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A Traveller in Wartime - Winston Churchill






A TRAVELLER IN WARTIME.

By Winston Churchill

PREFACE

I am reprinting here, in response to requests, certain recent experiences in Great Britain and France. These were selected in the hope of conveying to American readers some idea of the atmosphere, of "what it is like" in these countries under the immediate shadow of the battle clouds. It was what I myself most wished to know. My idea was first to send home my impressions while they were fresh, and to refrain as far as possible from comment and judgment until I should have had time to make a fuller survey. Hence I chose as a title for these articles,--intended to be preliminary, "A Traveller in War-Time." I tried to banish from my mind all previous impressions gained from reading. I wished to be free for the moment to accept and record the chance invitation or adventure, wherever met with, at the Front, in the streets of Paris, in Ireland, or on the London omnibus. Later on, I hoped to write a book summarizing the changing social conditions as I had found them.

Unfortunately for me, my stay was unexpectedly cut short. I was able to avail myself of but few of the many opportunities offered. With this apology, the articles are presented as they were written.

I have given the impression that at the time of my visit there was no lack of food in England, but I fear that I have not done justice to the frugality of the people, much of which was self-imposed for the purpose of helping to win the war. On very, good authority I have been given to understand that food was less abundant during the winter just past; partly because of the effect of the severe weather on our American railroads, which had trouble in getting supplies to the coast, and partly because more and more ships were required for transporting American troops and supplies for these troops, to France. This additional curtailment was most felt by families of small income, whose earners were at the front or away on other government service. Mothers had great difficulty in getting adequate nourishment for growing children. But the British people cheerfully submitted to this further deprivation. Summer is at hand. It is to be hoped that before another winter sets in, American and British shipping will have sufficiently increased to remedy the situation.

In regard to what I have said of the British army, I was profoundly struck, as were other visitors to that front, by the health and morale of the men, by the marvel of organization accomplished in so comparatively brief a time. It was one of the many proofs of the extent to which the British nation had been socialized. When one thought of that little band of regulars sent to France in 1914, who became immortal at Mons, who shared the glory of the Marne, and in that first dreadful winter held back the German hosts from the Channel ports, the presence on the battle line of millions of disciplined and determined men seemed astonishing indeed. And this had been accomplished by a nation facing the gravest crisis in its history, under the necessity of sustaining and financing many allies and of protecting an Empire. Since my return to America a serious reverse has occurred.

After the Russian peace, the Germans attempted to overwhelm the British by hurling against them vastly superior numbers of highly trained men. It is for the military critic of the future to analyse any tactical errors that may have been made at the second battle of the Somme. Apparently there was an absence of preparation, of specific orders from high sources in the event of having to cede ground. This much can be said, that the morale of the British Army remains unimpaired; that the presence of mind and ability of the great majority of the officers who, flung on their own resources, conducted the retreat, cannot be questioned; while the accomplishment of General Carey, in stopping the gap with an improvised force of non-combatants, will go down in history. In an attempt to bring home to myself, as well as to my readers, a realization of what American participation in this war means or should mean.

Extract -

"Saint Eloi is named after the good bishop who ventured to advise King
Dagobert about his costume. And the church stands--what is left of it
--all alone on the greenest of terraces jutting out toward the east; and
the tower, ruggedly picturesque against the sky, resembles that of some
crumbled abbey. As a matter of fact, it has been a target for German
gunners. Dodging an army-truck and rounding one of those military
traffic policemen one meets at every important corner we climbed the hill
and left the motor among the great trees, which are still fortunately
preserved. And we stood for a few minutes, gazing over miles and miles
of devastation. Then, taking the motor once more, we passed through
wrecked and empty villages until we came to the foot of Vimy Ridge.
Notre Dame de Lorette rose against the sky-line to the north.

Vimy and Notre Dame de Lorette--sweet but terrible names! Only a summer
had passed since Vimy was the scene of one of the bloodiest battles of
the war. From a distance the prevailing colour of the steep slope is
ochre; it gives the effect of having been scraped bare in preparation for
some gigantic enterprise. A nearer view reveals a flush of green; nature
is already striving to heal. From top to bottom it is pockmarked by
shells and scarred by trenches--trenches every few feet, and between them
tangled masses of barbed wire still clinging to the "knife rests" and
corkscrew stanchions to which it had been strung. The huge shell-holes,
revealing the chalk subsoil, were half-filled with water. And even
though the field had been cleaned by those East Indians I had seen on the
road, and the thousands who had died here buried, bits of uniform, shoes,
and accoutrements and shattered rifles were sticking in the clay--and
once we came across a portion of a bedstead, doubtless taken by some
officer from a ruined and now vanished village to his dugout. Painfully,
pausing frequently to ponder over these remnants, so eloquent of the fury
of the struggle, slipping backward at every step and despite our care
getting tangled in the wire, we made our way up the slope. Buttercups
and daisies were blooming around the edges of the craters.

As we drew near the crest the major warned me not to expose myself.
"It isn't because there is much chance of our being shot," he explained,"
but a matter of drawing the German fire upon others."

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Biography:

Winston Churchill was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the son of Edward Spalding and Emma Bell (Blaine) Churchill. He attended Smith Academy in Missouri and the United States Naval Academy, where he graduated in 1894 and became an editor of the Army and Navy Journal. He resigned from the navy to pursue a writing career. While he would be most successful as a novelist, he was also a published poet and essayist. While it is claimed that his first novel was The Celebrity, published in 1898, a question arises where his novel called Mr. Keegan's Elopement should be placed, because it was published two years earlier in (1896) within a magazine. Later in 1903 it was republished as an illustrated hardback book.

Churchill's next novel called Richard Carvel, was published the next year. It was a phenomenon, literally selling by the box-car as many as two million copies in a nation of only seventy-six million, and that book made Churchill rich. His next two novels, The Crisis (1901) and The Crossing (1904), were also very successful.

Churchill's early novels were historical but his later works were set in contemporary America. Churchill often sought to include his political ideas into his novels. Churchill wrote in the naturalist style of literature, and some have called him the most influential of the American naturalists.

In 1899, Churchill moved to Cornish, New Hampshire. He became involved in politics and was elected to the state legislature in 1903 and 1905. He unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination for governor in 1906. In 1912, he was nominated as the Progressive candidate for governor but did not win the election. He did not again seek office. In 1917, he toured the battlefields of World War I and wrote about what he saw, his first non-fiction work.

Sometime after this move, he took up watercolors, and also became known for his landscapes. Works by him are in the collections of Cornish Colony Museum in Windsor, Vermont, Hood Museum of Art (part of Hopkins Center for the Arts Dartmouth College) in Hanover, New Hampshire, and Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in Cornish, New Hampshire.

Churchill met and occasionally communicated with the British statesman Winston Churchill. They were both popular, contemporary authors, although the British Churchill wrote only one novel. (Because the American had gotten there first, the British Churchill's books are all signed "Winston S. Churchill".)

In 1919, Churchill decided to enter a prolonged period of self-reflection. He stopped writing and withdrew from public life. As a result of this he was gradually forgotten by the public. In 1940, The Uncharted Way, his first book in twenty years, was published. The book was a reflection of Churchill's thoughts on religion. He did not seek to publicize the book and it received little attention. Shortly before his death he said, "It is very difficult now for me to think of myself as a writer of novels, as all that seems to belong to another life."

Churchill died in Winter Park, Florida in 1947. Churchill is the great-grandfather of Maine journalist Chris Churchill.

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