Winston Churchill, the Author of Victory
T alking about her father not long ago, Lady Soames said, “The thing you have to remember is that he was a journalist”. To be precise, Sir Winston Churchill was a schoolboy and a soldier before he was old enough to vote, then an MP, a Cabinet minister and, in his apotheosis at the age of sixty-five, “the saviour of his country”, in A. J. P. Taylor’s phrase. But he was indeed also a journalist and author of great precocity and prolificity. In 1895, before Churchill turned twenty-one, the 4th Hussars had tolerantly given him leave to go to Cuba where he witnessed the patriotic rebellion against Spain, and he paid for the trip with his first newspaper commission, from the Daily Graphic.
Two years later, Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897 found him on leave again, in England. “On the lawns of Goodwood in lovely weather” he heard the riveting news that a “field force” was being raised under the improbably named General Sir Bindon Blood, to subdue the unruly Afghan tribesmen (a good deal of Churchill’s early life does have an eerily premonitory ring more than a hundred years later). He rushed back to India, having secured a contract from the Daily Telegraph, an adventure which provided enough copy for his first book, The Story of the Malakand Field Force.
By the time it was published in 1898, Churchill had wangled his way on to one more expeditionary force which Kitchener was leading up the Nile, switching in true freelance spirit to the Morning Post, and producing another book. In a letter to his mother in which his ambition was laid bare with remarkable candour, he had already said that he hoped to gain more fame and then return “and beat my sword into an iron despatch box”. And so it was. The Sudan was followed by the Boer War, which he covered for the Morning Post for a monthly £250 (today well over £10,000), making him one of the highest paid journalists alive, at the age of twenty-four. Nine months there was enough for two more books, a triumphant return in time for the “Khaki” election, and a seat in Parliament, at the start of a political career which would go hand in hand with - and be financed by - his literary career for six more decades.