Winston Churchill: The Great Escape Part 5 | Chaos & Carnage
Greetings. All this episode of giants. Have history is brought to you by another history podcast called unknown history. Now unknown history is currently in its third season and this season, they're exploring a monumental day in American military history and a major turning point in World War Two and that event is d day June sixth nineteen forty four and that seventy five years ago this year, and again, the outcome of this collision would largely set the stage for the conclusion of World War Two. But the unique thing about unknown histories exploration of this event is that they're looking at it from a variety of different angles. So for example, you'll hear a story of survival from conscripted teenage soldier and also a French resistance fighter. And then you'll step back from the front lines and here couple other additional stories one of which is from the wife of German commander. So very unique. So search for unknown history wherever you get your podcasts and give it a listen. And then once again thank. To all of you who are supporting giants of history via patron, it's you that's making the show possible at I greatly. Appreciate all of your ongoing support. It was a scene that Churchill would never forget even years later as he related the story over and over again the trauma of it was extremely evident. You don't forget something that grizzly and that gruesome. The armored train that he was on at that moment was pulling away trying to escape the blaze of board bullets and shellfire. There were so many men stuffed into the train car already that all the rest had to find a spot on the outside of the train car holding onto whatever they could. So that didn't fall off all shouting and screaming as the train struggled to get away from the bore soldiers and their relentless assault. Now Churchill was one of these men, and he was just twenty four years old at this time. And suddenly as he was holding onto the engine car traveled back south toward fair station. Bore shells were heard being fired and were then incoming one of these shells, hit the engines Footplate, an explosion, followed and a cloud of black smoke filled. The air the second shell hit a storage tank on the engine another explosion and more smoke. But the third show the third shell hit one of the British soldiers that was next to Churchill right in the arm and Churchill's is took in every inch of the hor- Churchill described his traumatic event in graphic detail. Quote, the whole arm was smashed to a horrid pulp bones muscle blood and uniform all mixed together at the bottom hung, the hand unhurt, but swelled instantly to three times its ordinary size. And. And unfortunately, there were scenes like this one all over that armored train and in the surrounding Velde on that November day in eighteen ninety nine and Winston Churchill was there for at all. When we left off last episode Winston Churchill was traveling on an armored train in Natale, South Africa. And he was participating in a reconnaissance mission where the British were trying to gather Intel on the bore armies plans for their attack on escort the small town where British forces were concentrated at this time. During that recon mission. However Churchill saw in the distance about one hundred four soldiers heading in the opposite direction of the train, and he and the commanding officer of the recon mission Aylmer how Dane wondered openly what these bore soldiers were up to what they would soon. Find out is that the boar soldiers. They saw in the distance were heading back toward a hill that churches train had recently passed over. And the reason the boars were traveling back toward this hill was that they could sabotage the train tracks and said he trapped four armored train on its trip back toward escort later in the day. The bore plan was to spread large rocks all over the tracks at the bottom of the steep hill. And right at the point where the tracks mayday severe turn. And this would cause the train to jump the tracks on its way down the hill. And then violently crash allowing the boars to then attack the armored train and all the soldiers and civilians on board without mercy. And while Churchill and how Dane noon attack might becoming as they traveled back from their recon mission toward us court on that day, again, November fifteenth eighteen ninety nine they didn't know exactly what form that attack might take. But as their train reached the top of that same steep hill. The Boers had set the trap at the bottom of Churchill himself. Got a firsthand look at what was about to happen. The trap was set. And as we said the train was speeding right for it. But just to rewind the story about five minutes to right before the train began to descend the hill as we said last episode, how Dane ordered the train to stop at the very top of this hill as he wanted to use the height of the hill as a lookout point to see if you could identify where the boars were at this time remembering again that he'd seen them on the ridge in the distance on their way out. And he wondered, of course, what they might be planning. How was trying to see where the attack might be taking shape not knowing that at that very moment. The train was right in the middle of the attack spot itself. But of course, not knowing this. How asked Churchill to jump out of the train at the top of the hill and survey the landscape with a pair of Benach yars. And of course, never want to shy away from the action Churchill immediately grabbed the binoculars hopped out of the train, and he ran up the hill a little further to good lookout point. But after only. A minute or two how Dane whistled him back. And it was just as Churchill was dropping back into the train car returning from serving the landscape that the first shell of a cannon was heard being fired. And as it turns out, the shell just miss Churchill as he landed back in the car the shelf flew over his head and it exploded just beyond the train itself. The shell was from a cannon nicknamed a pom pom due to the sound that it made when it was fired and the sound is often described as a coughing kind of sound, and according to author Candace Miller the pom-pom was a weapon of choice for the bore army. Now, the Boers found this canon perfect for their utility because it was mobile it was easy to maneuver and it could cause plenty of damage relatively quickly. However in contrast, the British had shooed, the pom-pom as somewhat useless. But this war would change their mind on the effective. Of the pom-pom after they saw how the boars used it. They would soon ordering large number of these canons for themselves at a later stage in the war. But as Millard captures it here, quote at this moment. However, they had none and Botha had to pointing directly at the armored train and quote. And of course, Botha here is Louis Botha, the fearless bore general that we discussed last episode. Now note before we move forward, and I rarely have to do this because I do my due diligence when it comes to name pronunciations. But last episode I was pronouncing the name Louis Bota because all the videos that I watched all the documentaries that I researched most of them pronounced his name as Louis Bota. So that's what I went with last episode, but over this past weekend, I was actually having lunch with an old friend whose wife is from South Africa at her father was there too. And they actually are from Durban, which is in Natale. So I started to ask all these questions about the boar war and bouncing names often because I wanted to make sure that I had these pronunciations, correct? And what I said Louis Bota, my friend's father in law said no it's Louis Botha had asked him if he was sure and he insisted he was one hundred percent Scher as he had to learn all of the stuff when he was a kid in the schools of Durban. And in South Africa the same way that we learn about George Washington Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson. So if my friends father-in-law who is from Natale knows about Ladysmith knows about escort new a ton about the boar war and Winston Churchill at this time. And if he said, it's Louis Botha then moving forward, I'm gonna pronounce his name Louis Botha. So again, a rare correction as I do my due diligence, but I wanted to put that out there. So everybody knew. But moving forward. For the bore plan to work and to get the train to jump the tracks. At the bottom of the hill. The train would have to be traveling pretty damn fast down that hill and the Boers plan again to ensure the train picked up enough speed to jump the tracks was to trick the British into thinking that the attack was mainly coming at the top of the hill, thus encouraging how deign to send the order to the driver of the train full speed ahead. And that's all that. I cannon shot. They heard the one that Mr. chills had by a few inches. That's all that shot was meant to do get how deign to order the train to speed up and get out of there. How Dane later wrote of this exact moment in his autobiography a soldier saga that he quote felt elated as the pace grew faster and faster, and quote, and you can see he thought that he was doing a good thing. Getting everyone out of there as quickly as possible. How wrong he ended up being that first shot was just the beginning as the train started to descend the hill and Churchill and how Danes car finally came over the crest reminding you hear that Churchill and how Dane we're now in the last car of the train the caboose if you will the full reality of what was about to happen hit them, but Churchill had the better view as he was standing on a box in the back of the train with his head above the sidewall, and he could see everything and what he saw no doubt sent shivers through his entire body. All around the top of the hill stood Boer soldiers guns in hand. And what was more? They also had their field guns pointed right at the train itself. As soon as he saw this Churchill jumped off the box that he was standing on and duct. And that is when all hell broke loose. The typically quiet Velde, which had just moments before held only. The sounds of the armored train slowly climbing up the tracks of the hill. Now erupted in utter chaos. The Boers cannons fired shell after shell and countless bore soldiers. Just let their guns rip all aiming in unison at each car of the armored train, perhaps the scene can best be described as instant insanity. The sounds of bullets being fired and shells exploding. And then smoke everywhere as a result of these explosions. It's just sheer madness one of the most memorable sounds were the hundreds if not thousands of bullets hitting the metal plates of the armored train all the British soldiers on board. Could here was the thing. Thinking thing. Of bullets just ripping up the sides of the train cars and all the while as the train was being bombarded with gunfire and cannon fire, it traveled, faster and faster down the hill until it reached the bottom. And that's when the chaos turned to carnage. The impact was so sudden, and so intense that most don't remember what happened. They remember. The ferocious noise that accompanied the impact being thrown to the ground almost instantaneously, and that's a nurse and all it's glory. And then coming to with the bore onslaught still upon them with the sounds of screaming and crying all around. Now Churchill although shake and quite a bit was unhurt in the crash, and what's the shock? We're off the adrenaline kicked in and he jumped to his feet he peeked over the side of the train car to see what had happened. But the vantage point wasn't good. So he climbed up and over the wall of the train car, and he jumped out now, this was crazy, obviously. But he needed to survey the damage to understand what kind of chance they still had of surviving the attack at perhaps even fighting back. So Joel started to run alongside the train toward the engine which was a few cars up. If you remember using the cars themselves as cover from the bullets that were raining down upon the train at that exact moment, and as he made his way toward the front of the train. He got to see exactly what the result of the boar trap was. And it was carnage has said. Millard puts it in her book, quote, the first thing that Churchill saw was that the train had not just been hit. It was in pieces. Both plan had worked even better than he had hoped. The moment. The first car struck the rocks. It had been catapulted into the air flipping completely over and landing at the bottom of the hill killing or horribly wounding the players who had been riding. It Millard goes on the armored car behind it had slid another twenty yards down the tracks before crashing onto its side and launching dozens of men onto the ground where they lay some wounded some dead all caught in the shower of bore bullets the third car, which was just in the front of the engine somehow remained upright, but it's front. Half had twisted off the rails leaving the other half on the tracks blocking the rest of the train and quote. And when I read this. I pictured the train cars just flipping and rolling down the hill with men limp as rag dolls just flying in all directions as the cars rolled on until they finally came to a stop. But returning to that third cars position real quick as this is key as we said the first car flew off the tracks and the second car had fallen off the tracks as well. But the third car was only half off the tracks with the backside of the car still covering part of the tracks themselves this meant that the engine of the train which again was in the middle of all the train cars was blocked as Millard said and could not get by and escape the continuing onslaught of the Boer soldiers it was stuck there with nothing to do. But take the bullets and the beating so Churchill after surveying the damage and seeing that the engine was blocked from moving forward any further. He tried to put a plan together. Now, the main objective at this point was to find a way to help all the British soldiers and civilians that were still alive somehow escape from the bore attack. Before everyone was dead. So Churchill began running back and forth between the damage train cars which had fallen off the track. And all the cars that were still on the tracks. Trying to see what could be done the only way to get out of the situation was to get the remaining cars of the armored train with the engine now in the lead moving forward again. But just as he was putting this altogether. The driver of the train the only man who to operate the train it self. He jumped from the engine car and started running away trying to escape from the gunfire. Now Churchill saw this, and he grabbed the man now the driver's face was covered in blood from a huge gash in his head that he had gotten when a piece of shrapnel hit him after one of the shells exploded near him and the man tried to get away from Churchill and to try and keep running away. But Churchill looking the man dead in the is somehow. Churchill connected with the man, even amongst all that chaos telling the man that it was his duty to get back in that train and help get that train moving again Churchill even told the man that this was that rare opportunity every man hopes for to prove himself at Bahia roic against all odds, and somehow appealing to those emotions inside the man it worked Churchill later wrote that after that the man climbed back into the engine car, and quote obeyed every order, which I gave him and quote, and it wasn't just a driver of the train that encouraged. It was pretty much everyone who is still alive at this point Churchill knew that the only thing that they could do here was to clear that third car off the tracks. So the engine could get by and escape from the boars bullets and with that singular purpose in mind Churchill poll. All together all the men that he could find and directed them all toward this car. Again, the one that was half on the tracks half-off blocking the engine for moving forward. And remember this is all happening at the same time. The bore army is just blasting this train and all the men that they could see it didn't matter if they were alive or dead. The boars were just pummeling these men Millard rights of this moment quote for the next hour. So as he ran the length of the train trying to help free it or stood in the open instructing the terrified driver Churchill was constantly in the line of fire. Miller goes on the work of clearing. The line was one of the most difficult, and to churches mind, one of the most thrilling moments of his young life, and he rose to the challenge as though he had been waiting for just such a disaster, which in many ways he had and quote. And one more quote from Millard here as she does such an incredible job in her research into this event and her book is extremely detailed about all that took place. She writes, quote, surrounded by screaming shells and deafening explosions dead and dismembered men desperation, and almost certain failure Churchill is flashing cheeks flushed began shouting orders and quote. And finally with the strength of all the men pulling and the engine which had been engaged at this point as well to help push the car that was blocking the tracks was cleared away just enough. So that the engine could begin to pass. But when the engine finally started to move forward again, it got stuck one more time by the middle part of the engine car, which was just a few inches wider than the rest Churchill wrote again of this moment when the engine got stuck for the second time, quote, only four inches of twisted. Iron work to make the difference between danger captivity and shame on the one hand and safety freedom and triumph on the other end quote. Now while Churchill and a group of soldiers tried for a second time to free the engine car. How Dane and another group of men started to move all the wounded men to the engine car as the engine car had been uncoupled from all the cars behind it during their effort to push the car that blocked the tracks of the way. So basically, picturing this in your mind, it is at this point. Just the engine car by itself that is in play the cars in front were off the tracks and two cars behind it had been detached all the British soldiers and civilians that were alive, and how many it's tough to say exactly, but all of them at this point were converging on the engine car as there were no other options left for their escape. How Dane would later say that soon enough every inch of the engine car both inside and outside was packed and or covered with men. There were even wounded men laid over the outside parts of the engine car. They just put people wherever they could Millard writes again here capturing the perfectly, quote, the machine soon looked as though it had been quilted in khaki with wounded soldiers shoved stuffed and draped into and over every available space and quote. And then suddenly a bore shell hit the engine box directly causing an explosion at this. The driver of the train. He finally lost it, and he opened up the steam on the train to its full capacity. Kind of like when you suddenly stop on the gas pedal of a car. Churchill wrote of this moment, quote, there was a grinding crash. The engine staggered checked Schorr forward again until would they clanging tearing sound it broke past the point of interception and nothing but smooth line lay between us and home and quote. All the men that were still trying to free the train jumped on board and the train started to move, but the bullets and the shells kept coming, and it was at this moment that the event we described in the intro story of this episode took place when Churchill saw one of his fellow soldiers arms get blown to bits. But one other thing happened as the train was pulling away. How Dane again the commanding officer of the reconnaissance mission. He was standing on the very last step of the engine in the back of the train holding onto a railing that was near the floor. And as we said, the train was packed with men everywhere you looked there was someone squeezed in. And so how Dane was barely on the train as it was. But at one point as the train was pulling away one of the other men accidentally stepped on how Danes hand at which point. Of course, he instinctively pulled his hand away. Is quickly as he could. But that move cost him his hold on the railing at he fell off the back of the train. Now, we stood up as quickly as he could. But by that point, the train was already too far away from him primped to try and catch it all he could do was watch the train get smaller and smaller as it pulled away. And when realized what was about to then be his fate that have captured by the boars most likely given his rank he wrote later, quote, I prayed fervently that one of the bullets would come my way and put an end to the business and quote. But even though the train was pulling away from the boars they continued to concentrate their firepower on the engine, and they continued to hit their target as men who were on the train whether standing or lying down the kept getting shot and falling off the engine one by one as they took fire Churchill himself said of his fellow soldiers, quote, several screamed this is very rare in war and cried for help and quote. But then suddenly something took place that most British soldiers would have considered even worse than dying on the battlefield. Someone took out a white handkerchief. And they started waving it in the air for all the boars, see. Whether the rest of the men wanted to or not it did not matter. One man was all took the British had surrendered. The boars gunfire immediately ceased and Churchill was furious surrendering was not something that British soldiers did. And apparently there had already been a tremendous amount of surrendering done in this war by the British to the boars. But even though the boars stopped firing at the train, the bore soldiers continued to ride on their horses after the train as it's momentum died down just as it reached fair station, but Churchill himself he did not lay down and abide by the surrender. As was custom. He instead jumped off the train, and he started running away from the Boer soldiers making plans to return to the scene of the train wreck. Try and find how Dane and also try and find any of the other men who might have survived the trains grizzly escape the bore soldiers shot at Churchill relentlessly as he ran away. And of course, all the bullets missed him. But some not by very much. And he said that when he turned around he could see the soldiers chasing him, and they almost look like shadows from that distance. But you'll kept running and he soon turned and ran up a hill to try and get away. But the Boers kept shooting at him and dirt was jumping all around him as the bullets got closer and closer at it said that one bullet finally nipped Churchill in the hand he tried to hide in the nooks and crannies of the landscape, but it was no use just like the scene in a movie Churchill just stopped and appeared out from his hiding spot. And he watched as the shadowy bore figure, and there was only one by this time he watched as the man wrote up close to where he was and then got closer and closer for Churchill's part. He admitted later that quote with a rifle I could have killed him easily. I knew nothing of white flags and the bullets. Had made me savage end quote. The only problem now was Churchill reached for his gun in this moment. He came up empty the gun that he had stuck in his belt earlier that morning while he was in his tent was now nowhere to be found. Churchill was unarmed and facing down an extremely dangerous bore foe. And letting author Candace Miller take it from here as she grabbed this whole seem perfectly. She writes, quote Churchill knew that he had run out of options. He could be killed or be captured death stood before me. He wrote grim sullen death without his light-hearted companion chance than Millard continues, quote, the thought of surrender sickened him. But in this moment of fury frustration and despair the words of Napoleon whom he had long studied and admired came to him quote. When one is alone and unarmed, a surrender maybe pardoned and quote. Millard closes the scene by stating quote standing before the man who is now his captor Churchill raised his hands in the air and quote. Winston Churchill just fifteen days shy of his twenty fifth birthday was now a bore prisoner of war. What would happen to him next was anyone's guess, but it's safe to say that as soon as his hands went up on that rainy day as soon as his surrender was made official a new thought entered his mind, and that thought was escape.