"...I am so conceited I do not believe the Gods would create so potent a being as myself for so prosaic an ending [to be killed in combat]."

The Sword and the Pen 1895-1900

Churchill craved action. With his mother's help, he worked every family connection to get posted, officially or unofficially, to any battlefront. "In my interest she left no wire unpulled, no stone unturned, no cutlet uncooked."

Churchill displayed conspicuous physical courage on the battlefield, and his vivid articles for British newspapers received wide notice.

His overriding purpose in both seeking combat and writing articles was to establish his reputation for a political career. As he wrote to his mother: "It is a pushing age and we must shove with the rest."

A Budding Journalist

"I got into my bones the essential structure of the ordinary British sentence, which is a noble thing."

From 1895 to 1900, Churchill supplemented his Army pay by reporting on military campaigns. Winston's articles were well received and advanced both his literary and political career.

Winston was adept at wrangling his way to the front. In India, he appeared at the Northwest frontier command post without assignment and was attached as a correspondent.

In the Sudan, his reputation as a war correspondent nearly cut him out of the action. The commanding officer, General Sir Herbert Kitchener, was unenthusiastic about having Churchill along. Churchill's excellent political and personal connections, however, eventually prevailed and he duly joined the British expedition and was present at the battle of Omdurman.

In 1899 Churchill left the army to pursue a career as a writer and politician. Failing to win election, he traveled to South Africa as a correspondent - the highest paid at that time. He wrote to his mother, "I am very proud of the fact that there is not one person in a million who at my age [25] could have earned [£] 10,000 without any capital in less than two years."

Churchill turned his newspaper accounts into bestselling books - several of which are still in print. His reports from India became The Story of the Malakand Field Force while the accounts from Sudan appeared as The River War. His South African adventures were published as London to Ladysmith and Ian Hamilton's March. He also wrote a novel, Savrola.

Reading and Riding

"Thus freed from mundane cares, [we] devoted ourselves to the serious purpose of life. This was expressed in one word – Polo."

In Churchill's day, the life of a British cavalry officer in India was not hard duty: Seven months of active service - consisting mostly of drills with ample time for polo - and five months of leave. "If you liked to be waited on and relieved of home worries, India... was perfections... Princes could live no better than we."

While in India, Winston became a championship caliber polo player and captain of the regimental team. Unlike his fellow officers, however, Winston took advantage of his spare time to embark on a rigorous program of self-education.

He devoured major works and systematically studied Parliamentary history. He read the published Parliamentary debates, outlined the issues and arguments of the day, and developed his own positions. Thus Churchill made up for his lack of university education and prepared himself for politics.

The Great Escape

"Prisoner of War! ... Life is one long boredom from dawn till slumber... I certainly hated every minute of my captivity more than I have ever hated any other period in my whole life."

In 1899, Churchill took a job with the Morning Post reporting on the Boer War in South Africa. On his first assignment, the armoured train he was accompanying was ambushed and Winston organized a defensive withdraw. Captured, he claimed correspondent status, but his actions landed him in Pretoria as a prisoner of war.

Two weeks later, Churchill scaled a wall and evaded recapture by traveling at night, receiving help from local British supporters, and stowing away on supply trains. With a "dead or alive" price on his head, he traveled 300 miles in nine days to reach Portuguese East Africa (now Mozambique).

Returning to South Africa, Churchill received a hero's welcome in Durban. His vivid accounts of his capture and escape were dramatized in the British press and secured his notoriety at home.

The fame launched his political career, and his career as a public lecturer.


“Leave the past to history especially as I propose to write that history myself.”

Winston S. Churchill