A colleague asks if it’s true that Churchill comrade Jack Seely was “arrested for arrogance” in the Boer War! It doesn’t sound to either of us like an arrestable offense, but fits the character—a lordly aristocrat-adventurer, and thus almost inevitable Friend of Winston.
A Churchill biographer, Esme Wingfield-Stratford, agreed: “Gallant Jack Seely, from the Isle of Wight…a light-hearted gambler with death, was about the one man who could claim a record to compare with that of Winston himself.”
C.N Trueman thinks that Jack Seely could not have lived in the 21st century. “He truly belonged to an era associated with the British Empire and the attitudes embedded into a society that at one point had a government that controlled a quarter of the world.”
Like Churchill, “Galloping Jack” Seely, later Lord Mottistone (1868-1947), was a soldier-statesman. Aboard his famous horse “Warrior,” Seely led Canadians in the last major cavalry charge, at Moreuil Wood in 1918. (That was twenty years after Omdurman, in which Churchill participated, and is often erroneously described as the last of its kind). “Warrior” has been cited as the model for the novel and motion picture War Horse.
Seely met Churchill at Harrow. He later recalled the astonishing scene of young Winston showing his aged nanny, Mrs. Everest, around the school—risking the derision of fellow pupils. It was, Seely recalled, the bravest act he’d ever seen. Like Churchill, he served in the Second Boer War, though as a soldier not a war correspondent. Mentioned four times in despatches, he was awarded the DSO in 1900.
Again like Churchill, Seely entered Parliament as a Conservative and harassed his party as a member of the “Hooligans,” the young bloods who often criticized the Establishment. A free-trader like WSC, Seely resigned from the Tories in 1904, and was reelected unopposed as an independent Conservative. In 1906 he joined the Liberal Party, where he remained until 1922. Seely and Churchill were called “rats” by their former party. In 1912 during a hot debate on Irish Home Rule, Churchill waved his handkerchief at the Tory opposition. Infuriated, an Ulster Unionist threw the Speaker’s copy of the standing orders at Churchill, drawing blood. Seely escorted Churchill from the House.
Seely’s Later Life
Jack Seely succeeded Churchill as Colonial Undersecretary in 1908 and Air Minister in 1921. He served betimes as Minister of War, without distinction; the Curragh Mutiny occurred on his watch. Churchill was once accused of being the worst War Minister in history. He replied, not while Jack Seely was still alive.
The two of them enjoyed some memorable banter. It was to Seely that Churchill quipped:
Jack, when you cross Europe you land at Marsay, spend a night in Lee-on and another in Par-ee, and, crossing by Callay, eventually reach Londres. I land at Marsales, spend a night in Lions, and another in Paris, and come home to LONDON!
(Anglicizing foreign names was typical of Churchill. When, during World War II, a staffer pronounced the German place name Walshavn as “Varllsharvern.” WSC remonstrated: “Don’t be so B.B.C.—the place is WALLS-HAVEN.”)
All this is wonderful grub, though we found no answer to our original question: was Seely arrested for arrogance? The story might be in his grandson’s book Galloper Jack, or in Seely’s own autobiography, Adventure—which his grandson describes as “not exactly understated.”
Jack Seely was certainly no shrinking violet. It’s worth learning more about him.