The Library of CongressExhibitionsChurchill Exhibition
Churchill and the Great Republic
Interactive Exhibition About the Exhibition Read More About It Acknowledgements Text Version
  Forebears and Family
Warrior for Empire
Visits to America
American Presidents
The Communicator
The Politician
World War II
Cold Warrior
The Long Sunset
Warrior for Empire
The Charge of the Twenty-first Lancers
The end of the nineteenth century was a time of great opportunities for young soldiers who, like him, sought to win fame and rise in the military profession. The British Empire, then near its peak, was maintained and extended by Queen Victoria's armed forces in a series of small but deadly conflicts in Africa and Asia. On leaving school at the age of eighteen, Winston Churchill joined the British cavalry. Between 1895 and 1900 he saw combat in Cuba, India, the Sudan, and South Africa. In 1898, Churchill maneuvered his way into a posting with a British cavalry unit, the Twenty-first Lancers, just before the climax of the Anglo-Egyptian expedition to reconquer the Sudan--the Battle of Omdurman.
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Winston Churchill to the Duke of Marlborough, September 29, 1898
Jennie Jerome Churchill to Moreton Frewen, September 5, 1898
Winston Churchill to the Duke of Marlborough, January 24, 1899
Winston Churchill, ca. 1900
Fighting the Boers
Churchill resigned his commission in the British Army in 1899 in order to embark on a career of writing and politics. During the Boer War (1899-1902) the twenty-five-year-old war correspondent was captured during a Boer ambush. After his high-profile escape, Churchill joined the South African Light Horse, an irregular cavalry unit fighting his former captors. He remained as a soldier/correspondent in South Africa for several more months, thrilling British readers with his accounts of battle and the army's laborious progress toward victory. He also wrote two books about his experiences.
Related Objects
Boer "Wanted" poster in Dutch, with translation
Winston Churchill. "Operations in Natal," [London] Morning Post, March 1, 1900
"Lord Randolph Churchill's Brilliant Son," [London] Sunday Telegraph, February 18, 1900
John Spencer Churchill to Clara Jerome Frewen, March 27, 1900
South African Light Horse, 1900
Churchill and the Kaiser
Churchill's interest in military affairs continued throughout his life. This 1909 photograph shows him attending German Army maneuvers with Kaiser Wilhelm. In the accompanying letter to his cousin Marlborough, written "in the midst of stirring affairs" while serving as First Lord of the Admiralty, he derides the "military virtues" of Turkey and warns of a "far greater conflict" than the Balkan wars then taking place: "...the European situation is far from safe, & anything might happen."
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Winston Churchill and Kaiser Wilhelm II, 1909
Winston Churchill to the Duke of Marlborough, November 6, 1912
The Life of an Infantry Colonel
When his political career collapsed during World War I, Churchill volunteered for six months as an infantry officer on the western front and endured the hardships and dangers of trench warfare. As a battalion commander in a Scottish regiment, Churchill led by force of personal example as he repeatedly demonstrated courage, confidence, and optimism in the most stressful situations. He also followed political developments back home closely and waited for changes that would enable him to regain some measure of his former prominence.
Related Objects
Winston Churchill to the Duke of Marlborough, January 12, 1916
Winston Churchill to the Duke of Marlborough, January 22, 1916
Orilux trench torch, 1915
The Library of CongressExhibitionsChurchill Exhibition