tv Winston Churchill and the Boer War CSPAN January 21, 2017 10:35am-11:24am EST
today. >> this weekend we are featuring the history of harrisburg, pennsylvania together with our comcast cable partners. learn more about harrisburg at c-span.org. you are watching american history tv all weekend every weekend on c-span3. >> coming up on american history tv, from the 33rd international churchill conference, author candice millard talks about her book "hero of the empire: the boer war, a daring escape, and the making of winston churchill." this is about 45 minutes. [applause] >> thank you. our next speaker, and i accidentally sat next to each other at lunch and we discovered we had something in common.
we are both very fast eaters. [laughter] we also found out that we share d a common passion for history. i am very pleased to introduce candice millard to you today. i am a longtime fan of her work. i think what distinguishes her work from the work of other popular historians is her rare ability to engender suspense despite the reader's knowledge of the outcome. i speak from experience. when i read her first book, "the river of doubt," i spent a lot of time worrying about if and how teddy roosevelt was ever going to get out of that brazilian jungle even though i knew that he would. the suspense was worse because i was listening to the book as i was driving the washington beltway.
it was always a race to see who was going to get to the exit first, teddy or me. reading her second book "destiny the republic," i kept hoping that james garfield would somehow survive the ineptitude of his doctors, even though i knew he would not. i am well into her latest book, which i have right here --"hero of the empire: the boer war, a daring escape, and the making of winston churchill." i am already on the edge of my seat wondering if winston churchill is going to make it out of south africa live. if my remarks sound more like a fan letter than a formal introduction, complete with a listing of all of her awards and achievements, of which there are many, that is because it is. it is my very great pleasure to introduce to you candice millard. [applause]
ms. millard: thank you very much. do we have the powerpoint? i am so sorry. i didn't know that -- i sent it in earlier. great. ok, all right. sorry about that. so, thank you mary for that introduction. i really enjoyed our conversation over lunch. i wanted to say a quick thank you to the international churchill society, especially lee pollock, who has been a tremendous help to me in the source of encouragement and incredibly gracious and generous
over the past five years while i have been working on this book. it is a tremendous honor to be here, very humbling to have a chance to meet some renown ed historians, some of my personal heroes including sir david cannadine. i was telling him that he is a very difficult act to follow, but i will try my best. as i sat in this room last night, having a beautiful dinner , great conversation, i suddenly realized that i had been here before, but it was for a very different event. i was here for a memorial for two coworkers from national geographic just across the street. they had been killed a few days earlier on 9/11. they had been on the plane that
had been flown into the pentagon. and i remember feeling at the time, as so many people did, that what we needed as a nation, as a world, was someone who can not only lead us, but can -- but someone who understood history and to understood the power of words, and could harness those words. what we needed was someone who could stir our hearts. what we needed, in essence, was a winston churchill. as we all know, there was and will always be only one winston churchill. so, as you might imagine, it was incredibly daunting to me to
years later attempt to write about him. to understand even a small part of his life. but i have to say, the more i studied him, especially his years in south africa, the more fascinated i became, and i was hooked. and like so many other writers and historians before and after me, i found him absolutely irresistible. but i think that when most of us think of winston churchill, we think of the man during world war ii. he has become virtually a synonym for great leadership. he was, as we all know, a master politician, a savior of his country during world war ii, winner of the nobel prize for
literature -- winner of the nobel prize for literature, and one of the most amazing human beings in history. but the problem with trying to understand a leader at the height of his career is that we often end up talking about the results of that person's character instead of the forces that created it. what i am trying to understand is where that man came from. what gave him the courage, the insight, and the will to become such a towering figure? so, today, i am going to talk about a young man. he's just 24 years old. he has just left the military, the only job he has ever had , the only job for which he has been trained. he has no money.
he already tried to run for office, but lost. he is like so many other children of privilege then and now, who amount to nothing. so, how do we connect this young man to the legend he later became? what made the winston churchill we all know? how did he become one of the most powerful and effective leaders mankind has ever produced? i believe that an important part of the answer lies in an exceptional series of events which took place in 1899, when young winston churchill went to the boer war in south africa. churchill did not plan this story and he could not have predicted it. but in every sense, he prepared for it. he understood the significance. he seized control of it.
he risked everything to succeed in it. and he turned that opportunity into a life-changing moment that was directly responsible for his later path to power. there is a saying that luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. that's exactly what happened here. churchill was in africa for only a matter of months. but what happened there put to the spark to a combustible mixture of talent and resourcefulness that defined him from his earliest years. him to a worldt famous hero, setting him firmly on a path to greatness, and in doing so, it transformed the
world we live in today. to me, one of the most striking aspects of churchill's personality, one that sets him apart from the many other young men who believed that they are destined for greatness with dreams of glory, is that he did not wait for things to happen to him. he made them happen. reins, orfe by therei the caller, or the neck, whatever it took, whatever he could grab. in fact, he was so openly ambitious, so incredibly driven, that by the time he was 24 years old he at a rewritten three , books, run for parliament, and taken part in three different wars on three different
continents. churchill had been fascinated with war from a very early age. as he grew into a young man, it became more than the legacy of his ancestors, john churchill, the first duke of marlborough, one of the greatest generals in u.s. history, more than 1504 soldiers, or the wargames he played. war for churchill became the fastest and most reliable route to everything he dreamed of -- recognition, fame, and eventually, political power. it was, he said, a glittering gateway to distinction. and he was willing, not only to fight, but to take any risk to be noticed. he had nearly been killed many times, bullets whistling by his head, once killing a horse that had been standing right
next to him. he had killed men himself, once coming so close to his victim that his pistol struck the man. and he had seen his friends, not just killed, but mutilated. sliced to ribbons by their enemies. but he did not believe that he himself would die. he wrote that he did not believe the gods would create so potent a being as himself, posed such an ending. and even with all he experienced, churchill continued to seek out the most brutal battles the british empire had to offer. he was the first to sign up in the first to show off. even to the astonishment and horror of the men around him, rode a white pony on the battlefield in british india
just to be noticed. he said, given an audience, there is no act to daring or two -- too daring or too noble. impatient to succeed and excel, to make his mark on the world, but no matter what he did, he could not get a foothold. the military was too slow for him, so he quit. he ran for his first seat in parliament, but was rejected by voters. so, frustrated and burning with ambition, he feverishly looked for his next opportunity, knowing that it was his destiny to lead. just a few months later, war broke out in southern africa. to the british, this was just another colonial war. one that they expected to be over in a matter of months, certainly by christmas. unfortunately, they had forgotten who they were
fighting. the boers had been living in southern africa for centuries, and in that time, they had transformed from rogue groups of -- and dutch, you cannot german immigrants into an entirely new ethnic group, neither european or african. a journalist from the london times wrote, and the matter of life, their habits and their character, they had undergone a profound change. they had even involved their own language. they were highly religious, unabashedly racist, and stubbornly independent. most of all, they just wanted to be left alone. in an attempt to get away from justritish empire in 1835,
britishs after the abolished slavery, they moved hundreds of miles from the cape into the african interior in what became known as the great trek and establish three republics of their own. their independence lasted only as long as their poverty. in the mid-1800s, diamonds and then gold were discovered in the bore for public transforming the region from one of the poorest in the world to one of the wealthiest. paul kruger, who would become president of the trans-wall, said the gold would cost the -- cause the country to be soaked in blood and he was right. 1877, britain had and that the trans-law that quickly led to the first boer war in 1880.
nearly 20 years later, in the fall of 1899, little had changed. the british still wanted the boers land in the boers insisted on their independence. the british empire started amassing troops, and the atmosphere, churchill wrote, gradually, but steadily became tense, charged with electricity, laden with oppressive storm. finally, the boers issued an ultimatum, stand down or prepare for war. the british, thrilled to have an excuse to go to war, allowed the deadline for the ultimatum to pass with little more than a sneer. three days after the war began, west intertel, seeing his opportunity to south africa as a
correspondent. on the same ship was a commander-in-chief of her majesty's army in south africa. so confident were the british that bullard would make quick work of the boers, that they nicknamed him the steamroller, but bullard was more cautious when it came to south africa. he knew the boers. won cross years earlier in which he had not fought against the boers, but with them. he knew that although they did not have an empire, navy, or a standing army, the boers were masters of modern warfare. unlike most of britain's colonial enemies, they had incredibly sophisticated weapons, some of which were better than what bullard could give to his own men. they were extraordinary marksman
having spent the past two centuries doing little else than hunting and fighting. they knew every cranny of the south african belt and they could disappear without a trace, making them an invisible and very dangerous enemy. the boers had learned from one of their first and fiercest enemies, the bantu, a large, loosely net linguistic family with hundreds of different ethnic groups. the bantu included the sulu and nelson mandela's tribe. they fought for more than a century and in that time, the boers had done their best, not only to take the bantu's land and subjugate their people, but learned a new kind of warfare, one that most europeans did not yet understand. not only did the boers know the south african belt inside and out, but whenever there was no place to hide, they made one.
they built small shelters out of piles of stone. they dug deep and long trenches, some stretching 30 miles. they did not wear uniforms. just whatever they wore every day of their lives. they moved quickly and quietly. their enemies that only did not see them coming, but they often did not see them at all, even after the battle had begun. in stark contrast to the boers, the british had only recently and very reluctantly began dragging the military into the modern world. in fact, this is known as the khaki war because it was one of the first times the british armies did not wear their dashing redcoats. they hated the red uniforms and complained that they made them look like bus drivers, but they continued to fight in precise lines, spreading themselves
across the flat, african plains. like a picture in a storybook, served up for slaughter. even in the midst of a brutal attack, they refused to find cover. they were expected to be brave and show complete disregard for their safety. a native south african intellectual journalist and statesmen, who had become the first secretary of the anc, thefully observed in british army during the war, marveling at what he saw. these experienced soldiers never care how fast bullets may ways -- how fast the bullets may go pass them. although he was now a journalist himself, churchill had a lot on his mind as he made his way to south africa.
his mother, the beautiful charismatic, and wicked smart, had just told him that she was in love. and was likely going to marry a young man named george cornwall is west. churchill had his own love life to consider. he had met a dazzling young woman named pamela plowden in india. the problem was that he was far from her only admirer. worse, she did not believe he was passionate enough in his devotion. churchill was indignant, insisting he was no single gallant following the fancy of the hour. even pamela could not compete for churchill's attention as he neared cape town. by the time he landed, the war had already taken a startling
turn. the british army had been humiliated by the boers, losing several battles, and leaving its commanders stunned and scrambling to adjust to this new kind of warfare. as soon as churchill arrived with his valet, of course, and a nice selection of wine, he went as fast and as far as he could to the front, which was now in ladysmith, south of pretoria. by the time he arrived, however, the boers had completely cut off ladysmith. no one could get in or out. i was too late, churchill wrote dismally, the door was shut. so he was forced to make camp 40 miles south of ladysmith in a
little town called escort. nine days later, as a heavy rain fell on the morning of november 15, churchill climbed aboard the british army's armored train. his old friend from his days in the military had been ordered to take the train out for reconnaissance. both men knew that it was a foolish, potentially disastrous decision. not only was the train an easy target on the best of days, but the boers had been spotted just outside of escort only the day before. holden had no choice but to go. churchill, on the other hand, did. but frustrated, restless, and he would later admit, eager for trouble, he did not hesitate for a moment when holden invited him to go along. before the sun came up that morning, churchill had climbed into the first train car and
open truck where he would have the best advantage. behind him was another armored car filled with men in their peaked hats.s and the engine with its wide mouth, black funnel, and narrow tender and two more armored cars and finally, an ordinary car that held tools. as the train cut across, the boers were silently and invisibly watching led by a respected young general would become the first prime minister of south africa. no man was more sorely -- .horoughly bore he could trace his family back
to the first days of european settlement. he had a quintessentially boer childhood, one of 13 children on an isolated farm 100 miles west of durban. he had received only a couple of years of formal education. but while he would never speak much english, he was fluent to an afrikaans, but in the sulu and soto. he had even fought with the sulu when he was just 22 years old leading a group of boers to defeat his rival for the throne. on the day that churchill boarded the armored train, bota and his men were watching -- watching.
not only did bolton know where the train was going, he knew that it would have to come back on the same tracks. as soon as the train passed, he ordered his men to move to the bottom of the hill and began piling rocks on the tracks. when the train, on its way back, appeared at the top of the hill, the boers opened fire, chasing it down a steep slope until it crashed into the stone. catapulting the first two cars off the tracks killing several men, horribly wounding others, and trapping them in a hailstorm of bullets and stone. 24 years old, winston churchill immediately took charge of the defense, shouting orders as he ran back and forth from the engine to the last truck and organizing the men in a desperate attempt to free the train. in the end, he succeeded and every man who made it out alive
credited winston churchill's bravery and resourcefulness for saving their lives. unfortunately, churchill was not there to accept their gratitude. he had been captured. he was taken as a prisoner of war. for churchill, captivity was unbearable, and he would never forget how it felt. many years later, he wrote, you feel a sense of constant humiliation in being confined to a narrow space, fenced in by railings and wire, watched armed men. i certainly hated every minute of my captivity more than i have ever hated any other period and my whole life. from the moment he became a prisoner, churchill resolved to
escape. finally, with two other men, he had a plan. railingot tall iron surrounded their prison, that was constantly patrolled by guards. when the electric lights came on at night, one corner in the yard remained dark. when one of the guards turned her back, they could make the right move. after much discussion and careful planning, they chose their night. but when the time came, churchill's co-conspirators found themselves trapped inside in the glare of the lights and in the eyes of the guards. churchill, who had already scaled the fence, suddenly realized, that he was alone, facing the prospect of crossing nearly 300 miles of enemy territory with no map, no compass, no food, no weapons, no
ability to speak a language, and with the boers, in hot pursuit. what churchill did have was absolute faith in his destiny understandinged that this was the opportunity he had been waiting for. the story of churchill's escape is an epic adventure by any standard. for those of you who do not know exactly how he survived it, i won't tell you. you'll have to read the book. [laughter] but i will say that by the time it was over, churchill was not only a free man, he rode back, as part of a british regiments, took over the prison, released the men who had been his fellow prisoners, captured the jailers, and watched as the boer flag was
torn down and the british flag hoisted and its place. what mick moore was churchill as a leader and architect of the world we live in. after he returned home from south africa, he was who he always dreamed of being -- a hero of the empire. a famous man, churchill ran for parliament again, and this time, he won. his life in british politics would never be the same. if churchill had previously dreamed about the power of his will and his destiny, now he had proof. he was unstoppable. he had not only been part of a great adventure, he had done it alone. he would approach life and politics with an unshakable faith in his own ability that
would not only to find his leadership, but provide a foundation of courage and confidence that would inspire entire nations. churchill would also carry with him the humbling lessons of this experience throughout his life. he understood better than almost any other major leader, the enormous cost and tragedy of war. he was extremely compassionate about the flight of prisoners -- the plight of prisoners and was determined to recap the hand of friendship for those who had lately been his enemies. as high as churchill rose in the political stratosphere, he would never forget his capture, imprisonment, or escape from the boers. as he himself would write, this misfortune, could i have foreseen the future, was to lay the foundation of my later life.
those foundations would help support and shape much of the world we know today. of course, churchill did not know it at the time, but i don't think it would have come as a surprise. thank you very much. [applause] ok. it looks like i have 15 minutes for questions. yes. [indiscernible] ms. millard: the question is did the boers new who they had captured? the answer is absolutely. churchill's father had been in south africa a year before. and he had traveled much of the
country and written letters back home, which were published. he was a correspondent and published in a local newspaper. in those letters, he had attacked the boers for the lack of education, for their lack of sophistication, and for their treatment of native africans, which is perfectly fair. the boers knew about those letters in the hated him. when they found out that they had his son, who was also the son of the lord, someone who had been born into the highest ranks of the british aristocracy, and represented everything they hated about great britain, they were thrilled. and they made it clear to him that they were going to keep a close eye on him. unfortunately, the boers were also determined to prove to the british that they are very sophisticated. and they were very civilized.
and so, this is an officer's prison, so they went to extreme length to let them have all kinds of privileges. churchill had a regular barber coming in to cut his hair and give him a shave. they had access to newspapers. if you go, you can go to this building where he was kept today, a public library, and they allowed them to draw a map on the wall of south africa charting the course of the war. and so, churchill, of course, as all the men there, planned to do, planned to try to take advantage of some of these privileges that they had to make it easier to escape. yes. >> thank you. i am very interested in deed in what you said. particularly, his attitude toward the boers because after
his famous victory, this was the first time he demonstrated that. and then it leads to a great friendship with a general, who becomes an ally of great britain. what you say about that in his attitude when he gets back to england, developed for the boers? ms. millard: he got in trouble for his insistence that he believed that all the british did, that the war would be over quickly, and of course it ends , up taking three years. after he escapes, and fights, he begins writing letter saying we need to begin thinking about when we, of course other , victors, how we are going to help the boers rebuild? andy really took a lot of flak for that. it was not, as you might
imagine, well-received. there was no real understanding of the importance of that, i think. when he got into parliament, he talked about the fact that there were things he admired about the boers. he admired the boer fighters and admired their ability. he also got in trouble with that. he also became a friend of louis bota. he insisted not only had bota been in command, but held them at gunpoint and taken him as a captive. churchill's son, randolph, when he was working on his biography, realized after doing research, and i think every historian has
realized that it could not have been bota personally and was responsible for the attack. churchill to his dying day said, you are wrong, i am right, it was bota. and bota himself may have believed it. churchill talks about a conversation when he first meets on and introduces , himself and said, you don't recognize me? it was me who captured you personally. churchill continued to believe that, but it was a great friendship. i think it is that kind of reaching across the divide, especially after war, that is so important. i wish every nation could learn from that. another question? yes. thank you.
>> jenny -- the role that she played and a very unpopular war in america. ms. millard: we were talking about jennie jerome last night. she was a piece of work. you know she was a very , interesting woman and incredibly beautiful. i think that, unfortunately, because of that, and because of the relationship she had after her husband's death, often the focus is on that instead of on -- the fact that she was incredibly smart, incredibly charismatic, and had incredible energy and by vast city. she was hugely important to him. his father meant a great deal to him. churchill said he wished he had been born a shopkeeper's son because he would have gotten an
opportunity to know his father. that would have been a joy to him. but he always loved his mother. as he became a young man and became interesting and ambitious in his own right, she took a great deal of interest in him and was critical in helping him identical his ambitions. because she was so involved in that so many relationships with men in powerful positions, she was able to help him get military appointments wherever he wanted to go. and he wanted to go everywhere. this was the height of the british empire. they were constantly putting down revolts from egypt to ireland. during the war, she was
incredibly involved. she raised money for a hospital ship that went to south africa to help injured british soldiers. randolph and i were talking -- if you have not been to the archives in cambridge, please find the time to go. they are absolutely incredible. things so many amazing while i was there. one was showing jennie jerome on her way to south africa and her incredibly beautiful suite on that ship and her beautiful nurse's costume and all that she achieved. so she was absolutely critical , in winston churchill's life personally and in his political ambitions. absolutely. yes back there. >> i think this is beyond the
scope of your book, but do you believe that was an influence on him when he was in the office with prison reform. had he himself actually been a prisoner? ms. millard: absolutely. when he became home secretary, and he says this himself, he absolutely said he would never forget what it was like to be a prisoner. even though he was any privileged prison, he hated the idea of being a captive and being enclosed and his movements guarded and controlled by anybody but himself. and so when he was home , secretary, he made sure that prisoners, no matter what they had done, no matter how guilty they were of whatever horrendous crime, believed they were still human beings and they deserved access to books, to exercise, to the outside. so, this was absolutely
important to him and very formational in that way as well. >> one of the same place you can judge a nation by having two other prisoners. i think that is a wonderful benchmark. ms. millard: thank you. yes. >> on the treatment of prisoners, he was rather brutal when world war ii broke out about enemy aliens, most of whom were deported under fairly poor conditions to australia. there is a new book about this. was that a lapse under crisis? or is the record unblemished as you have just indicated? ms. millard: i think we can agree that churchill was a good man, but not a perfect man. he was a product of the place in which he was born, the time in
which he was born. but more specific than that i think i would be very arrogant and foolish to try to comment -- i spent five years working on this very small slice of winston churchill's life. maybe if i had 20 more years to look at the entirety of his life, i would be better able to answer that. but i am sure there are many, many people who could address that better than i could. yes, sir. >> hello. you mentioned that churchill learned about gorilla warfare. when we were talking about the mediterranean campaign and churches resistance to d-day, he became very enamored with guerilla warfare. he got a lot about treating
prisoners properly. did he perhaps learn the wrong lessons about military strategy? still fighting a victorian war rather than modern war? ms. millard: the entire british army learned a lot about were fair. it was completely different. in prepared them for world war i. there was a journalist at that period. just a quick side story about winston churchill at that time. as the all know, he was an extraordinary writer. and that of so many of his characteristics is crystal clear at this point in his life. even though he was 24/25 years old, and i read a lot of contemporary accounts by many journalists, and i can say absolutely, he was head and shoulders above all of them. he was really an extraordinarily precise and insightful and beautiful writer. with the one exception of the
man named george warmington stevens who died during the siege. he was in ladysmith. his prose is more like poetry. i could've quoted from him all day long. but he and particular wrote about the fact that even just watching it in real-time, you can see the british suffering and confused in chaos trying to figure out if it is a colonial war. the reason is war is changing and they are trying to figure it out. he says, i think we are going to learn and get better at this and the absolutely do. in fact, they make dramatic changes. thank you very much. i appreciate your time.
this weekend on american history tv on c-span3, tonight at 9:00 eastern, santa clara professor nancy unger look at the roles of gay bars in american history. many closeted gays go to their first gay bar, and in these bars they find out that they are not the only ones. there are lots of people who are atypical sexually. when the war is over, they don't want to return to their small towns, and small-town closets. many settle instead in the cities where they first experience some acceptance. government, policymakers talk about the about destroying soviet nuclear and chemical weapons. that towe have found is
the russians, the nuclear complex was not in inheritance ell. ho to them, it was the means to a revival of a great russia. sunday, a national archives motion picture preparation on their efforts to preserve 10 of franklin d roosevelt's most important speeches. significance,cal frequency of how -- requested and quality of the footage as well. i've seen one third of a nation ill housed, ill fed, and ill -- looks atoy u.s./israeli relations. >> i told the house
representatives i would commit political suicide if i didn't represent the state of israel. it was said by jimmy carter in 1977, full view. >> for our complete schedule go to c-span.org. c-span is visiting harrisburg, pennsylvania to learn about its history. right behind me is the rockville bridge. else in 1902, at one point it was the longest stone arch bridge in the world. up next we will take you to the pennsylvania state museum and show you some of the state hockey most historic treasures. welcome to the state's museum of pennsylvania. we are in an exhibit that came t