From New York Times bestselling author of Destiny of the Republic and The River of Doubt, a thrilling narrative of Winston Churchill's extraordinary and little-known exploits during the Boer War At age twenty-four, Winston Churchill was utterly convinced it was his destiny to become prime minister of England one day, despite the fact he had just lost his first election campaign for Parliament. He believed that to achieve his goal he must do something spectacular on the battlefield. Despite deliberately putting himself in extreme danger as a British Army officer in colonial wars in India and Sudan, and as a journalist covering a Cuban uprising against the Spanish, glory and fame had eluded him.
Churchill arrived in South Africa in 1899, valet and crates of vintage wine in tow, there to cover the brutal colonial war the British were fighting with Boer rebels. But just two weeks after his arrival, the soldiers he was accompanying on an armored train were ambushed, and Churchill was taken prisoner. Remarkably, he pulled off a daring escapebut then had to traverse hundreds of miles of enemy territory, alone, with nothing but a crumpled wad of cash, four slabs of chocolate, and his wits to guide him.
The story of his escape is incredible enough, but then Churchill enlisted, returned to South Africa, fought in several battles, and ultimately liberated the men with whom he had been imprisoned.
Churchill would later remark that this period, "could I have seen my future, was to lay the foundations of my later life." Millard spins an epic story of bravery, savagery, and chance encounters with a cast of historical characters—including Rudyard Kipling, Lord Kitchener, and Mohandas Gandhi—with whom he would later share the world stage. But Hero of the Empire is more than an adventure story, for the lessons Churchill took from the Boer War would profoundly affect 20th century history.
1. What were your first impressions of Winston Churchill as a young man? Did you admire his confidence and his “unshakable convictionthat he was destined for greatness”?
2. Were you surprised to learn that Churchill enlisted the services of a “palmist” to predict what the future held for him?
3. In Chapter 7, we learn the provenance of the iconic Burberry trench coat. The average life expectancy of a horse during the Boer Warwas six weeks. What other facts of this nature did you find most interesting or surprising?
4. "Nothing but being shot at will ever teach men the art of using cover," writes George Warrington Steevens from Ladysmith (p. 121). Discuss how the Boer War transformed British military strategy.
5. Class plays an important role in Churchill's exploits during his early life. How does his status as a member of a wealthy, prominentfamily work forand againsthim?
6. What were your impressions of Jennie Churchill? Did you think she was a modern woman ahead of her time or an opportunist?
7. Did you find the circumstances of Churchill's escape from the Staats Model School foolhardy or was Churchill simply taking advantageof what may have been his only chance to escape?
8. Kidnapped, Treasure Island, Plato's Republic, Aristotle's Politics, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: Are there any books onChurchill's reading list that you would like to try?
9. Several famous names make cameo appearances in the book, from Rudyard Kipling to Mahatma Gandhi. Were you surprised by this intersection of history? Have you read other books, either nonfiction or fiction, in which the lives of historical figures overlap in unlikely ways or places?
10. What additional thoughts did you have about apartheid and the fight for human rights and social justice, later led by men like Nelson Mandela, after reading about the history between the Boers and native Africans, both before and during the Boer War?
11. After Churchill returned to England there was a controversy surrounding his escape, and he was accused of intentionally leaving his friends behind. Do you think he had a choice? Was he wrong to go on without them, or did he find himself in an untenable situation?