(One of a series of weekday posts on the life of Winston S. Churchill.)
It is the early evening of September 1, 1898.
Lt. Winston Churchill, attached to the 21st Lancers, is walking with a comrade along the Nile riverbank near Omdurman. They’re part of a combined British and Egyptian force of about 30,000 that expects to battle that evening or the next day a Dervish army of about 60,000. At stake will be control of the Sudan.
In My Early Life Churchill recounts the following incident:
As I strolled in company with a brother officer along the river bank we were hailed from the gunboat which lay 20 or 30 feet from the shore. The vessel was commanded by a junior naval Lieutenant named Beatty who had long served in the Nile flotillas, and was destined to fame on blue water.It must have been an especially joyful triumph for Churchill, the man who once said cold champagne was one of life’s four daily essentials (the other three were fresh English peas, hot water for a bath and warm brandy).
The gunboat officers, spotlessly attired in white uniforms, were eager to learn what the cavalry had seen, and we were by no means unwilling to tell. We had a jolly talk across the stretch of water while the sun sank. After a good deal [of talk] came [a] piece of good fortune.
“How are you off for drinks? We have got everything in the world on board here. Can you catch?” and almost immediately a large bottle of champagne was thrown from the gunboat to the shore.
It fell in the waters of the Nile, but happily where a gracious Providence decreed them to be shallow and the bottom soft. I nipped into the water up to my knees, and reaching down seized the precious gift which we bore in triumph back to our mess. (pgs. 179-180)
You can read more about the junior naval Lieutenant here. During WW I as Admiral David Beatty he commended the Grand Fleet and later served as First Sea Lord.