Candice Millard is an engaging storyteller of historical events. She has a riveting history of Theodore Roosevelt’s Amazon journey entitled, The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey, his adventure in the rainforest of Brazil when he nearly died.
Now she takes up a slice of the life of the young Winston Churchill, when he fought in the Boer War in South Africa.
He had already fought in wars in India, Sudan and Cuba, and he now he lusted for another battle adventure.
He wanted to make a name for himself that would catapult him into Parliament and eventually the highest offices in the land.
Churchill, like Theodore Roosevelt, with whom he shares a number of traits, was completely fearless in battle. He felt it was his destiny to be a great leader in England. He journeyed to South Africa as a war correspondent for a London newspaper, but he wanted to both fight and report on the fighting. Near the start of his time in South Africa, the train he was traveling in was derailed and ambushed by Boer soldiers. He led the charge to try to escape, exposing himself to the fire of enemy soldiers. Eventually Churchill and others were captured and sent to a prison in the capital, Pretoria. Churchill hated it there, being a captive. He didn’t want to miss out on the war. He did not want to be subjugated to the Boers and he continually thought of escape. A few months into his imprisonment, he scales a fence, drops quietly down, though an enemy guard was near, and begins a dramatic escape that takes him over the next several weeks.
He is in continual danger and the Boer government makes it a priority to recapture their escaped prisoner. When he is desperate for food, shelter, warmth and health, he takes a risk and knocks on a door in a little mining village. He discovers that the owner is a Brit, who gladly helps him. For a time he hides him deep in a mine, then several Britishers help him hide on a freight train that makes its way out of the country. All of England rejoices at his daring escape. Then he goes back to the battle, where he serves as both officer and reporter for several months before he returns to England. After his return, he runs for election in Parliament and wins, no doubt because of his fame in the Boer War. His career takes off.
All fans of Winston Churchill will enjoy this book. Millard is a great storyteller. However, it feels truncated, only covering such a small slice of his life. It is good. It is worth reading. It is not great.