Winston Churchill’s Rise to Celebrity Status | History Hit

Winston Churchill’s Rise to Celebrity Status

Celeste Neill

20 Apr 2023
Churchill in 1900 around the time of his first election to Parliament
Image Credit: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

On 30 November 1874 Winston Spencer Churchill was born in his family’s seat of Blenheim Palace. Widely regarded as one of the greatest statesmen in history, Churchill’s career was long, varied and extraordinary. As Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1940 to 1945, Churchill’s powerful oratory, resilience, and determination inspired not only the British people but also the Allied forces and individuals around the world.

Churchill’s refusal to negotiate with Nazi Germany and his unwavering commitment to victory, even in the darkest hours of the war, earned him admiration and respect on a global scale. His leadership during the Battle of Britain, where the Royal Air Force successfully defended the country against German air attacks, further solidified his reputation as a steadfast leader.

Beyond his wartime achievements, Churchill’s career as a politician, writer, and historian also contributed to his worldwide fame. Churchill’s international influence and recognition as a statesman continue to resonate, solidifying his place as one of the most revered figures in modern history.

Young Churchill

Winston Churchill, characterised as a stocky red-haired boy, endured a somewhat distant relationship with his aristocratic parents during his youth. He encountered difficulties during his school years, particularly at Harrow, which he despised. However, he persevered and ultimately secured admission to the prestigious Royal Military College at Sandhurst, marking a turning point in his educational journey.

Following his initiation as a cavalry officer in the Queen’s Hussars, Churchill confronted the financial burden of the officer’s mess while feeling neglected by his family. Determined to secure additional income, he embarked on a journey to Cuba, assuming the role of a War Correspondent.

Churchill held a certain fondness for that period, recalling that his 21st birthday coincided with his inaugural exposure to enemy fire—an experience that would repeat itself in the future. He also developed a lasting appreciation for Cuban cigars during his time on the island.

Churchill in the military dress uniform of the 4th Queen’s Own Hussars at Aldershot in 1895. Image credit: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Image Credit: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Travelling the Empire

In 1897, the British Army transferred Churchill to India, which was under British rule at the time, where Churchill not only focused on his military education but also developed a keen interest in British politics. In the same year, upon learning about a campaign against a tribal group on the north-western frontier, Churchill sought permission to join the expedition.

His experiences during this campaign served as the inspiration for his first book, The Story of the Malakand Field Force, in which he vividly recounted the events and challenges faced during the campaign. A year later, in 1898, Churchill was transferred to Egypt, a transfer that allowed him to further expand his military and political experiences.

Taylor Downing, historian, writer and broadcaster, joins Dan on the podcast to draw the startling parallels between events in 1942 and today. They discuss just how unpopular Churchill became in 1942 against the backdrop of a new low of public morale, the two votes attacking his leadership in the Commons and the emergence of a serious political rival. As people began to claim that Churchill was not up to the job and that his leadership was failing badly, it was 1942 that was in fact Britain’s real darkest hour.
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Churchill went on to join Lord Kitchener’s force in the Sudan to combat Islamist rebels. It was during the battle of Omdurman that Churchill participated in a historic cavalry charge, marking the last such charge in British history, striking down several opponents from the back of his horse.

Upon his return to England in 1899, Churchill made the decision to resign from his military commission and embarked on a new journey in politics. Although his initial attempt at securing a parliamentary seat in Oldham was unsuccessful, Churchill’s determination remained undeterred.

The stage was set for Churchill’s meteoric rise as a renowned statesman and leader.

The Boer War

In October 1899, a pivotal moment in history unfolded as the South African Boers initiated hostilities against the British Empire, launching attacks on British territories in the region. Seizing the opportunity to be on the front lines, Churchill secured a position as a correspondent for The Morning Post and embarked on a voyage aboard the same ship as the newly appointed commander, Sir Redvers Buller.

Churchill spent weeks reporting from the front lines, providing firsthand accounts of the ongoing battles. During one fateful scouting expedition to the north aboard an armoured train, the journey was unexpectedly derailed by enemy forces.

Churchill found himself once again engaging in combat, but soon found himself captured and imprisoned within a Boer Prisoner of War camp.

Churchill commanding the 6th Battalion, the Royal Scots Fusiliers, 1916. His second-in-command, Archibald Sinclair, is seated on the left. Image credit: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Incredibly, after enlisting the help of a local mine manager he escaped over the fences and walked 300 miles to neutral territory in Portuguese East Africa – an escapade that briefly made him a national hero.

Ascending the political ladder

In 1900 Churchill once again stood for Oldham as a Conservative Party MP – this time successfully. However, despite being just 26 and regarded as a bright new hope by the party, the young man’s stance on free trade, and his friendship with the Liberal MP David Lloyd-George, meant that he took the almost unprecedented step of ‘crossing the floor’ and joining the Liberals in 1904.

That same year, he met Clementine Hozier, at a ball in Crewe Hall, whom he would marry 4 years later on 12 September 1908 in St. Margaret’s, Westminster.

Dan Snow pays a visit to the Churchill War Rooms, walking in the footsteps of the great man and his many colleagues during the Second World War.
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Despite it’s controversy, the decision to join the Liberals appeared to be vindicated in 1905 when they swept into office, and new Prime Minister Campbell-Bannerman granted Churchill the position of Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies – an important position given the fragile nature of the Empire after the Boer War.

After demonstrating his capabilities in various roles, Churchill then joined the cabinet at the relatively young age of 34. As the President of the Board of Trade, he introduced a series of progressive policies, including the implementation of National Insurance and the introduction of the first minimum wage in the United Kingdom.

Churchill (second left) photographed at the Siege of Sidney Street. Image credit: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Image Credit: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

A controversial career

Continuing his remarkable ascent, Churchill’s political career reached new heights when he assumed the role of Home Secretary in 1910. However, his handling of a miner’s riot in Wales drew strong criticism from Welsh and Socialist circles, as his militaristic approach clashed with their expectations of a more measured response.

Then, in 1911, a gripping incident unfolded in London as a pair of Latvian anarchists found themselves besieged in a house. Intriguingly, Churchill, arrived at the scene amidst the chaos. Churchill later disputed his direct involvement, but was documented as giving operational orders and allegedly preventing the fire brigade from rescuing the anarchists from the burning building.

These controversial actions were widely criticised by senior political figures, who viewed them as irresponsible and somewhat farcical. Churchill’s reputation suffered a blow as a result.

Despite these setbacks, Churchill’s early career had already established him as one of the most charismatic and renowned politicians in the country by the outbreak of World War One. Moreover, the experiences from these incidents provided him with valuable lessons and a lifelong passion for warfare, foreign affairs, and the intricacies of high-level politics.

Tags: OTD Winston Churchill

Celeste Neill