On this day in history : 15th November 1899 – Winston Churchill, whilst working as a war reporter for the Morning Post, is captured in South Africa by the Boers…. He escapes a few weeks later….

Churchill in the dress uniform of the 4th Queen’s Own Hussars at Aldershot, 1895 – Public domain

25-year-old Churchill had arrived in Cape Town on the 30th of October 1899…. A couple of weeks later the armoured train he was travelling on, accompanying a scouting expedition into Boer-occupied territory, was ambushed and partially derailed….

Churchill was captured – (it is rumoured by Boer Louis Botha – later to become Prime Minister of South Africa) – and although a civilian he was sent to a prisoner of war camp for British officers, in a converted school in Pretoria…. Churchill was considered a good catch and a significant bargaining tool for the Boers….

Four weeks later, on the 12th of December 1899, Churchill made his dramatic escape by managing to climb over a wall…. He had with him £75 and some chocolate…. He managed to get onboard a coal train and by hiding among the coal sacks got out of the area…. However, once he left the train he found himself walking for miles and miles without a clue of where he was heading…. Eventually hunger and thirst got the better of him and he banged on the door of a house he was passing to ask for food…. As luck would have it he chose the home of one of the only Englishmen in the neighbourhood, John Howard, the manager of a local colliery…. Howard agreed to help Churchill and hid him in the mine and then with the aid of another Englishman, Mr. Dewsnap, Churchill was smuggled on to a wool train….

The train took him to Portuguese occupied East Africa – from here he made his way back to Durban…. By now there was a £25 reward on his head – ‘dead or alive’….

Churchill returned to the battle front and took part in the Battle of Spion Kop and the relief of Ladysmith…. Towards the end of the war he and his cousin, the Duke of Marlborough, returned to Pretoria to demand the surrender of the guards at the prisoner of war camp where he had been held….and the release of the British officers being held there….

Churchill in 1900 – Public domain

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