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War on the Nile: Winston Churchill and the Reconquest of the Sudan

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War on the Nile: Winston Churchill and the Reconquest of the Sudan

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Winston Churchill graduated from the military academy at Sandhurst early in1895to take up his commission in the Fourth Hussars. Later the same year, on his twenty-first birthday, he received his baptism of fire in Cuba, where he was privily testing his mettle as an observer with the Spanish army. Over the next few years he found his way again and again to the battlefields of Queen Victoria's "little wars," capping his early military cianerrenottheÊsolittle war against the Boers in South Africa. His first trial of combat with British troops wasinthe northern marches of India, where he distinguished himisneltfhe struggle against contumacious frontier tribesmen called the Pathans. Having gone to the front aasjournalist because there wansoroom for himasa regular officer, Churchill learned to combine the two professionsH. is dispatches from the front, which were warmly receivinedLondon, formed the basis for his first bookT,he Story of the Malakand Field Forcel,whichhe penned in his Indian barracks after th1e897campaign. This pairing of roles recurred in his next two wars, which took him to opposite ends of the African continent. Churchill's early career at arms is well known to readMerysÊÊEoafrly Life,one of his most appealing books, which first appeare1d9i3n0and is still in print. The books that he wrote on his youthful campaigns are less often read today, but they add texture and context to the adventures retold in Churchill's autobiography.
Nothing like the Battle of Omdurman will ever be seen again. -My Early Life
1. Winston L. Spencer Churchill,The Story of the Malakand Field Force: An Episode of Frontier War(London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1898), hereinafter cited parenthetically by page as MFF.Other parenthetical numbers in the text refer to the work last cited by its abbreviation.
War on the Nile: Winston Churchill and the Reconquest of the Sudan
n.By Winston Spencer Churchill. 2 vols. (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1899).
My Early Life.By Winston S. Churchill. (London: Thornton Butterworth Limited,1930).
Êdecision.ÊSinceÊgotrÊvereestÊehononavleÊhe,inopÊllitnewÊotÊdnoLndolyÊRahurcphÊCmÊtoh,siLÊdaeh,ransbhurÊ9518indÊaedÊehtÊehÊfoÊhthSÊerwtoacerreÊ.nston'sÊancingWiotÊfvdaÊehÊdlesrdedÊtevollhiha,ÊotnÊubÊtnoÊ,ehsrforÊaceÊaÊplindÊfÊehÊtahtÊtseuqeÊrtorÊnehetcKieÊTÊ.ddÊehiffitlucaryÊeios"tnÊ.ÊheagnitstÊehdÊreivshesÊwasÊresisteÊybÊdednÊraWÊeht,ÊcefiOfbeadÊhheseÊtihhget"ruqraough:ÊthommeÊrecirÊSrÊdar,neheÊttpygÊnaitÊfoEÊehedÊbyÊSienÊrefusÊtiKctehÊreHbrreÊdiandÊIinnÊioithcruhCÊ,dednabsi.Whe177)(MELarmypxdetseÊÊsalÊnihwoerttBu3019h,rtT :nodno notnrohed arcit.SeesMEL,6eh,)71faeternierquonimusioet lpse aice yll ehtl Officer," publet ryb"  AeGenarÊdnaÊymrAeht ni lyusmonynodaheis89a,,781eb1rcemeon DetteÊGazNavyylpeup ,hsurrgnillhi c's Cndrchuan lnoF ma eojruin the sblished ia.lÊovahtneBÊÊywasÊÊitÊ1898JunemocÊehT.nEÊdenibanhÊisgliaptgydEÊnofcrÊeahÊdlaeradyÊreachedÊ"thenifÊpÊlaesahfoÊ"peÊotirasÊon76(1almowasÊndit),ÊaofÊrtaÊeoolÊtstÊoiÊjtolÊilchurChnoÊecnavdaÊehtÊnmÊbeforeÊKhartou.x.2iWsniÊctilamrchullhin to CS.iLÊyL(efÊyM,lraEihcruhCÊ.SÊnotsn13nd.alsvo8Ê,ÊlldnM lla crihC uht,Wilbern Giartii deuf nper tnirlpdoS.h  illannR11,98;9beurra yters areboth let9-99C)I 
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THE POLITICAL SCIENCE REVIEWER
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Who the devil is this fellow? How has he managed to get to these different campaigns? Why should he write for the papers and serve as an officer at the same time? Why should a subaltern praise or criticize his senior officers? Why should Generals show him favour? How does he get so much leave from his regiment?
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WAR ON THE NILE: WINSTON CHURCHILL AND THE RECONQUEST OF THE SUDAN 225
But a book does not always disappear like a pebble thrown into the waves, and it was now his good fortune to be rescued by "a quite unexpected event." The prime minister, whose epigram on frontier wars had graced the title page ofThe Malakand Field Force (MFF iii),had "happened to read" Churchill's book and wanted to meet him(MEL178).When Lord Salisbury received Churchill in his office in mid-July, he told him that his book had dispelled misunderstandings about the war on the Indian border: it had helped him to " form a truer picture of the kind of fighting that has been going on in these frontier valleys" in a way that the official documents he was obliged to read had not. He spoke of how much the young Churchill reminded him of Lord Randolph Churchill, who had been his colleague, and offered to help in any way he could(179).A few days later Churchill decided to ask, through an intermediary, whether the prime minister would be willing to send a telegram to Kitchener on his behalf. The telegram was sent, but the Sirdar replied in the negative. A last effort of perseverance allowed Churchill his share "in the stirring episodes of the Battle of Omdurm(a1n8"1).Through a friend he learned that Sir Evelyn Wood, the Adjutant-General, was upset at Kitchener's indiffer-ence to the War Office recommendations on officers for the expeditionary force. When a friendly go-between told Sir Evelyn Wood that Kitchener had turned down an appeal from the prime minister, the Adjutant-General decided to "stand up for his prerogatives." Though the Egyptian army, under Kitchener's sole control, made up much the greater part of the force, the War Office was responsible for the small English contingent attached to it. Churchill was promptly appointed a "supernumerary Lieutenant" to the Twenty-first Lancers and directed to proceed to headquarters in Cairo at his own expense. Unchastened by criticism of officers who combined military and journalistic duties, and "feeling the force of Napoleon's maxim that `war should support war,' " he arranged with his friend Oliver Borthwick that he should write letters on the campaign for his father's newspaper,Mtohrening Post(182;cf. RW I ix).' Then he caught a train for Marseilles, whence his ship left for Cairo. Churchill does not tell us exactly when he resolved to write the history of the war, but it must have been almost immediately. On August 10, in a letter to his mother from his boat"onthe Nile," he described the letters he was writing for Borthwick "as foundations and as scaffolding for my b4oTheok." dervish army was defeated at Omdurman early in September. The next month, when the Prince of Wales wrote suggesting that he write "a book with an account of the campaig"n5,Churchill was already hard at worTkh.eStory of theMalakand Field Force,which he had compiled from dispatches in five
F 3. or intelligence of this reference see note 12 below. 4. For the letter, see WSC I C 961. 5. Letter of October 6, 1898, includedinWSCI 420, I C 984.
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THE POLITICAL SCIENCE REVIEWER
weeks the year before, ran t3o36pages in its first edition; this new book, which he calledThe River War: An Historical Account of the Reconquest of the Soudan,grew into a much longer and more ambitious project that would run to961appeared the following year, as Churchill explainspages when it Miyn Early Life:
This work was extending in scope. From being a mere chroonfitchle tOhem rduurmannd caesmcopufhea iSogund,a etgn tiwerIsckcsraobderaw.r ae dosfetv dh aes enwdami oniasl, owkstbtooyreotfis hrytoagnih in a r that had been published upon the subjeIna ;ondlp wennaa dt cucoopfletfa volumes.Iaffected a combinatiooflyts ehtnseofMacaulay and Gibbon, the staccato antitheseosf valthe former and the rolling sentences an endingsofthe latter; anI a bk instucdoitfmy own from time to ti(md MegE.enLiti 225)
In the midst of this work, Churchill went to India, where he helped his regiment win the polo tournament. As he had before whilst he wrote his first book, again he managed to beguile the languid mid-day hours by writing. All the way out, aboard a boat which had two well-read copiesTohfe Malakand Field Force,Cihlluhcrked  worhe bon t.kooF daevery & l da6h sioraB mlagn"e,ore  hotwrtoe mother that hewas y. ywriting "alOnthe way back to England, with the book half-finished, he stopped in Egypt to gather information and to interview some of the leading characters in his story. As he wrote, the young author gave close attention to the building blocks of his art. His master at Harrow, Robert Somervell, had taught him "the essential structure of the ordinary British sentence"(MEL31);but it was Macaulay, "a master of paragraphing("225),who taught him how to write a paragraph:
Justus the sentence contains one idea in all its fullness, so the paragraph should embrace a distinct episode; and as sentences should follow one another in harmonious sequence, so the paragraphs must fit on to one omatic couplionfgrsailway carria terizati aalnsoot bheerg alink et ot hdea awunt upon me. Each chapter musgt ebs.eC shealfp-coAnllteh.daineont chapters should boefequal value and more or less of equal length. Some chapters define themselves naturally and obviously; but much more diffi-culty arises when a numboefrheterogeneous incidents noonfh cawheicn be omitted havtoebe woven together into what looks like an integral theme. (225-26)
Churchill found it "great fun writing a book": the book becameaconstant companion, so that "there was never a moment when agreeable occupation was lacking." He likens himself to "a goldfish in a bowl; but in this case the
6. Letter of December 22, 1898, quoted in WSC I 427; printed in full, I C 995-96.