Author Candice Millardís book reveals a young Churchill

September 26, 2016 

Many Americans know the indomitable Winston Churchill, who led Britain during World War II.

But Candice Millardís new book, "Hero of the Empire," shows how the young Churchillís military adventures in South Africa, at the impressionable age of 24, prepared him for the later challenge of leading a nation at war while serving as Englandís prime minister.

Sent by Londonís Morning Post newspaper to cover the Boer War in South Africa, which began in 1899, Churchill demonstrated bravery in a train attack. Then, he escaped from a prison with some cash, a biscuit and four chocolate bars. He lacked a plan, a map, a compass or a weapon. Thirsty, hungry and sweating in the blistering sun, the young war correspondent crossed hundreds of miles of South Africanís terrain, a place where luck and destiny seem to have been his constant companions.

"This is what launched his political career. This is where he developed so many of the leadership qualities we associate him with ó agility, ingenuity, determination and grit. You can see all of these very clearly on the South African veld," Millard said during a telephone interview from her home in Kansas City, Kan.

A voracious reader, Churchill was a gifted writer and also possessed a genius for leadership, the author said.

"He had this innate confidence that he was able to project to others. He believed he could do extraordinary things, and he believed you could do extraordinary things," Millard added.

Before boarding a ship for South Africa, Churchill shopped on Londonís fashionable Bond Street, where he purchased about $4,000 in fine vintages of wine and spirits to fortify himself while overseas. His valet, Thomas Walden, came, too.

Excellent, exhaustive histories of Churchillís life were written by Sir Martin Gilbert and William Manchester, but Millard hones in on her subjectís youthful arrogance and boundless ambition.

"He was sort of born ready. Thatís a pretty rare quality," Millard said. "He rubbed people wrong all the time in the British military. You donít self advertise. You donít say, ĎHey, by the way, I want to win these medals.í "

Later, Churchill thanked the men who helped him flee South Africa.

"He did owe a great debt of gratitude (to those men)," Millard said. "He bought gold watches for each of these men, and he had them engraved with his thanks. I actually saw a couple of them while I was in South Africa. There was one at a great museum in Durban."

In her first book, "The River of Doubt: Theodore Rooseveltís Darkest Journey," Millard examined the former presidentís harrowing journey through South Americaís Brazilian rain forest, a trip on which he nearly died. The author likes to take one story about a famous person that she believes illuminates his or her character and the era in which that person lived.

As for Churchill, Millard said, "He reminds me so much of Roosevelt. They were so ambitious and both voracious readers and incredibly skilled writers and incredibly brave. They were very arrogant and got on everybodyís nerves."

Churchillís desire for achievement, the author said, appears to have come from his American mother, the Brooklyn-born Jeanette (Jennie) Jerome, who became Lady Randolph Churchill when she married Lord Randolph Churchill in 1874.

Lady Churchillís social connections and political advice mattered enormously to her son.

"She was hugely important to him as an up-and-comer. She had all of these incredible relationships, possibly affairs she had had with high-ranking men. She used that. He asked her to use it again and again."

Millard added that young Churchill told his mother, "This is a pushing age, and we must push with the best."




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