“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” – Sir Winston Churchill, British Prime Minister, 1874-1965
This month’s virtue here on Wolf and Iron is determination: the drive to work through whatever you are facing in life and finish the job. The determination to achieve and reach our goals is one of the most important virtues that a man can aspire.
Born with a Silver Spoon
The adage to explain a man or woman born into wealth. So often these silver spooners are seen as soft and derided as unwilling to work. Protected from hardship and strife, the wealthy aristocracy throughout history has been often overlooked when people study manly virtues. There are, of course, exceptions to the rule. However, it is unfair for people to deride all wealthy historical figures simply because they were born into wealth. The accurate measure of virtue for a man was not his circumstances at birth, but how he used his wealth and grew throughout his life.
Every month, we here at Wolf and Iron study historical figures that displayed manly virtues that we can look to as modern men, and though Winston Churchill was born to privilege, he soon faced hardships that challenged him as a man. Spending most of his adult life fighting out of the shadows of his famous family, he became a passionate statesman that changed the world forever.
Determined to be a Rebel
Winston Spencer Churchill was born into the British aristocracy and from his earliest age and was given all the finer things in life. With private tutors and entry into the most prestigious private schools that Britain had to offer, Churchill, very early, showed his distaste for organized schooling. Throughout his school years, Churchill found that he was unlike most of his classmates. While they were concerned with their grades and academic pursuits, he chaffed in the stuffy air of the aristocracy. A below average student, Churchill paid little attention to his math and classical studies, but his mind was enthralled when he entered the English and History classrooms. He was so enraptured with the written work that his combination of love of history and of the written word would give the twentieth century one of its finest historians.
In his late teens, Churchill lost his estranged father and soon finished his schooling at Sandhurst Military Academy. While he was still a mediocre student, his brilliance had shown through at the military school, and it seemed he had found his calling. This is a portion of his life where Churchill began showing the trademark determination that made him an amazing man; there are countless instances where Churchill pushed through tough times, but none more impressive in his early years than the Boer War.
Boer’s at the Boiling Point
Churchill attempted to sell his writing services to papers all throughout Britain to be a war correspondent in the war raging in South Africa. Eventually, Churchill did garner that assignment and immediately left to South Africa to follow the British forces. His determination soon shone through. Being that he was not a soldier, he moved along the front lines and was in the line of fire throughout most of the conflict. The area of what is today South Africa was originally colonized by the Dutch, but by the early 19th century, the Dutch were unable to fund and protect the colony entirely, so they struck a deal to hand it over to the British Empire.
South Africa was and remains one of the most successful and monetarily advanced nations on the African Continent, so this was a genuine coup for the British to obtain. The problems, though, were many and arose almost immediately upon British Rule. The British went into the colony and immediately made grand declarations and laws, with the most controversial being that the Dutch language be outlawed, and that English become the official language of the colony. With almost all of the inhabitants now forced to change their lifestyle and learn a second language just to survive, it was a boiling point.
The South Africans of Dutch ancestry also disagreed with many of the religious issues that the British Empire stood for. The Boers as these people were called, were staunchly Protestant and chaffed at an outside Empire forcing them to worship or believe a certain way. Many of the Boers left the coast and left cities such as Cape Town, to move away from British rule and attempt to govern themselves. Eventually, two South African republics were organized, and the Boers gained autonomy. The South African Republic and the Orange Free State were the two Boer Nations allowed in British controlled South Africa.
The two Boer Nations began fighting back against the British over multiple issues, but the most pressing was what the Boers believed to be British land encroachment. The outbreak of hostilities is now known as the Second Boer War, and Churchill was sent to the front lines. No longer a soldier, Churchill obtained a commission from multiple print outlets to be their correspondent for the Boer outbreak. Though Churchill wasn’t a soldier, he was on the front lines from the onset and spent weeks under fire near the front lines.
Churchill’s luck ran out when the outfit he was stationed with was transporting items along with an armored train through a Boer-infested territory. The armored train was surrounded, and the Boers opened fire on the men. Churchill helped rally the British on the armored train and opened fire on the Boers, an act that should have earned him a death sentence. A non-combatant opening fire on declared soldiers has long since been an offense punishable by death.
Historian Candice Millard wrote a fantastic study of Churchill’s time as a POW during the Second Boer War. According to her, Churchill worked diligently throughout his captivity to garner favor with his captors. Once their guard was down a bit, Churchill sprung his escape plan. With the help of local British sympathizers and lady luck, Churchill escaped and rejoined the British Army. Churchill’s determination to not fade away in a Boer Prison camp drove him to take extraordinary risks. He escaped through the South African countryside, where he had no friends. Soon, he came to a house and took a chance. Luckily the man who lived there didn’t sympathize with the Boers and helped Churchill to freedom.
A true study in determination, Winston Churchill refused to be defeated, he pushed back against his captors and gained his independence. In our next article, we will discuss how Churchill used these youthful experiences in South Africa, to further himself and his country in the twentieth century.
More Articles in this Series
The International Churchill Society Winstonchurchill.org