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  • Geoff Scully

One of my favorite authors...

...is Winston S. Churchill. I got hooked on him years ago, when my brother gave me the multi-volume set titled "The History Of The English Speaking Peoples". Churchill has a clear, upfront writing style. A gifted storyteller whose journalistic experience as a foreign correspondent no doubt helped hone his already considerable talent, I heartily recommend anything he has written. Here's a somewhat typical excerpt. It's from "My Early Life". It's young Winston's 21st birthday, November 30th, 1895. He was in Cuba. He wanted to be - he pulled strings to get there. He was a trained British soldier fighting by special permission with the Spanish. Since childhood he

"had imagined in dreams and daydreams the sensations attendant upon being for the first time under fire." Finally, on his birthday, that day arrived: "There was a low mist as we moved off in the early morning, and all of a sudden the rear column was involved in firing. In those days (he wrote this book in 1930, looking back) when people got quite close together to fight, and used - partly, at any rate - large-bore rifles to fight with, loud bangs were heard and smoke-puffs or even flashes could be seen. The firing seemed about a furlong away and sounded very noisy and startling. As, however, no bullets seemed to come near me, I was easily reassured. I felt like the optimist 'who did not mind what happened, so long as it did not happen to him'. The mist hid everything from view. After awhile it began to lift, and I found we were marching through a clearing in the woods, nearly 100 yards wide. This was called a military road, and we wended along it for several hours. The jungle had already encroached avidly upon the track, and the officers drew their machetes and cut down the branches, or, in sport, cut in half the great water-gourds which hung from them and discharged a quart of cold crystal liquid upon the unwary." "On this day when we halted for breakfast every man sat by his horse and ate what he had in his pocket. I had been provided with half a skinny chicken. I was engaged in gnawing the drumstick when suddenly, close at hand, almost in our faces it seemed, a ragged volley rang out from the edge of the forest. The horse immediately behind me - not my horse - gave a bound. There was excitement and commotion. A party of soldiers rushed to the place whence the volley had been fired, and of course found nothing except a few empty cartridge cases. Meanwhile I had been meditating upon the wounded horse. It was a chestnut. The bullet had struck between his ribs, the blood dripped on the ground, and there was a circle of dark red on his bright chestnut coat about a foot wide. He hung his head, but did not fall. Evidently, however, he was going to die, for his saddle and bridle were soon taken off him. As I watched these proceedings I could not help reflecting that the bullet which had struck the chestnut had certainly passed within a foot of my head. So at any rate I had been 'under fire'. That was something. Nevertheless, I began to take a more thoughtful view of our enterprise than I had hitherto done."

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