Wednesday, May 21, 2014

What a Cigarette Card Can Tell Us about the Early Life of Winston Churchill

The British remember Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965) as the steadfast leader of the nation through the testing times of the Second World War. He is perhaps less well-known for his other war hero credentials, earned many years before in South Africa.

Emily Burns, assistant curator for the National Portrait Gallery in London, recently came across a tiny cigarette card in the gallery's Photographs Collection while conducting research for a display on the second Boer War.

The National Portrait Gallery holds the most extensive collection of portraits in the world, displayed in London and in a number of locations around the United Kingdom, including several houses managed by the National Trust.

Cigarette cards were issued in series to be collected and featured popular figures such as sportsmen, actors, and military heroes.

"This card shows a group of mostly moustachioed men in hats, among whom sits, rather conspicuously, a serious, clean-shaven young chap with slicked-back hair in a pinstripe suit. This is Winston Churchill, aged twenty-six," Burns wrote on the National Portrait Gallery blog. "Below the image is an inscription: ‘Home from the War. A group of interesting persons returning from S.Africa, including Lieut.-Gen. Colvile and Mr. Winston Churchill.’"

Why was Churchill one of only two of the 17 ‘interesting persons’ in the group to be singled out for special mention? Churchill fought in India, the Sudan, and South Africa while doubling as a war correspondent and published books on his adventures.

Churchill's time in the Boer War also is depicted in his granddaughter Celia Sandys's book Churchill Wanted: Dead or Alive, in which she chronicles his nine-month stint as a noncombat reporter -- a time during which he managed to send stirring dispatches to the Morning Post, engage in several bloody skirmishes with the enemy, and was captured and incarcerated as a prisoner of war.
Read more about Burns's find on the National Portrait Gallery blog.

Image credits 
'Home from the War' by Unknown photographer, published by Ogden's, cigarette card, July 1900; published 1900-1907

No comments:

Post a Comment