churchill himself a "Medal Snatcher." A medal snatcher is an officer who, whenever there is a rumor of war, leaves his men to the care of any one, and through influence in high places and for the sake of the campaign medal has himself attached to the expeditionary force. But Churchill never was a medal hunter. The routine of barrack life irked him, and in foreign parts he served his country far better than by remaining at home and inspecting awkward squads and attending guard mount. Indeed, the War Office could cover with medals the man who wrote "The Story of the Malakand Field Force" and "The River War" and still be in his debt.
In October, 1898, a month after the battle of Omdurman, Churchill made his debut as a political speaker at minor meetings in Dover and Rotherhithe. History does not record that these first speeches set fire to the Channel. During the winter he finished and published his "River War," and in the August of the following summer, 1899, at a by-election, offered himself as Member of
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