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Churchill Wanted Dead or Alive

Celia Sandys

Publication Year: 2013

“ . . . notable for its depiction of young Churchill, warts and all, as a very human character . . . .”—New York Times

“A bestseller in the UK, this portrait of Winston Churchill, written by his granddaughter, unapologetically presents the future prime minister as an action hero in the Boer War. It’s rousing reading.  Sandy’s affection for her grandfather is obvious, but she shows enough of his grandiosity to maintain a reader’s trust. . . . Sandys is fully aware of the extent to which her grandfather had a finger to the political winds during his exploits: he sought the limelight as aggressively as he chased adventure. Because of Sandys’s brisk narrative, as well as their knowledge of the man Churchill later became, readers will not hold young Winston’s ambition against him.”—Publishers Weekly

“During his nine-month stint in South Africa, Churchill, though officially classified as a noncombatant reporter, managed to send stirring dispatches to the Morning Post, engage in several bloody skirmishes with the enemy, be captured and incarcerated as a prisoner of war, and make a suitably sensationalized, yet nonetheless daring, escape from prison. Written in a lively narrative style, this affectionate biographical portrait of a very young, very spirited, and very enterprising Winston Churchill succeeds in foreshadowing the magnitude of the renown he eventually achieved. A rip-roaring good read chockfull of action, suspense, and history.”—Booklist

Published by: Texas A&M University Press


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pp. 7-8


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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-xii

List of Maps

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pp. xiii-xiv

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pp. xv-xx

I would like to thank the many descendants, and their families, of those who were involved with Winston Churchill during the Anglo-Boer War who responded to my request for information. Without their help and guidance as I retraced my grandfather's footsteps around South Africa this book could not have been written. ...

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pp. xxi-xxiv

Winston Churchill's heroic escapades during the Anglo-Boer War propelled him overnight onto the international stage. In 1994 I went to South Africa to research what I thought would be two or three chapters of a book I intended to write about my grandfather from 1895 to 1908. ...

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pp. xxv-xxxii

Thus wrote my grandfather Winston Churchill more than a quarter of a century after his breathtaking adventures during the Anglo-Boer War. As a young man in his early twenties his escapades on India's North-West Frontier and with Kitchener in the Sudan had earned him the respect, though not always the approval, of the British military hierarchy. ...

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1. Gateway

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pp. 1-8

By the age of twenty-four, Winston Churchill was already a seasoned campaigner. Leaving the Royal Military Academy in December 1894, a fortnight after his twentieth birthday, he had been commissioned into a fashionable cavalry regiment, the 4th Hussars, on 20 February. ...

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2. Preparing for War

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pp. 9-20

As Big Ben chimed in the new century, the patriotic crowds celebrating in the streets of London seemed to echo the response of Queen Victoria to one of her ministers who had tried to raise the subject of the series of military disasters in South Africa: 'Please understand that there is no one depressed in this house. ...

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3. Cruising to a Catastrophe

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pp. 21-31

As the Dunnotar Castle cast off from Southampton Docks on the evening of Saturday, 14 October 1899, an impressive array of military passengers lined the ship's rails. Rubbing shoulders among them were a few civilian war correspondents, none more at home in the uniformed throng and more impatient to get going than Churchill. ...

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4. The Station Yard

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pp. 32-43

Churchill's base was only a small-town station yard, but although it was not the centre of attention, it was certainly the hub of military activity. While Ladysmith grabbed the headlines, its relief depended upon the reinforcements and supplies which came in through the railhead at Estcourt. ...

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5. Knight Errant

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pp. 44-57

Through the early-morning mist, clear across the stillness of the rolling veldt, came the unmistakable panting sound of an approaching railway engine. General Louis Botha stood in his stirrups, straining his eyes to penetrate the thin grey curtain drifting over the long grass. ...

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6. The Botha Legend

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pp. 58-62

As Churchill's fame increased throughout his long life, so it became ever more prestigious to be identified with his capture on 15 November 1899. Ultimately, more than forty men were to assert that they had played some part in the event. As late as the 1970s obituaries in South African papers were recording the passing of men whose main claim to fame ...

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7. Into Captivity

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pp. 63-79

Water poured from a leaden sky as the motley band of prisoners was assembled: two officers and fifty men in bedraggled khaki; four sailors in jaunty straw hats embellished with HMS Tartar in gold lettering on their black ribbons; several railwaymen in sodden overalls; ...

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8. The States Model School

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pp. 80-98

The States Model School looks, today, much the same as it did when Churchill was imprisoned there. Only the interior has been modified to accommodate the library it now contains. A large, single-storeyed brick building with a high, steep corrugated tin roof and a wide verandah, it housed two hundred pupils and sixteen staff when it opened in January 1897 ...

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9. Controversy

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pp. 99-115

The daily entries in Adrian Hofmeyr's diary describe the boring nature of life for the prisoners in the States Model School. But in the entry for 13 December 1899, the tenor changes abruptly: 'Great excitement. Churchill escaped last night.' Hofmeyr's The Story of My Captivity describes the consternation caused by Churchill's disappearance: ...

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10. Wanted Dead or Alive

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pp. 116-132

When the news of Churchill's escape arrived over the wires in London on 14 December, Oliver Borthwick, the editor of the Morning Post, lost no time in relaying the glad tidings to Lady Randolph: 'Just received the following from Reuter, "Churchill escaped". ...

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11. A Soldier Again

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pp. 133-148

Winston Churchill was now a household name. The hero of the armoured train had cocked a snook at the Boers by climbing over their prison wall, evading his pursuers and returning to the fray. He was soon to be elevated to the senior ranks of the army by Ogden's cigarettes — boasting themselves 'British Made by British Labour' ...

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12. A General on Spion Kop

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pp. 149-166

Churchill's experiences over the next few weeks would probably influence his attitude to war more even than his time in the trenches fifteen years later. From his first taste of battle in Cuba on his twenty-first birthday to his days as wartime Prime Minister, he was always drawn towards the sound of gunfire, ...

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13. Into Ladysmith

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pp. 167-180

Years later, even after he had held high political office — Home Secretary, First Lord of the Admiralty and Chancellor among others — Churchill would regard the two months he spent fighting for the relief of Ladysmith as among the happiest memories of his life. ...

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14. A Lull in the Storm

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pp. 181-191

Following the relief of Ladysmith, the Boers abandoned their campaign in Natal and retired through the Drakensberg and Biggarsberg mountain ranges into their own territories. From there they denied the British any easy advance into either the Orange Free State or the Transvaal. ...

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15. Return to Pretoria

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pp. 192-208

Churchill's dispatch of 16 April 1900 includes a passing mention of an audacious move by the Boers at the end of March: 'But while the army waited, as it was absolutely forced to wait . . . the Boers recovered from their panic, pulled themselves together, and, for the moment boldly seized the offensive. ...

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Epilogue: A Triumphal Progress

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pp. 209-216

The Dunnotar Castle, with Churchill aboard, docked at Southampton on 20 July 1900. The conquering hero could not have failed to make the comparison between the rapturous welcome he had received in Durban and his low-key return to his native land. ...

Reference Notes

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pp. 217-222


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pp. 223-226


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pp. 227-234

Back Cover

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p. 286-286

E-ISBN-13: 9781623490744
E-ISBN-10: 162349074X
Print-ISBN-13: 9781623490676

Page Count: 292
Publication Year: 2013

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Churchill, Winston, 1874-1965.
  • Churchill, Winston, -- 1874-1965 -- Career in journalism.
  • South African War, 1899-1902 -- Prisoners and prisons, Afrikaner.
  • Prisoners of war -- South Africa -- Biography.
  • South African War, 1899-1902 -- Journalists -- Biography.
  • Prime ministers -- Great Britain -- Biography.
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