by Peter Apps
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2015. Pp. ii, 138.
Biblio. $6.99 paper. ISBN: 1517752434
Winston at the Front
British Army veteran and Reuter’s defense correspondent Apps takes a look at Winston Churchill’s experiences at the Front during the Great War, a subject oddly neglected despite the relative flood of recent writing on the man.
Apps opens with an overview of Churchill’s early life, military service, and political career. He then takes a quick look at Churchill’s stint as First Lord of the Admiralty (1911-1915), during which he first went to the Front; during October of 1914 Churchill spent several days at Antwerp, with the Naval Brigade, “directing” the defense of the city, apparently while angling for a commission as a lieutenant general, which heroics – or antics – brought him little credit. Losing his post as First Lord as a result of the Gallipoli disaster, Churchill found himself unemployed. At this point, Apps takes up, in some detail, Churchill’s decision to serve at the front in late 1915.
Following a short a “familiarization” tour at the Front with the Grenadier Guards, Churchill, promoted to lieutenant colonel, assumed command of the 6th Battalion, Royal Scots Fusiliers. Apps Churchill spent five months in command of the battalion, mostly at the Front in a sector near Ypres, two-thirds of the time in the trenches. By an odd coincidence of history, for a time Adolph Hitler was in the German lines opposite, serving with the 16th Bavarian Reserve Regiment!
Although during Churchill’s tenure, the battalion was never heavily engaged, it suffered hundreds of wounded and some deaths, and he himself had several close calls. Apps offers us views of Churchill’s performance in command from superiors, fellow officers, and most importantly his troops, drawing on many letters, diaries, and other first hand accounts, which suggest that Churchill was a very good officer, well-liked by his men, despite his eccentricities, such as declaring “war” on lice or citing Roman precedents in designing trench enhancements.
Apps also points out the extent to which Churchill enjoyed the experience of command under fire and the degree to which his experiences at the Front helped shape Churchill’s decision-making in the Second World Two. Although it could have benefited from a map or two, despite being short, and certainly not definitive, Churchill in the Trenches is a useful read for anyone interested in Churchill or life at the Front in the Great War.
Note: Churchill in the Trenches is also available in several e-editions.