Friday, February 25, 2011

The Saviours of ‘Young Winston’


1. The WW2 Cabinet War Rooms, Whitehall, London
‘Winston Churchill on the Transatlantic telephone’

[Photograph taken with permission]
2. Display cabinet about Churchill's Boer War escape
('Young Churchill' room, Cabinet War Rooms, London)
[Photograph taken with permission (May 2014)]

In the modern era most people learn about what British Prime Minister Winston Churchill achieved and said during the Second World War. For example the WW2 Cabinet War Rooms at Whitehall, London – part of the Imperial War Museum – is largely dedicated to this period of his life. By the time he became Prime Minister Winston Churchill was 65 years old.

Yet there had been a ‘Young Winston’: one with a wide experience of life, death and war even before he achieved the highest office. For example, during the Boer War ‘Young Winston’ was close to death on a number of occasions. He was a POW in a camp in Pretotia, but managed to escape. While he was on the run he was helped by friendly miners including a couple of ‘ex-pat’ miners from Cleator Moor, Cumberland. 

For additional information click on ‘Comments’ below 
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10 Comments:

Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Additional information (1)

The year 1953 was the centenary of the establishment of a Catholic Mission to Cleator and Cleator Moor (‘Little Ireland’) in West Cumberland. Marking the centenary of the mission a history was written by Mr James F. Rowe of ‘The Whitehaven News’ (published 1954).

At this time Britain’s wartime Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill was back in Government at No 10 Downing Street. While researching the Catholic history of Cleator & Cleator Moor, Mr Rowe came across a reference about two expatriate miners from Cleator Moor who were working out in South Africa at the time of the Boer War. After confirming with Downing Street that this was indeed a true story this is what he wrote:

“When the Prime Minister of this country, Sir Winston Churchill was on the run from the Boers in the South African War (1899 -1902), he was saved by two of our Catholic men who had emigrated. They were Joe McKenna and Joe McKendry. They hid him down a coal mine for some days and hid him. Each later received a gold watch from him”.

Source: ‘Catholic Cleator: A Mission of 100 Years’ by James F. Rowe, (Printed by ‘The Whitehaven News Ltd, Whitehaven (1954).

‘Young Winston’ had went out to South Africa as war correspondent for ‘The Morning Post’. Some weeks later, while accompanying a scouting expedition in an armoured train the train was ambushed. Despite the efforts of ‘Young Winston’ and others, the occupants of the train were captured and imprisoned in a POW camp at Pretoria. There were some suggestions at the time that Winston Churchill may have been awarded the Victoria Cross but this did not happen.
The rather dashing escape of ‘Young Winston’ brought him some heroic attention back home. Afterwards Winston Churchill continued as a war correspondent as well as obtaining a commission in the South Africa Light Horse. Along with his first cousin, the Duke of Marlborough, he entered Pretoria in advance of a British column, and received the surrender of the guards at a certain prison camp!
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Friday, 25 February, 2011  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Additional information (2)

In the 50 years or so before the Boer War Cleator and Cleator Moor had been a ‘boom town’ of sorts with a large migrant population to work in the iron ore and coal mines of the district. Many of the immigrants to Cleator, Cleator Moor & District came from Ireland, especially from the northern counties of Down and Antrim. The district became known as ‘Little Ireland’ – a name by which it is still known although some of tmigrants came from the other British mining districts such as Scotland, Staffordshire and Cornwall.

With the opening up of the mining districts in places such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand and especially South Africa men with mining skills were at a premium. The financial opportunities available in what were then British colonies led to many miners, sometimes with their wives and families. This would have been the reason that led Joe McKenna and Joe McKendry to travel out to South Africa before the war.

Many of expatriate miners enlisted to the British forces arriving from the ‘Motherland’ under General Sir Redvers Buller and fought in the Boer War. In fact, ‘Young Winston’ had travelled out to South Africa on the same boat as Sir Redvers Buller.

Friday, 25 February, 2011  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Additional information (3)

I came across the above story while researching the ‘Roll of Honour’ for the Cleator & Cleator Moor district. Among those who lost their lives during the Boer War were four young men from the district, including William Fawcett Armes only son of the Church of England Vicar of St Leonard’s, Cleator (died of fever 14 May 1900).

In reviewing events of the past there are many ‘what if’ instances, and the saving of ‘Young Winston’ during the Boer War is perhaps one of these. Luckily for him – and ultimately the whole of the ‘Free World’ in WW2 – Winston Churchill survived the Boer War. He went on to be regarded by many as Britain’s greatest ever Prime Minister. Although they did not know it at the time, the consequences of saving ‘Young Winston’ during the Boer War would eventually have a bearing on the course of the Second World War.

Acknowledgements:

'The Whitehaven News'

St Mary's R.C. Parish, Cleator, Cumbria

Friday, 25 February, 2011  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Additional information (4)

Although not directly related to a forum dealing mainly with WW2 the list of those whose names are recorded on the Cleator Moor ‘Roll of Honour’ for the First World War confirms illustrates even more the migration of young men and their families to South Africa. Of the 240 or so war casualties from the Cleator & Cleator Moor district of Cumberland, 17 (or about 7% of the total) did so while serving as volunteers in the South African forces.

Friday, 25 February, 2011  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Additional information (5)

Witbank is the town in South Africa where Winston Churchill hid down the mine during the Boer War. He took refuge there between 14 and 19 December 1899. The town was on the main rail route between Pretoria and Lourenço Marques in Portugese East Africa.

The mine manager who organised the help was called John George Howard. Churchill was also helped by the mine’s doctor, Dr James Gillespie and a shipping agent, Charles Burnham. Churchill was eventually smuggled by train to what was then Portugese East Africa (now Mozambique) reaching safety on 21 December 1899. ‘Young Winston’ still had many adventures to come in his life.

Monday, 28 February, 2011  
Blogger Arjan said...

Hello Joseph, i've send a message to your hotmail about Lancaster ND 559 there are some new developments and i hope you would like to get in contact with me about it.

Greetings,
Arjan Wemmers

Monday, 28 February, 2011  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Joe McKenna was my great grandfather and the watch was passed on to my father. He gave it away and we have been trying to find it ever since.

Monday, 04 June, 2012  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

I have been told that one of the two watches presented to the Cleator Moor fellows by Winston Churchill is on display at Chartwell, his former family home (1924 - 1965). From what I heard the National Trust (who look after Chartwell) acquired the watch for the Churchill collection at that site. Regardless of the monetary value I would reckon the watches given in thanksgiving to your Gt. Granddad and his pal by Winston Churchill are important historic items.

As I have not made a visit to Chartwell personally I am unsure whether this is your Gt. Granddad's watch or the one that was presented to his pal, Joe McKendry. Apparently the watches were appropriately engraved. So the National Trust at Chartwell should be able to confirm if they do indeed have one of the watches, who it was originally presented to and how they acquired it (see link to the National Trust Chartwell website below). Possibly it was donated or sold to the National Trust by a member of the family?

Click on the following link for the website of the National Trust Chartwell site:

Chartwell (Churchill's family home)
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Good luck!

Tuesday, 05 June, 2012  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you very much for that information. I will contact them although my brother thinks he has traced the watch to the Isle of Wight. My g'grandfathers watch was engraved on the back. It would be so wonderful to have it back in the family, although I don't hold out much hope of that happening. I do feel so proud of him and what he did.

Tuesday, 05 June, 2012  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Joe McKenna's pocket watch

In May 2014 I made a subsequent visit to the Cabinet War Rooms museum, London (now usually referred to as the 'Churchill War Rooms'). The engraved pocket watch sent to Joe McKenna by Winston Churchill in grateful appreciation for assistance while Churchill was on the run in South Africa during the Boer War was found to be on display in the 'Young Churchill' section of the museum [Photograph No. 2 above].

Displayed next to the pocket watch is the revolver lent to Winston Churchill by the mine manager, Mr John Howard, when the miners smuggled him on to the train that eventually took Churchill to the neutral territory of Portuguese East Africa (the modern Mozambique). These items form an important part of the exhibition which aims to tell the story of Winston Churchill's life before, during and after WW2.

According to the helpful museum staff, many of the items in the section dedicated to Winston Churchill's life were donated or loaned by his relatives. Thus, if the pocket watch was previously displayed at Chartwell it has now been re-located to the Cabinet War Rooms. It would appear that at some point the watch has been bought back from the McKenna family by the Churchill family.

For further information about the Churchill War Rooms (part of the Imperial War Museum) click on the following link:
Churchill War Rooms, London (website)
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Monday, 26 May, 2014  

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