Winston Churchill's Great Love Of Horses and Other Animals


Winston Churchill on By The Love of Horses

The following is an approximate transcript of the Show. 

Introduction:

 From the talk I used to hear around my parent’s and grandparent’s kitchen tables, I grew up fascinated with the idea that Winston Churchill was the man who had saved England during the Second World War. It almost seemed at times as though there was a seat set for him at our table. As a little girl I used to believe that my Dad and Winston were best friends. 

If I think about Churchill’s contribution during the Second World War, I can’t help but reflect how very different things might have been for me and my family had he not lived then. Would my parents have met and fallen in love, had things turned out differently? I’m not so sure that they would have. He is one of those important historical figures that have had such a profound influence on the world of his time, and, indeed, on that thereafter.

Looking back on history, we know now, of course, how things turned out. But we can only imagine how it would have felt for those at the time. At the time my grandmother and mother, as a young girl of about 12 years old, and the rest of the family, would have been plagued with great uncertainty and fear. They listened for the air-raid sirens. And when they heard them, they would take cover in the bomb shelter that was dug in the ground at the end of the garden of my grandmother’s house. 

Because of all this, when I think of Winston Churchill, I always envision him in my mind as living in the throes of World War II in London. I see him getting in and out of large, grey cars of the 1940s. I see him at 10 Downing Street, arriving there by motor car. I see him making the journey to Buckingham Palace to speak with the Queen. Again, by motor car.

In my mind, the photographs are always in black and white. London is grey. It is raining in the afternoon. There is a lit cigar involved. There is a chauffeur.

It seems then as though I have put Churchill into a kind of an historical box, as it were, with very rigid timelines.  

But when we stop to reflect upon his life, we find that that box is not really very helpful at all. It is in fact entirely misleading. We must recognize, for example, that he lived almost the first third of his life before the turn of the 20thcentury. A very different time, indeed, from the days of World War II.

There is, of course, so much that filled the life of Churchill in terms of politics and his military career. This is certainly not the place to try to capture all of that history. Nor is it the place to try to deal with all of the contradictions and historical complexities he presents. Contradictions like Churchill’s chasing foxes, on the one hand and his keeping fox pups as pets at Chartwell, his country residence, on the other.

And because of this reflection, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the life of Winston Churchill from another perspective. I thought it might be interesting to examine Churchill’s relationship with animals, and in particular, with horses. Because if we look a little beyond the usual depictions of Winston Churchill, we are soon to find that horses, and other animals too, are present in his life in very profound ways.

Horses, were, to begin with, part of Winston’s inheritance from his parents, Lord and Lady Randolph Churchill. Indeed, one of the last things Churchill’s father said to him was, “Have you got your horses?”

To illustrate how much horses played a part in the lives of both his father and of children in Winston’s own time, listen to the recollection of one childhood friend of his father’s: “I can never see children playing at “horses” without the instant recollection of the showy four-in-hand which Randolph Churchill “tooled” around the playground, or of which he was an interchangeable part.” Complete they were with a “team and coachman.” It is the mindset that is particularly interesting here. Horses in children’s games speaks of a very different time.

In spite of always seeing him portrayed in photographs as transported by automobile, then, it is interesting to remember that for approximately the first third of his life his local transport would  have been, more often than not, by horse. Churchill did embrace the automobile in 1900 after he became elected to Parliament, obtaining a 10 horse-power red Mors. But listen to the way that Churchill himself describes the movement towards the automobile: “I have always considered that the substitution of the internal combustion engine for the horse marked a very gloomy milestone in the progress of mankind.”

Churchill on certain occasions seems to have even appreciated the relative slowness of transport by horse pulled carriage. This was the case, for example, on one trip in which he was engrossed in conversation with Mr. Chamberlain. Churchill writes: 

“In those days it took a quarter of an hour to drive in a hansom cab from Prince’s Gardens to Whitehall. I would not have the journey shortened for anything...” (My Early Years, p. 231) 

But at other times it was a decided disadvantage. Consider the case where Churchill had been invited to a dinner party for the Prince of Wales. Always seeming to have struggled with his timeliness, he had cut things too close by taking a later train than he should have. And then arriving at the station he recalled ... “I jumped into a brougham and saw by the speed at which the two horses were being urged that a serious crisis awaited me at my destination.” There was, indeed, a crisis, given that without Churchill there, there were only thirteen to be seated for dinner and the Prince of Wales “refused point-blank to go in [to dinner].”

But horses for Churchill were far from only being a mode of transportation. Listen as he explains his great love of horses: 

“Horses were the greatest of my pleasures at [the Royal Military College] Sandhurst. I and the group in which I moved spent all our money on hiring horses from the very excellent local livery stables. We ran up bills on the strength of our future commissions. We organized point-to-points and even a steeplechase in the park of a friendly grandee, and bucketted gaily about the countryside. And here I say to parents, ‘Don’t give your son money. As far as you can afford it, give him horses.’ No one ever came to grief – except honourable grief – through riding horses. No hour of life is lost that is spent in the saddle. Young men have often been ruined through owning horses, or through backing horses, but never through riding them; unless of course they break their necks, which, taken at a gallop, is a very good death to die.” (My early years, 45)

Churchill, in fact, thought of life itself in equestrian terms. As he did of politics too. He said:

“However, in life’s steeplechase, one must always jump the fences when they come.”

And then there was polo, which he described like this:

“Polo is the prince of games because it combines all the pleasure of hitting the ball, which is the foundation of so many amusements, with all the pleasures of riding and horsemanship, and to both of these there is added that intricate, loyal teamwork which is the essence of football or baseball ...’ (My Early Years by Winston Churchill)

To explore Churchill’s great love of horses and other animals a little further, I want to welcome Justin Reash, the Executive Director of the International Churchill Society.

Conclusion

Churchill was a man whose love of animals was not limited to that of horses, by any stretch of the imagination.

We have, for example, the comment of a friend who recalled: ‘One Christmas he was about to carve a goose. Learning it was one of his own, he put down the knife and fork and said, “I couldn’t possibly eat a bird that I have known socially.”

Indeed, an entire book, Churchill’s Menagerie: Winston Churchill and the Animal Kingdom, by Piers Brendon, has been compiled regarding Churchill’s relationship with all kinds of different animals.  

Therein, we find two stories which will give you a sense of Churchill’s warm heart for animals. 

The first is of his dog Rufus. There were actually two dogs named Rufus. His first was a brown miniature poodle who was Churchill’s constant companion during the Second World War. Rufus rode with Churchill on his lap, was at 10 Downing Street and Chequers Court and at Chartwell. After Rufus was accidentally killed, another dog came along and eventually made his way into Churchill’s heart too. The dog was subsequently named “Rufus II,” but, said Winston, the “II” is silent.”

The other story is set at Chartwell. At Chartwell there reigned a tom cat called Tango, a marmalade cat, “the apple of my father’s eye,” said his daughter. From the time that Chartwell was subsequently opened to the public the family of Churchill has, to quote from Chartwell’s website, “requested that there always be a marmalade cat named Jock with a white bib and four white socks, in comfortable residence at Chartwell.”

 Perhaps one of the things that the example of Churchill’s relationships with horses and other animals shows us is the place they can hold within our lives: offering us support and love. Churchill’s life was clearly a busy one. But into that life there was room for the care and nurturing and love of horses, dogs, cats, foxes and the list goes on. In this way these animal friends became part of Churchill’s journey, they assisted him in carrying out his duties and helped him to keep the Black Dog of depression at bay. They were a large part of a life that was itself very large indeed.