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Sir Winston Churchill was one of the most remarkable men of the twentieth century. He filled many roles in his life: a war correspondent who took part in a cavalry charge 1; a Boer POW who escaped captivity and lived as a fugitive in South Africa; Britain’s First Lord of the Admiralty in the Great War; and, later, and most memorably, the heroic prime minister who led Great Britain through its “finest hour” in the 1940s.
Churchill was in his sixties when he led his nation against the most terrible war machine ever conceived by mankind. Yet there was one person who had predicted this with incredible precision – Churchill himself, at the age of sixteen.
It was a summer’s evening in 1891, and sixteen-year old Churchill and Muirland Evans, a classmate, were talking together in a “basement room” of their Head Master’s House at Harrow School. The young men’s conversation turned towards the future.
According to Evans, who recalled their conversation in his diary, Churchill stated that he had “a wonderful idea of where I shall be eventually. I have dreams about it. […] I see into the future.”
When asked about his dreams by Evans, young Churchill said that he could “see vast changes coming over a now peaceful world; great upheavals, terrible struggles; wars such as one cannot imagine”.
As shocking as this statement may seem, sixteen-year-old Churchill claimed to have seen more. He told Evans that he knew that,
“London will be in danger – London will be attacked and I shall be very prominent in the defence of London.”
At the time, Evans’ response was one of disbelief. With the dreadful days of the Napoleonic Wars now long ago, he regarded Great Britain as “for ever safe from invasion”. To this comment, Churchill supposedly scoffed, explaining that he could “see further ahead” than Evans. He restated his belief that their “country will be subjected somehow, to a tremendous invasion, by what means I do not know, but I tell you I shall be in command of the defences of London and I shall save London and England from disaster.” 2
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During World War Two, hundreds of thousands of bombs were dropped on Britain, with London experiencing 85 major raids by the time the war ended. Certainly, if ever the capital had faced “disaster”, it was when Churchill was leading the city’s defences during the Blitz. 3
Did Churchill’s 1891 dreams reveal where he would be in 1940?
Far from being a foreseeable path, his future career was hardly predictable. He had multiple near death experiences, was disgraced during the Great War and later politically marginalised. Even when the time came in 1940, it was almost a miracle that he led his country instead of his rival Lord Halifax, whom many preferred for his conciliatory approach. The circumstances had to be precise for Churchill to have become Prime Minister in those tumultuous times.
So, how do we explain his supposed foresight? It could, of course, have simply been a great boast from an egocentric teenager. Yet, at the time Britain was at the apex of its power – Queen Victoria, Empress of India and “Grandmother of Europe” sat at the head of an empire that controlled nearly one quarter of the world’s population. 4 It was almost unimaginable that London – the heart of that Empire – would be in “danger”. If one were to boast, it would make more sense to speak of conquering the rest of the world and finish colouring the globe red for Britain. Churchill did not, however. Rather, he specified London and England, the centre of the most powerful global empire there had ever been, as being one day, in his lifetime, on the brink of “disaster”, and that he would lead its “defences”.
Did Sir Winston Churchill really dream of the future at the age of sixteen?
- Churchill: A Life, by Martin Gilbert (1991)
- The Secret History of the Blitz, by Joshua Levine (2016)
- Churchill, by Paul Johnson (2010)
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