Winston Churchill: The Making of a Hero in the South African War
One of Winston Churchill’s greatest talents was his extraordinary command of the English language. He wrote a prodigious 65 books in his lifetime resulting in him being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Yet oddly enough he had not excelled academically and it was only on his third attempt that he passed the entrance examination to the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst.
Churchill combined a military career with journalism and sought out wars both to report on and to fight in. Barely a year passed without some engagement being fought in some or other part of the Empire, but in 1895 there was a lull so he inveigled his way into joining Spanish forces who were fighting to quell an insurrection in Cuba.
During the campaign he was awarded Spain’s Rioja Crux for gallantry during the Battle of La Reforma. 1897 found him with the Makaland Field Force in North West India where he was mentioned in dispatches for rescuing a wounded Lt Victor Hughes while under enemy fire. He also wrote a book about it. In 1898 he took part in the 21st Lancers glorious charge against the Dervishes at Omdurman in the Sudan. It was the British Army’s last cavalry charge. This resulted in another book.
In 1899 after the outbreak of the South African War he headed for the front as a war correspondent for the Morning Post. He soon found his way to the front where he displayed exceptional courage defending the derailed armoured train at Chieveley in Natal. He was captured by the Boers and taken to Pretoria as a POW. Shortly afterwards he escaped and made his way to Lourenço Marques in Portuguese East Africa (now Mozambique). His fame from his defence of the armoured train and his escape afterwards spread throughout the Empire.
Following this he joined the elite South African Light Horse (still as a war correspondent). During the Battle of Spion Kop, where the British Army lost almost 500 men killed in action, Churchill thrice climbed the enemy occupied heights while under fire. He took part in the Relief of Ladysmith and afterwards accompanied Lord Roberts’ army on its march to Pretoria. En route he raced ahead and entered Johannesburg on a bicycle ahead of the army and reached Pretoria in time to personally release his former fellow prisoners from captivity.
After playing an important role in the Battle of Diamond Hill after the occupation of Pretoria he returned to England where he pursued a career in politics becoming the Tory MP for Oldham. It was a career that would in time come to him being nominated as the Greatest Living Englishman.