Hero of the Empire, Candice Millard, author; Simon Vance, narrator
Winston Churchill was both courageous and confident. He was fascinated with the military and studied at the Royal Military College from which he graduated in 1894. In 1896 he went to India to fight the Pashtuns. In 1898 he fought the Mahdists in the Sudan, and then he resigned from the service hoping to gain a foothold in government. Given to self-aggrandizement, he believed he had a political destiny to fulfill, which was prophetic, a destiny that would place him at the head of the British Empire.
Born of an American mother, Jennie Jerome, whom he was very close to, and a noble father, Lord Randolph Churchill, who eventually succumbed to mental illness and fell from grace, Winston took advantage of every opportunity that presented itself to advance his career. When he ran for office and lost, he became a journalist/war correspondent in what is now known as South Africa, to enhance his reputation, and after a valiant effort, braving bullets and cannon fire, to try and save the soldiers on a British armored train he was traveling on as a reporter, he was captured and taken to a POW camp located at the Staats Model School in Pretoria, which is today the location of the executive branch of the government of South Africa.
Churchill could not abide his captivity and contrived to escape with two other POW’s by insisting that he be included in their plan, even against their wishes. Things did not go as planned, though, and young Churchill found himself on the run, alone, without any provisions or help in the offing. In addition to his own precarious position, his daring escape placed his fellow prisoners at greater risk, causing them to lose any of the minor privileges they had once enjoyed. His own escape was not without drama. Determined to either die trying to escape or succumb to being recaptured, a thought which horrified him, he ventured out into the night with only his legendary brashness to guide him. Serendipity always seemed to rescue him when all seemed lost. Alone, without food or weapons, without water or a plan, he simply soldiered on, eternally hopeful. He winged everything as the moment demanded it, and the timing of his near discoveries was almost providential, as each time he thought the end was near, by sheer chance, he escaped notice and was able to continue on his journey to safety.
Churchill was impetuous and rushed headlong into his life with a loose tongue and a brave heart, both of which served him well. He often seemed fearless, unaware or unable to recognize the danger facing him. His indomitable spirit was a source of other’s admiration for him. Most often, it was his uncanny timing and arrival at a fortuitous place that helped him to rise to power and create his star-studded future. He was simply in the right place at the right time to advance his cause.
Winston’s mother was a great source of support as was his father’s title. His mother was also known as a bit of a bon vivant, engaging the affection of many men, one of whom was George Cornwallis, a man of almost the same age as Winston, a relationship to which Winston had great objection, to no avail. Winston gained fame because of his bravery in the face of danger, and he, rather than the war, soon monopolized the news in Great Britain. Survivors who had served with him spoke of his enormous exhibition of valor in the face of mortal danger. He was expected, by many, to make a name for himself, and even to rise eventually to the level of Prime Minister.
The book makes mention of many interesting little facts. The British rode into battle in red coats so that they could be seen on the battlefield by their fellow soldiers, so they would not be mistaken for the enemy. In later years, the uniform became khaki colored and the book explains the origin of the word. It came from the Urdu word for dust. These little bits of information, sprinkled here and there, throughout, added a bit of humanity and levity to the book, making it even more readable for the average person than many a non-fiction book.
Simon Vance reads the book with impeccable expression. His tone is perfect for interpreting each scene in the book whether it is about the background of Winston Churchill or the battlegrounds on which he found himself, both military and domestic. The book concerns itself largely with the time in Churchill’s life when he was a young man in his mid twenties and was captured by the Boer’s during the Anglo-Boer War. His escape from the prison camp in Pretoria is covered in rich detail by the author who thoroughly researched and footnoted the book. It is an excellent read.