Churchill’s First War

From The Telegraph:

Churchill--getty_2547624bSo accustomed are we to the memory of Winston Churchill as a great statesman and war leader that it is easy to forget he was also once a nobody. The son of a failed, syphilitic politician and a promiscuous and penniless society beauty, Winston’s prospects in the 1890s looked unpromising. The only things he had to recommend him were his gift for language, his mother’s address book and his own astonishing ambition. In 1897, during the war on the borders of Afghanistan and India, he ruthlessly exploited all three to launch one of the most successful political careers in British history. Con Coughlin’s book does not pull punches about young Winston’s character. Weak of disposition, a plodder at school and a bully at Sandhurst, there are moments when like Flashman. His contemporaries loathed him. Fellow officers branded him a “self-advertiser” or “insufferably bumptious”, and mocked his inability to pass a mirror without inspecting himself or practising a speech. His involvement in the war that first made his name was not always glorious either. He only got to go to the Northwest Frontier by pulling strings. While there, he became a fan of the soon-to-be-banned dumdum bullet, and enthusiastically joined in with actions which today would be considered war crimes.

And yet there is a sense of respect here, too. Yes, Churchill was a shameless self-promoter – but he was aware his efforts would be pointless unless he had something worth promoting. While fellow subalterns lazed around the polo field, Winston pursued a gruelling course of self-improvement, quickly catching up on squandered school years. As a staff officer to General Sir Bindon Blood he worked twice as hard as any other subaltern.

More here.