January 17

This Day in History

World War I

Jan 17, 1916:

Winston Churchill hears speech on the tragedy of war

Winston Churchill, beginning his service as a battalion commander on the Western Front, attends a lecture on the Battle of Loos given by his friend, Colonel Tom Holland, in the Belgian town of Hazebrouck.

The Battle of Loos, which took place in September 1915, resulted in devastating casualties for the Allies and was taken by the British as a sign of the need to change their conduct of the war. In one major consequence, Sir John French was replaced by Sir Douglas Haig as British commander in the wake of that battle.

Tom spoke very well, Churchill wrote to his wife, Clementine, but his tale was one of hopeless failure, of sublime heroism utterly wasted and of splendid Scottish soldiers shorn away in vainwith never the ghost of a chance of success.Afterwards they asked me what was the lesson of the lecture. I restrained an impulse to reply Don't do it again'. But they will--I have no doubt.

Churchill had been demoted from First Lord of the Admiralty after the British plan to attempt a naval capture of the Turkish-controlled Dardanelle Straits met with resounding failure in mid-to-late-1915. Reduced to a minor ministerial position, Churchill resigned from the government in November 1915 and rejoined the army, heading to the Western Front with the rank of lieutenant colonel.

During his six months in Belgium, the young Churchill—who would later lead his country to victory in the Second World War and be celebrated as the greatest political leader in British history—saw first-hand the hardships of war and the sacrifices that unknown, unheralded soldiers made for their country. More than once, he himself narrowly escaped death by an enemy shell. As he wrote to Clementine, Twenty yards more to the left and no more tangles to unravel, no more anxieties to face, no more hatreds and injustices to encountera good ending to a chequered life, a final gift--unvalued--to an ungrateful country.

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