What if Churchill had been shot?


113 years ago this month a train came steaming back to Estcourt after a quick reconnaissance towards the Tugela front. It was 1899 and the second Anglo-Boer War had just broken out. Suddenly shots erupted from a barren ridge close to the railway line where my great-grandfather waited in ambush. The train was heavily armoured, but just to be safe the driver increased speed. Right then there came a bend in the line and by the time that he saw the rocks on the tracks it was too late to avoid derailment.


The soldiers on board immediately found themselves in a deadly fight with burgher commandoes on the hillside. On board was a young 25 year old reporter for the Morning Post by the name of Winston Churchill. “Two soft kisses sucked in the air,” Churchill recounted later, “but nothing struck me.” Shocked and outnumbered, the soldiers soon had to surrender. Young Winston, however, protested that he was merely a reporter. But when notice was drawn to his army uniform and empty Mauser pistol holder, even the man who had a comeback for everything had to submit to capture. We later asked great-grandfather whether he remembered young Winston. He just smiled and shook his head. “They were just soldiers,” he said.


Years later I wondered – what if great-grandpa had shot Winston that day? Perhaps without Time Magazine’s “Man of the Half-Century” World War II would have been lost. Perhaps all our lives would have been different today. How easily one man could have changed world history and never known it? I suppose the same could be said for any of us today.  Even the smallest hand might drop a pebble down the well of time, not knowing that our deeds might echo across centuries. We should think about that sometimes….