Saturday, May 26, 2018


While o'seas I had plenty of time to indulge my passion for history ... TV programs in Swahili aren't all that riveting.

In doing some in-depth research into Churchill I came across this letter sent to him by his father Randolph when he managed (on his third attempt) to pass the entrance examination for the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.   Winston may have been expecting something warmer .... instead he got this ... it's brutal .... I guess the only thing you can say in Lord Randolph's defence is to note at that time he was suffering from late stage syphilis ... dementia paralytica.

18 August 1893

My dear Winston

I am rather surprised at your tone  of exultation over your inclusion in the Sandhurst list.   There are two ways of winning in an  examination, one credible the other the reverse.   You have unfortunately chosen the latter method and appear to be much pleased with your success.

With all the advantages you had and all the abilities which you foolishly think yourself to possess & which some of your relations claim for you, with all the efforts that have been made to  make your life easy & agreeable & your work neither oppressive or distasteful, this is the grand result you come up with among the 2nd rate & 3rd rate class who are only good for commissions in a cavalry regiment ... now it is a good thing to put this business plainly before you.   Do not think  I am going to to take the trouble of writing to you long letters after every folly & failure you commit and undergo.   I shall not write again on these matters and you need not trouble to write any answer to this part of my of my (sic) letter because I no longer attach the slightest weight to anything you may say about your own acquirements & exploits.

Make this position indelibly impressed on your mind, that if your conduct and action at Sandhurst is similar to what it has been in other establishments ... slovenly, happy-go-lucky, harum scarum ... then my responsibility to you is over.   I shall leave you to depend on yourself giving you merely such assistance as may be necessary to permit of a respectable life.   Because I am certain that if you cannot prevent yourself from leading the idle, useless unprofitable life you had during your schooldays & later months, you will be a mere social wastrel one of the hundreds of public school failures, and you will degenerate into a shabby unhappy & futile existence.   If that is so you will have to bear all the blame for such misfortunes yourself.   Your own conscience will enable you to recall and enumerate all the efforts that have been made to give you the best of chances which you were entitled to because of your position & how you have practically neglected them all.

I hope you will be the better for your trip.  You may apply to Capt James for advice for us to your Sandhurst equipment.  Your mother sends her love.

Your affte father
Randolph S.C.

I guess that letter does much to explain his affection for his nanny Mrs Elizabeth Everest (Woom).   When he heard she was gravely ill he raced to her home in North London to sit with her until she died.   He recalled that moment in his book 'My Early Life' ... She still knew me, but she gradually became unconscious.  Death came very easily for her.   She lived such an innocent and loving life of service to others and held such a simple faith that she had no fears at all  ... she had been my dearest and most intimate friend during the whole twenty years I had had lived.

It is hard to define/describe Churchill ... Titanic orator. Drunk. Wit. Patriot. Imperialist. Visionary. Tank designer. Blunderer. Swashbuckler. Aristocrat. POW. War hero. War criminal. Conqueror. Laughing stock. Bricklayer. Racehorse owner. Soldier. Painter. Politician. Journalist. Nobel Prize-winning author. The Greatest Englishman ... the list goes on.   Each label taken alone fails to do him justice; when  taken together they offer a challenge on a par to tossing twenty jigsaw puzzles together and expecting a single unified picture to emerge.    Churchill was not that sort of man.

We have seen more 'ink' expended on him than perhaps any other person in  history ... excluding God.

Fascinating person. 



pdm said...

Very interesting Vet.

I think you can safely say about Churchill - he was a leader and a winner when it really mattered as far as World War II is concerned.

Andrei said...

"I think you can safely say about Churchill - he was a leader and a winner when it really mattered as far as World War II is concerned."

You can say the same about Stalin as well PDM - maybe even more so.

Churchill and Stalin famously got drunk together, they had a lot in common in that regard :)

The Veteran said...

Andrei ... Stalin vs Churchill and it's no contest. Britain went to war in support of Poland when when Germany invaded that country ... 14 days later Stalin ordered the invasion of Poland in order to share the spoils of war. Churchill didn't do a funk and hide himself away at his dacha at the start of WW2 as Stalin did when the Germans invaded. Churchill didn't order the shooting of 15,000 Polish officers (the Katyn massacre). Churchill hated Communism but admired the Russian people. Stalin hated (and killed) anyone who had the temerity to oppose him.

Yes, both could drink and that's where the commonalty starts and finishes.

Andrei said...

Have you watched the movie "The Darkest hour"

Andrei said...

It's far far more complex than that Veteran

Not all black and white.

We could talk about Gallipoli or Anzio.

We could talk about Dresden.

And a lot of other things besides

And we could speculate about Katyn because any documentation that existed did not survive the war and nor most likely did anybody who knows what really happened.

But despite what you say about the opening salvos of operation Barbarossa somehow or other the majority of the Soviet Unions heavy industrial equipment under threat from the advancing Fascist hordes was packed up put on trains and the factories reassembled East of the Urals along with their workforces and their workforces families and that my friend was a massive undertaking, the logistics of which defy belief.

And it was telling on the eventual outcome.

The Georgian peasant and the English aristocrat might have more in common than you care to admit.

The Day of Judgment will sort it out

Andrei said...

By the way Veteran here is a bit of history you either don't know or choose to ignore.

When Adolf Hitler annexed the Sudetenland in 1928, with British and French compliance and over the loud and forceful objections of Stalin - Poland took the opportunity to annex parts of Czechoslovakia for itself. Czechoslovakia actually sought an alliance with the Soviets at this time and such an alliance would have meant automatic war between the Soviet Union and Poland. The Poles actually mobilized on the Belorusian border due to this

Of course Hitler was delighted when Poland did this and Britain and France uttered not a peep

The second Polish Republic was not a meek and mild nation of innocents btw but fought many wars with its neigbours between its inception and the Nazi occupation - it also was not shy of a bit of ethnic cleansing and forced religious conversions...

I have never understood why the British and the French drew a red line with Poland especially since there was diddly they could do when the Fascists did invade to protect Poland's territorial integrity

Anonymous said...

Andrei....Why the hell would you want to bring Stalin into this thread unless you want to divert and use it as an excuse to peddle your own propaganda.....don't take the bait Veteran.

Veteran...On Churchill, like all humans he was an extremely complex character that covered a lot of ground due to his wealth and position and his virtues outweighed his faults...just. The whole of his roller coaster career can be summed up.......Cometh the hour, cometh the man.

Lord Egbut

Adolf Fiinkensein said...


I don't know that he was all that wealthy. At one stage when his accountant was urging him to economise, he promised to reduce champagne consumption from two bottles per day to one.

They were tough times, indeed.

And yes, I'm not sure what the hell Stalin has to do with anything here. Unlike Churchill, he ran with the hounds (Ribbentrop & Co) and got bitten on the arse for his trouble.

Anonymous said...

Interesting that Churchill only ever served four years as an elected Prime Minister in his whole career. Had Chamberlains "peace in our time" worked out and WW2 prevented you can only speculate as to the trajectory of his star........possibly downwards??

Lord Egbut

Anonymous said...

If 'It is hard to define/describe Churchill' its probably harder to describe his brilliant father.
The letter you quote displays no evidence of syphilitic insanity.
That imputed diagnosis of RC has entered folklore, but is in some doubt.

This letter does give a withering rebuke to a son whose path to date has been that of an entitled, privileged wastrel. I neither know what led to that summary, nor the effect it had on Winston, but there is no lack of clarity in what can only be described as a 'right royal reaming'. Winston's nanny may well have been his 'safe space' from reality.

I received several similar toned, face to face readings of the riot act, from my old man.
He was right and I'm grateful to him.


The Veteran said...

WSP was hardly the wastrel his father would have it. The '(p)' in Winston's Harrow title stood for 'Prizeman' ... he got that for winning the Declamation Prize (for reciting 1200 lines of Macaulay's 'Lays of Ancient Rome'). At Harrow he was an outstanding fencer and won the Public Schools championship. In addition he was an expert swimmer and represented his House in competitions. He left Harrow with a deep love for the English language and its command.

I have commented it took three attempts for him to make the Sandhurst list. There is a New Zealand connection to that story. He knew that as part of the examination he would be required to draw a map of some country. He put all the names of the likely countries into a hat and drew out NZL memorising our topography. The first question in the exam paper was 'Draw a map of New Zealand'.

It is recorded that Lord Randolph was remote, neglectful and uninterested in his son. He did not answer Winston's many letters and wrote to him only six times in the five years he was at Harrow (including the one in my posting) and visited him only once (following a pointed suggestion by his Housemaster). In 1891 in a letter sent from Johannesburg he reminded Winston he was 'an expensive article' and cautioned him to keep his nose clean. In another he declined his request for an extra weeks holiday. In one he congratulated him for winning the fencing championship; in another he sent him one pound (with an admonishment to avoid bankruptcy through extravagance) while the final one was to advise Lady Randolph's recovery from peritonitis.

I think Mick was right in suggesting his nanny was a safe space for him.

RosscoWlg said...

Well I think ole Andrei was on the right course then blows his creditability with "the day of Judgement will sort it out". What..huh really! what a cop out!.

Churchill was a deeply flawed character whose time was a small part of history, "the darkest hour" but such was "fin de empire" he has been re habilitated and written into history (most of it by his own hand).

Like WW1 an obscure general called Monash, a Jew and an Australian, saved Western powers, at the time recognised but with the modern rehabilitation of Haig, and time has been written out of history!

George said...

Churchill was a man of his time.
Letters from a cousin attending the LSE at the time recorded that Churchill was warning every-one that 'the Germans were coming' and was treated as a subject of derision by nearly every-one in the Parliament because it was all being 'taken care of' by the League of Nations..
And we all know how that turned out

Anonymous said...

HAIG'S COMMAND a reassessment Denis Winter. The definitive Haig book. Pulls no punches in destroying the man's credibility as a commander. Not too kind to Monash either. His book drafted in 1918 was found to be grossly inaccurate and he rated as an army commander well below the Canadian Currie.

Monash's blundering at Monument Wood and Proyart illustrates his unsuitability to take charge of a fast moving Amiens of which he took credit, he played second fiddle to Currie.

Lord Egbut