Winston’s parents, the glamourous American heiress Jennie Jerome, and Lord Randolph, of the House of Marlborough and member of Parliament, didn’t take much interest in him as a boy, being busy with their social obligations and worldly enjoyments and some casual extra-marital affairs. In the aristocratic class in England it was usual for parents to treat their children with indifference and even disdain, and they were sent off to boarding school as soon as possible to get them out of the way. Winston was sent to a school named Ascot at the age of seven. The headmaster was a bit of a sadist who practised flogging with religious fervor. Winston was quickly found to be argumentative and flippant and was often sent to the caning room. He saw no reason to learn Latin and some minutes of a session with his unfortunate teacher have been preserved: the point under discussion was the vocative case of the noun mensa, or “O table” in this case. “What does ‘O table’ mean? inquired Winston. “You would use ‘O table’ in addressing a table, invoking a table, you would use it in speaking to a table”, explained the teacher. “But I never do,” replied Winston. The teacher thought he was impertinent and off he went to the caning room again. In less than two years at Ascot Winston’s health had declined so alarmingly that he was removed and enrolled in a gentler establishment conducted by a pair of elderly ladies at the healthful seaside resort of Brighton. His school life there was better but he was still often in trouble. He kicked the dancing teacher, Miss Eva Moore, in the shins and during football matches in which he participated he would run up and down the field shouting the mystery slogan “St. George, St Dunstan and the Devil”, which demoralized not only the opposing side but his own teammates, together with the spectators. He did not like the school’s newspaper and began one of his own, not surprisingly called The Critic. He was regarded as the best actor in the student body and starred in the school play.
At the age of twelve, he was transferred to Harrow. He continued to be uncooperative and refused to answer questions in class. Some courses he failed repeatedly but he was often at the top of his class in history and English, and he became the school’s fencing champion. Lord Randolph didn’t like him, was disappointed at his low marks and the negative assessment of him by his teachers and wanted nothing to do with him. Winston wrote many letters to his parents begging them to come and visit him at his schools, but they never did. He often asked for permission to come home and visit them, but this was also denied. Once, on a very rare occasion, his father spent twenty minutes with Winston inspecting the toy tin soldiers he had lined up. He was asked if he would like to go into the army — Winston immediately said yes because he thought his father “had discerned in me qualities of military genius”. Later he discovered it was because his father thought he was not clever enough to be a lawyer. It was decided then and there that Winston would go into the army and not to a university.
So it was his nurse, Mrs. Everest, whom he called “Wooms”, who supplied him with the love and attention and guidance he needed while he was a child. Through her Winston first experienced genuine Christianity. She taught him to pray, she read the Scriptures to him and he was so moved he eagerly memorized his favorite passages. On long walks they sang the great hymns of the Church, spoke breathlessly of the heroes of the faith and imagined what Jesus may have looked like or how heaven might be. Winston was often transfixed as Wooms explained the world to him in simple but distinctly Christian terms. Winston adored her. “She was my confidant”, he said. “She it was who looked after me and tended to all my wants. It was to her I poured out all my many troubles”. On one special occasion, neither of his parents could be bothered to come to his Speech Day at Harrow, so Mrs. Everest came. She was a stout, middle-aged woman who appeared wearing an old fashioned, out of style bonnet. Winston put his arm through hers and proudly escorted her all over the premises, while the other boys snickered. When Winston was 17 and his younger brother Jack 11, his mother Jennie decided that a nanny was no longer needed and abruptly threw Mrs. Everest out, making no provision for her. Winston was horrified and protested, but to no avail. Mrs. Everest went to live in Crouch End in the north of London and Winston helped to support her out of his meager means.
After Harrow, Winston applied for entrance to the royal Military Academy at Sandhurst. He failed the entrance exams three times, the fourth time he was accepted into the Cavalry because it had a lower acceptance mark than infantry. At Sandhurst Winston’s manner changed. His old stubbornness remained, but he was less capricious and quarrelsome and in class he was competent and quiet, in astonishing contrast to his behavior at Harrow. Perhaps the influence of Wooms? He liked the training, enjoyed the subject matter and the challenges at Sandhurst and made more friends than he had at school. He also made better grades, finishing 8th in his group of 150 cadets. He became an excellent equestrian and polo player.
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Mrs. Everest always wrote to him at his various schools, and while he was at Sandhurst, she said in a letter: “Be a good gentleman, upright, just, honest, and altogether lovely. My sweet old darling, how I do love you, be good for my sake.” By 1895 Mrs. Everest’s health was failing and he received a telegram that her condition was critical. Rushing to Crouch End, he found her only concern was for him — his rain-drenched jacket had to be taken off and thoroughly dried before she calmed down. He found a doctor and a nurse, then had to rush back for the morning parade, and returned as soon as it was over. She gradually slipped into unconsciousness and died at 2:15 AM, with Winston by her side. He organized the funeral, the wreaths and the tombstone and paid for it all — he was only 20. When Winston lay dying in 1965 at the age of 90, there was only one picture at his bedside, the face of his beloved nanny, gone to be with her Lord some 70 years before. If anyone taught him to be good and kind and truthful, it was surely she. Once, at the age of seven, he was walking on the grounds of Blenheim palace with her when they saw a snake in the grass. Winston wanted to kill it, but she wouldn’t let him. Certainly it was she who guided him to that vast and legendary moral sense he embodied.
Winston seems to have had an affinity with the great Biblical prophet Moses, and identified with him. Both were destined by God to fulfill a mission; both had a speech defect (Winston lisped); Winston carried his walking stick, Moses had his rod; both had years of waiting as an outcast until their appointed time had come; both were destined to undergo many trials, frustrations and troubles, hate and betrayal, while leading their people out of great tribulation to a place of safety.
Some people doubt Winston’s religious sincerity because he wasn’t a church goer. He was, however, a man filled with the Holy Spirit who had read and studied the Bible — a true believer. He acknowledged again and again that without the help of the Almighty, he could never have succeeded, and he refers to God in every one of his speeches.
Winston wrote an essay entitled “Moses: The Leader of a People”, published in the Sunday Chronicle on Nov. 8th, 1931 as his contribution to a series under the heading of “Great Bible Stories Retold by the World’s Best Writers”. In the essay he wrote: “We regret, however, with scorn all those learned and labored myths that Moses was but a legendary figure. We believe that the most scientific view, the most up-to-date and rationalistic conception, will find its fullest satisfaction in taking the Bible story literally, and identifying one of the greatest human beings with the most decisive leap forward ever discernable in the human story. We may be sure that all these things happend just as they are set out in Holy Writ. We may believe they happened to a people not so very different from ourselves and that the impressions those people received were faithfully recorded and have been transmitted across the centuries with far more accuracy than many telegraphed accounts we read of the goings-on of today”.
Winston’s faith in Bible history made the story and work of Moses relevant to his own experience. For him, Moses’ life was that of a statesman grappling with the same problems common to mankind of every age. He regarded Moses as a people’s leader dealing with grim times. Winston encountered grim times. Grim times require great leadership, and that was his role. From Moses’s life, Winston learned that no nation could live securely without high standards of morality based on spiritual law, a benevolent social life, and a government that serves its people. He continues: “The closing words of Deuteronomy are an apt expression of the esteem in which the great leader and libeator of the Hebrew people was held by generations that succeeded him. He was the greatest of the prophets, who spoke in person to the God of Israel; he was the national hero who led the Chosen People out of the land of bondage, through the perils of the wilderness, and brought them to the very threshold of the Promised Land.” Winston knew he was destined to be that leader for his people, and he was waiting in the wings until the time came for him to step onto center stage.
Years later he had become that leader,and after a devastating air raid, Winston, Clementine and their good friend Lord Ismay went out to inspect the damage. This is what Lord Ismay said on that occasion: “I saw the most amazng thing that morning that I have ever seen in my life. We went to one of the rest centers where they were taking people who had been bombed out, and there was an old woman who was the picture of misery and dejection. She had been bombed out and lost everything and was sitting down pouring her soul into her handkerchief. Suddenly she looked up, saw Winston, and her whole face lit up. She waved her handkerchief and cried — “Hooray! Hooray! Hooray!”, and the way she looked at him was the nearest thing to blasphemy that I have ever witnessed — that one man could have such an effect, it was the most moving thing I had ever seen. Tears were pouring down Winston’s face. It was incredible the way this old woman’s hopelessness turned into ecstacy — as if she had seen a vision. The look on that woman’s face made me think of the Bible — it was like — to touch the hem of his garment . . . . I felt somehow transated into another world.
Yes, Winston was really a leader, he loved his country and the English people and gave them hope and courage to resist and endure whatever might come. “We will never surrender”.
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