WITH WINSTON CHURCHILL AT THE FRONT
Author: Major A. Dewar Gibb
Publisher: Frontline Books, Pen & Sword. Hardback, 221 pages, 26 illustrations
Published: July 2016
This book is the story of Winston Churchill, one of the main protagonists of the campaign who received, and still receives, blame for the Dardanelles catastrophe. In May 1915 Churchill resigned his position as First Lord of the Admiralty and, side lined from active politics, he directed his energies to active service. One who never shied away from danger, he left Westminster for the Western Front, choosing not to fight on in government, but in the trenches.
Churchill, a territorial reserve Major in the Queen’s Own Oxfordshire Hussars, was briefly initiated in trench warfare with the Grenadier Guards in November 1915. Churchill remarked that his reception was as frosty as the weather, but the experience of the trenches was invaluable for his next command. Churchill wanted to command a Brigade, and if it wasn’t for Sir John French being dismissed as Command in Chief of BEF he may have got his wish. Promotion to Brigadier General was vetoed, and rightfully so as Churchill had little active service experience and was way down on the pecking order for promotion. Churchill settled for promotion to Lieutenant Colonel and command of the 6th Royal Scots Fusiliers, and the book concentrates on his three months with this battalion.
Although the public were familiar with the forceful public figure that Churchill was, few had an insight into the caring and compassionate side of this utterly fearless commander. Although his arrival was resented when he joined the 6/RSF, he soon won the respect of his officers and men. It is interesting to note that this battalion not only had a future leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister in Churchill, but also a future leader of the Scottish National Party (Andrew Dewar Gibb) and a future leader of the Liberals (Sir Archibald Sinclair). Both Sinclair and Gibb were adjutants of the battalion and served with Churchill.
Captain Andrew Dewar Gibb formed a close relationship with Churchill that lasted far beyond their few months together in the war. Dewar Gibb subsequently wrote an account of his and Churchill’s time together in the trenches under the pseudonym of Captain X and with the title ‘With Winston Churchill at the Front”. This book was originally published in 1924 and is the basis for this edition.
This book is an excellent edited version of the original account, adding further material to support and complete the original work, some of which are from Churchill’s own letters, some others are from soldiers themselves. There are some amusing anecdotes and, together with the additional background information, this gives the reader an insider’s view, not only to a battalion at the front in early 1916, but also into Churchill’s personality whilst a battalion commander. The last chapter is written as a very useful battlefield guide to Churchill’s ‘front’ at Ploegsteert in Belgium should the reader wish to visit. A great book and recommended read of what must be the most comprehensive narrative of Churchill’s time at the front.