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Image: Winston Churchill to the Duke of Marlborough, January 12, 1916
Winston Churchill to the Duke of Marlborough, January 12, 1916
Widely blamed for the costly failure of the Dardanelles expedition, Churchill was forced out of government in 1915. In despair he left England and served for six months as a World War I infantry officer on the Western Front. This letter to the Duke of Marlborough reveals the dangers he encountered and his fatalistic determination. He also asked his kinsman whether he thought he exemplified their family motto "Fiel Pero Desdichado" (faithful but unfortunate).
Object Details:
Holograph letter. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (69)

Related Theme:
Warrior for Empire
January 12, 1916


My dear Sunny,

Your letter was vy welcome & so also will be the food box when it arrives. I don't think it will be impossible to arrange for you to pay me a visit in say 3 weeks time & to stay with us here for a few days - wh' you will find vy interesting & not uncomfortable. But everything must be settled on the right lines. Macready begged me to apply to him if I wanted a visitor and assured me he w'd gladly make things smooth. So if you really w'd like to come let me know & I will approach these deities with the appropriate ritual and genuflections, when I doubt not they will be favorably disposed.

Of course French's departure has been a most serious loss to me. Haig tho' friendly is only an acquaintance, & I don't expect that he will court any criticism on my account. Why sh'd he? The life of an Infantry Colonel in the line is not at all unpleasant. Creature comforts are not lacking, & everyone in the battalion is of course very anxious to serve and please. There is a constant spice of danger. Daily shells, some very near; & a certain amount of risk in moving about by day and night. I went to see an artillery sträfe two days ago, with my friend of Bangalore days, General Tudor, who commands the artillery of this division. For one hour by the clock we were involved in a sharp cannonade and I suppose certainly a score of shells burst within 30 yards of us, covering us with dirt and débris. I have also had my tiny dog hole where I sleep in the line smashed up by a shell wh had it detonated perfectly w'd have been the end of my chequered fortunes. One becomes quite reconciled to the idea of annihilation, & death seems to be divested of any element of tragedy. The only thing to dread is some really life wrecking wound which left one a cripple, an invalid, or an idiot. But that one must hope is not on the agenda of the Fates.

I have meditated a great deal on the g't situation & have fairly clear views about it. Perhaps later in the year I shall come back to the House: but for the moment this is the course marked out for me. I see no reason to expect a Brigade for a long time & of course there can be no question of any military career. On the other hand, I like soldiering for its own sake; & if I am killed at the head of my battalion, it will be an honourable & dignified finâle. Do you think I sh'd deserve the family motto "Fiel pero desdichado"? I am now passing through a stage in my journey quite beyond any that my father had to traverse. Your letters & affection are a g't pleasure to me. We must always try to keep together as the world grows grey.

Yours always

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