My Early Life
My Early Life
The first twenty-five years of Churchill’s life were full of adventure: night marches, cavalry charges, skirmishes on the North West Frontier, escape from a Boer prison-camp and a visit to the Cuban War. Acknowledged as his best book, his zest for life bursts right off the pages of My Early Life.
Yet this is more than just an adventure story. It is an elegiac portrayal of the halcyon period of Edwardian content before the First World War, and deeply revealing of one of the dominating personalities of the twentieth century. Here lie the roots of that restless, questing energy and dauntless ambition, born of absent parents and miserable schooling.
‘The work I have enjoyed most this century.’ - Max Hastings, Sunday Telegraph
‘The best of all his books.’ - Bill Deedes, The Week
My Early Life
Format: 388pp demi pb
Place: India, Sudan, South Africa
Winston Churchill was born at Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire in 1874. He was educated at Harrow and Sandhurst, and was gazetted to the 4th Hussars in 1895. With the military he travelled to Eygpt among other places. During the Boer War he was captured while acting as a London newspaper correspondent, but escaped. In 1900 he became Conservative MP for Oldham, only to join the Liberals in 1906. He held several posts under their government including home secretary and First Lord of the Admiralty. In the World War One he was minister of munitions under Lloyd George, then after the war, secretary of state for war. In 1924 he became a Conservative MP for Epping and was Chancellor of the Exchequer for the next 5 years. He spent the 1930s in the political wilderness before forming a coalition government in 1940 when Chamberlain fell. After the victory of World War Two he lost the election of July 1945. He became prime minister again in 1951, age 77, until 1955. He wrote books including The World Crisis(1923-29), Marlborough (1933-8) and The Second World War (1948-54). He died in 1965.
Extract from Chapter One
WHEN does one first begin to remember? When do the waving lights and shadows of dawning consciousness cast their print upon the mind of a child? My earliest memories are Ireland. I can recall scenes and events in Ireland quite well, and sometimes dimly, even people. Yet I was born on November 30, 1874, and I left Ireland early in the year 1879. My father had gone to Ireland as secretary to his father, the Duke of Marlborough, appointed Lord-Lieutenant by Mr Disraeli in 1876. We lived in a house called ‘The Little Lodge’, about a stone’s throw from the Viceregal. Here I spent nearly three years of childhood. I have clear and vivid impressions of some events. I remember my grandfather, the Viceroy, unveiling the Lord Gough statue in 1878. A great black crowd, scarlet soldiers on horseback, strings pulling away a brown shiny sheet, the old Duke, the formidable grandpapa, talking loudly to the crowd. I recall even a phrase he used: ‘and with a withering volley he shattered the enemy’s line’. I quite understood that he was speaking about war and fighting and that a ‘volley’ meant what the black-coated soldiers (Riflemen) used to do with loud bangs so often in the Phoenix Park where I was taken for my morning walks. This, I think, is my first coherent memory.
Other events stand out more distinctly. We were to go to a pantomime. There was great excitement about it. The long-looked-for afternoon arrived. We started from the Viceregal and drove to the Castle where other children were no doubt to be picked up. Inside the Castle was a great square space paved with small oblong stones. It rained. It nearly always rained – just as it does now. People came out of the doors of the Castle, and there seemed to be much stir. Then we were told we could not go to the pantomime because the theatre had been burned down. All that was found of the manager was the keys that had been in his pocket. We were promised as a consolation for not going to the pantomime to go next day and see the ruins of the building. I wanted very much to see the keys, but this request does not seem to have been well received.
In one of these years we paid a visit to Emo Park, the seat of Lord Portarlington, who was explained to me as a sort of uncle. Of this place I can give very clear descriptions, though I have never been there since I was four or four and a half. The central point in my memory is a tall white stone tower which we reached after a considerable drive. I was told it had been blown up by Oliver Cromwell. I understood definitely that he had blown up all sorts of things and was therefore a very great man.
My nurse, Mrs Everest, was nervous about the Fenians. I gathered these were wicked people and there was no end to what they would do if they had their way. On one occasion when I was out riding on my donkey, we thought we saw a long dark procession of Fenians approaching. I am sure now it must have been the Rifle Brigade out for a route march. But we were all very much alarmed, particularly the donkey, who expressed his anxiety by kicking. I was thrown off and had concussion of the brain. This was my first introduction to Irish politics!
In the Poenix Park there was a great round clump of trees with a house inside it. In this house there lived a personage styled the Chief Secretary or the Under Secretary, I am not clear which. But at any rate from this house there came a man called Mr Burke. He gave me a drum. I cannot remember what he looked like, but I remember the drum. Two years afterwards when we were back in England, they told me he had been murdered by the Fenians in this same Phoenix Park we used to walk about in every day. Everyone round me seemed much upset about it, and I thought how lucky it was the Fenians had not got me when I fell off the donkey.
It was at ‘The Little Lodge’ I was first menaced with Education. The approach of a sinister figure described as ‘the Governess’ was announced. Her arrival was fixed for a certain day. In order to prepare for this day Mrs Everest produced a book called Reading Without Tears. It certainly did not justify its title in my case. I was made aware that before the Governess arrived I must be able to read without tears. We toiled each day. My nurse pointed with a pen at the different letters. I thought it all very tiresome. Our preparations were by no means completed when the fateful hour struck and the Governess was due to arrive. I did what so many oppressed peoples have done in similar circumstances: I took to the woods. I hid in the extensive shrubberies – forests they seemed – which surrounded ‘The Little Lodge’. Hours passed before I was retrieved and handed over to ‘the Governess’. We continued to toil every day, not only at letters but at words, and also at what was much worse, figures.