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Hero of the Empire

Cover of Hero of the Empire

Hero of the Empire

The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill
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From New York Times bestselling author of Destiny of the Republic and The River of Doubt, a thrilling narrative of Winston Churchill's extraordinary and little-known exploits during the Boer War

At age twenty-four, Winston Churchill was utterly convinced it was his destiny to become prime minister of England one day, despite the fact he had just lost his first election campaign for Parliament. He believed that to achieve his goal he must do something spectacular on the battlefield. Despite deliberately putting himself in extreme danger as a British Army officer in colonial wars in India and Sudan, and as a journalist covering a Cuban uprising against the Spanish, glory and fame had eluded him.

Churchill arrived in South Africa in 1899, valet and crates of vintage wine in tow, there to cover the brutal colonial war the British were fighting with Boer rebels. But just two weeks after his arrival, the soldiers he was accompanying on an armored train were ambushed, and Churchill was taken prisoner. Remarkably, he pulled off a daring escape—but then had to traverse hundreds of miles of enemy territory, alone, with nothing but a crumpled wad of cash, four slabs of chocolate, and his wits to guide him.

The story of his escape is incredible enough, but then Churchill enlisted, returned to South Africa, fought in several battles, and ultimately liberated the men with whom he had been imprisoned.

Churchill would later remark that this period, "could I have seen my future, was to lay the foundations of my later life." Millard spins an epic story of bravery, savagery, and chance encounters with a cast of historical characters—including Rudyard Kipling, Lord Kitchener, and Mohandas Gandhi—with whom he would later share the world stage. But Hero of the Empire is more than an adventure story, for the lessons Churchill took from Boer War would profoundly affect 20th century history.
From the Hardcover edition.
From New York Times bestselling author of Destiny of the Republic and The River of Doubt, a thrilling narrative of Winston Churchill's extraordinary and little-known exploits during the Boer War

At age twenty-four, Winston Churchill was utterly convinced it was his destiny to become prime minister of England one day, despite the fact he had just lost his first election campaign for Parliament. He believed that to achieve his goal he must do something spectacular on the battlefield. Despite deliberately putting himself in extreme danger as a British Army officer in colonial wars in India and Sudan, and as a journalist covering a Cuban uprising against the Spanish, glory and fame had eluded him.

Churchill arrived in South Africa in 1899, valet and crates of vintage wine in tow, there to cover the brutal colonial war the British were fighting with Boer rebels. But just two weeks after his arrival, the soldiers he was accompanying on an armored train were ambushed, and Churchill was taken prisoner. Remarkably, he pulled off a daring escape—but then had to traverse hundreds of miles of enemy territory, alone, with nothing but a crumpled wad of cash, four slabs of chocolate, and his wits to guide him.

The story of his escape is incredible enough, but then Churchill enlisted, returned to South Africa, fought in several battles, and ultimately liberated the men with whom he had been imprisoned.

Churchill would later remark that this period, "could I have seen my future, was to lay the foundations of my later life." Millard spins an epic story of bravery, savagery, and chance encounters with a cast of historical characters—including Rudyard Kipling, Lord Kitchener, and Mohandas Gandhi—with whom he would later share the world stage. But Hero of the Empire is more than an adventure story, for the lessons Churchill took from Boer War would profoundly affect 20th century history.
From the Hardcover edition.
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  • From the book Prologue

    Crouching in darkness outside the prison fence in wartime southern Africa, Winston Churchill could still hear the voices of the guards on the other side. Seizing his chance an hour earlier, the twenty-five-year-old had scaled the high, corrugated-iron paling that enclosed the prison yard. But now he was trapped in a new dilemma. He could not remain where he was. At any moment, he could be discov­ered and shot by the guards or by the soldiers who patrolled the dark, surrounding streets of Pretoria, the capital of the enemy Boer repub­lic. Yet neither could he run. His hopes for survival depended on two other prisoners, who were still inside the wall. In the long minutes since he had dropped down into the darkness, they had not appeared.

    From the moment he had been taken as a prisoner of war, Churchill had dreamed of reclaiming his freedom, hatching scheme after scheme, each more elaborate than the last. In the end, however, the plan that had actually brought him over the fence was not his own. The two other English prisoners had plotted the escape, and agreed only with great reluctance to bring him along. They also car­ried the provisions that were supposed to sustain all three of them as they tried to cross nearly three hundred miles of enemy territory. Unable even to climb back into his hated captivity, Churchill found himself alone, hiding in the low, ragged shrubs that lined the fence, with no idea what to do next.



    Although he was still a very young man, Churchill was no stranger to situations of great personal peril. He had already taken part in four wars on three different continents, and had come close to death in each one. He had felt bullets whistling by his head in Cuba, seen friends hacked to death in British India, been separated from his regiment in the deserts of the Sudan and, just a month earlier, in November 1899, at the start of the Boer War, led the resistance against a devastating attack on an armored train. Several men had died in that attack, blown to pieces by shells and a deafening barrage of bullets, many more had been horribly wounded, and Churchill had barely escaped with his life. To his fury and deep frustration, however, he had not eluded capture. He, along with dozens of Brit­ish officers and soldiers, had been taken prisoner by the Boers—the tough, largely Dutch-speaking settlers who had been living in south­ern Africa for centuries and were not about to let the British Empire take their land without a fight.

    When the Boers had realized that they had captured the son of Lord Randolph Churchill, a former Chancellor of the Exchequer and a member of the highest ranks of the British aristocracy, they had been thrilled. Churchill had been quickly transported to a POW camp in Pretoria, the Boer capital, where he had been imprisoned with about a hundred other men. Since that day, he had been able to think of nothing but escape, and returning to the war.

    The Boer War had turned out to be far more difficult and more devastating than the amusing colonial war the British had expected. Their army, one of the most admired and feared fighting forces in the world, was astonished to find itself struggling to hold its own against a little-known republic on a continent that most Europeans consid­ered to be theirs for the taking. Already, the British had learned more from this war than almost any other. Slowly, they were real­izing that they had entered a new age of warfare. The days of gallant young soldiers wearing bright red coats had suddenly disappeared, leaving the vaunted British army to face an invisible enemy with weapons so powerful they could wreak...
About the Author-
  • Candice Millard is the author of the New York Times bestsellers The River of Doubt and Destiny of the Republic. She lives in Kansas City with her husband and three children.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    June 27, 2016
    Millard (Destiny of the Republic) takes a relatively minor episode in the life of Winston Churchill—his escape from prison during the Boer War—and makes hay with it, painting young Churchill as a brilliant soldier, talented raconteur, and politician in waiting. Churchill’s escape from a jail cell in Pretoria and subsequent trek through enemy territory are presented as the first signs of the grit and determination he would later show as prime minister. Apart from some enjoyable biographical detail (Millard has a weakness for hair “shining like a dark jewel” and interiors of “rich yellow silk”), the book contains little of interest for readers who are not already die-hard Churchill buffs. Churchill’s racism is consistently underplayed, the politics of the Boer War are ignored, and figures such as Leo Amery are reduced to drawing-room caricatures. By dwelling on Churchill’s privileged upbringing, Millard effectively extinguishes any sympathy the reader might feel for a pompous young man who once wrote, in typically overblown fashion, that if his plans for political office fell through, “It will break my heart for I have nothing else but ambition to cling to.” Not even some late attention to the wider world beyond Churchill can save the book from its hagiographic bent.

  • Kirkus

    Starred review from July 1, 2016
    A history of the danger-seeking young Winston Churchill during the Boer War, which "had turned out to be far more difficult and more devastating than the amusing colonial war the British had expected."Although Churchill's life has been amply documented by himself and many others, Millard (Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President, 2011, etc.) ably weaves a seamless and gripping narrative of the future statesman's early career and involvement in the Boer War (1899-1902). It is the story of a man unfailingly convinced of his destiny to lead, undaunted by setbacks, and supremely confident of success. "I do not believe the Gods would create so potent a being as myself for so prosaic an ending," Churchill wrote to his mother from the bloody battlefield of Malakand. As the author demonstrates, even as a child, Churchill shared his countrymen's idea that war "was about romance and gallantry." "There is no ambition I cherish so keenly," he said, "as to gain a reputation for personal courage." At 24, he passionately urged Joseph Chamberlain to recover Britain's prestige in South Africa by avenging a humiliating defeat; in an electrifying speech, he whipped up fervor for war. In October 1899, Churchill's wish was realized: Britain was at war, and he was off to battle, this time as a journalist. He meant to travel in comfort: along with his personal valet, he brought wine, spirits, liqueur, and luxurious accessories from London's finest shops. Although he became dramatically involved in the army's travails, he, along with around 60 officers and soldiers, was taken prisoner. For Churchill, it was a fate almost worse than death. "With the loss of his freedom," Millard writes, "he had, for the first time, also lost his ferocious grip on life." In vivid, entertaining detail, the author chronicles Churchill's audacious escape, which was reported in British newspapers with pride and glee. As Millard concludes, he had proved himself exemplary: "resilient, resourceful and, even in the face of extreme danger, utterly unruffled." A fresh, captivating history of the enduringly colorful Churchill.

    COPYRIGHT(2016) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    April 15, 2016
    Having given us "New York Times" best sellers about James Garfield and Theodore Roosevelt, Millard leaps across oceans to profile the young Winston Churchill as he determines to make a name for himself during the Boer War.

    Copyright 2016 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill
Candice Millard
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