Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Churchill Series – Jun. 20, 2007

(One of a series of weekday posts on the life of Winston S. Churchill.)

Yesterday’s series post included a link to a few details concerning the Battle of Omdurman in which on September 2, 1898 Churchill took part in the last major cavalry charge of the British army. The British victory at Omdurman over the Dervish army secured the upper Nile (now Sudan) for Queen Victoria’s Empire.

I said yesterday I’d post today on how an accident in India saved Churchill’s life at Omdurman. Here how that came about.

Regulars to this series will recall that when Churchill first arrived in India he was stepping off a small landing boat and preparing to mount steps that would take him up the side of a quay when the boat started drifting away from the steps. Churchill grabbed for a rope ring to avoid falling into the water. He was thereby able to mount the steps but in the process sustained a serious muscle tear at the place where his arm and shoulder joined. The tear left Churchill with a life-long limited rotation in his right arm and shoulder.

Now he tells us what he did in consideration of his shoulder problem and how it saved his life. From My Early Life:

I had always decided that if I were involved in hand-to-hand fighting, I must use a pistol and not a sword. I had purchased in London a Mauser automatic pistol, then the newest and the latest design. I had practiced carefully with this during our march and journey up the river. This then was the weapon with which I determined to fight. . . .(pg. 189)
Now in the midst of the battle Churchill finds himself separated from his troop and surrounded by Dervish fighters. He’s mounted and the Dervishes are on foot. One gets close beside his and intends to swing for Churchill’s leg and cut his hamstring muscle so he’ll be unable to control his horse:
… I saw the gleam of his curved sword as he drew it back for a ham-stringing cut. I had room and time enough to turn my pony out of his reach, and leaning over on the off side I fired two shots into him at three yards.

As I straightened myself in the saddle, I saw before me another figure with uplifted sword. I raised my pistol and fired. So close were we that the pistol itself actually struck him. Man and sword disappeared below and behind me. (pg. 191)
Churchill was twenty-three at the time of the battle. He lived on another sixty-seven years, in time becoming the last surviving British officer to have participated in the famous cavalry charge at Omdurman.


Anonymous said...

It is also interesting to know that the Mauser automatic used by Churchill at Omderman was a broomhandle Mauser with a shoulder stock, the perfect weapon to have one hand guiding the horse and the maximum bracing for the gun (the shoulder and the grip on the pistol). It was chambered in .30 Mauser, regarded in its day as a hot pistol load. For those not gun aficianadoes, the stock functioned as a holster and had a slot that allowed the pistol to be attached to the rear of the grip.