Churchill’s fourth youthful adventure—as correspondent during the Boer Wars—finally gained for him the widespread fame that he desired so passionately. The British were fighting Boers (Dutch settlers) in southern Africa to possess the gold and diamond mines that had been recently discovered. Churchill, now out of the military, set sail with his valet for Cape Town in October, three days after the first shots were fired. A friend from India days, Captain Aylmer Haldane, invited Winston to travel on a train with troops who were to explore the Boer lines. Predictably, the Boers piled rocks on the tracks, wrecked the train, and killed or captured the survivors. Churchill, now captured, walked the sixty-mile trek to Elandslaagte and then went by train to the prisoner-of-war camp in Pretoria.
Haldane and another soldier soon conceived a plan to escape by climbing from a latrine over a remote wall. Churchill joined them— in fact, he was able to escape successfully while the other two could not find a safe opportunity. With little food, no map, and no knowledge of the language Africaans, Churchill began his escape strategy by boldly strolling through the city of Pretoria. There he hopped on a train and rode out of the city. After days of wandering, he desperately approached a house and had the fortune to discover the only British house for twenty miles.(Manchester 308) They hid him for three nights in a mine. In the meanwhile, the British press had gotten news of the escape, publicized his likely punishment of being shot if captured again, and the public anxiously sought news of his progress. His saviors conceived the plan of smuggling Churchill in a consignment of wool bales. When he finally passed into safe Portuguese East Africa, he went to the British Consulate and shouted for assistance, “’I am Winston Bloody Churchill! Come down here at once.’”*
He was a handsome young aristocrat whose pluck had won him freedom: he was a full-fledged hero in England. He was confident now that, like his father, he had secured a place for himself in the government of the Empire.
Britain would provide him with adventures and fame to lift him to the forefront of world history. The Boer War had made Winston an Imperial Rock Star.
Next Time: The Channel Islands. Where are they?!
Interesting note: The Boer Wars were sometimes called the Khaki Wars because these were the first conflicts in which the British had shed their traditional red uniforms for the safer, more functional properties of Khaki.
For more information, see:
Photo Credit: Pinterest
*Manchester, William. The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, Visions of Glory,
1874-1932. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 1983; pp. 301, 308, 314.