Churchillnomics: The “Stricken Field”

Churchillnomics: The “Stricken Field”

A quarter-century later as Chancellor of the Exchequer, WSC was still waging a forlorn campaign for government economy. ("Poy" in the Daly Mail, 25 January 1926.
A quar­ter-cen­tu­ry lat­er in his father’s old office as Chan­cel­lor of the Exche­quer, WSC was still wag­ing a for­lorn cam­paign for gov­ern­ment econ­o­my. (“Poy” in the Dai­ly Mail, 25 Jan­u­ary 1926.)

Young Win­ston Churchill’s sec­ond speech in Par­lia­ment was a bravu­ra per­for­mance tak­ing up his father’s theme for econ­o­my in the bud­get.

In Churchill in His Own Words (p 45) I date this quo­ta­tion 12 May 1901 and cite Churchill’s Mr. Brodrick’s Army, his 1903 vol­ume of speech­es (fac­sim­i­le edi­tion, Sacra­men­to: Churchilliana Com­pa­ny, 1977), 16:

Wise words, Sir, stand the test of time, and I am very glad the House has allowed me, after an inter­val of fif­teen years, to raise the tat­tered flag I found lying on a strick­en field.

The “tat­tered flag” was Lord Ran­dolph Churchill’s cam­paign for econ­o­my in the late 1880s. (Thir­ty-nine years lat­er to the day, in his first speech as Prime Min­is­ter, his son would raise anoth­er tat­tered flag upon a very strick­en field.)

My col­league Andrew Roberts writes to advise that date was May 13th not 12th, and that “strick­en field” is absent in Sir Robert Rhodes James, ed., Win­ston S. Churchill: His Com­plete Speech­es 1897-1963 vol. 1, p 79:

Wise words, Sir, stand the test of time, and I am very glad the House has allowed me, 
after an inter­val of fif­teen years, to lift again the tat­tered flag of retrench­ment and
 econ­o­my.

This is con­firmed by Hansard (13 May 1901, para­graph 1566). So when and where did Churchill actu­al­ly deploy “strick­en field”?

Here is anoth­er case of our boy embroi­der­ing Hansard in one of his speech vol­umes (and mis-dat­ing it, which he did occa­sion­al­ly). Mr. Roberts reminds me that speak­ers were allowed to alter Hansard entries if they did so with­in 24 hours, but obvi­ous­ly our author did not change his word­ing until 1903.

Churchill, nev­er for­got a melo­di­ous phrase. It is like­ly that he recalled “strick­en field” from a poem by the Cana­di­an John McCrae (lat­er famous for “In Flan­ders Fields”). In “The Uncon­quered Dead” (1895), first stan­za, McCrae wrote:

Of we the con­quered! Not to us the blame                                                                                 Of them that flee, of them that base­ly yield;                                                                           Nor ours the shout of vic­to­ry, the fame                                                                                    Of them that van­quish in a strick­en field.

Churchill’s first usage (prop­er­ly with­in quotes) was in The Riv­er War (Lon­don: Long­mans, 1899) II 255-56, regard­ing the Bat­tle of Omdur­man:

The Emir [Ahmed Fedil] had faith­ful­ly dis­charged his duty, and he was hur­ry­ing to his master’s assis­tance with a strong and well-dis­ci­plined force of not less than 8,000 men when, while yet six­ty miles from the city, he received the news of “the strick­en field.”

Churchill again used “strick­en field” in ref­er­ence to the Bat­tle of Maju­ba (The Boer War, 275); to the Dervish empire (My African Journey, 117); to Mar­shal Foch (Blood Sweat and Tears, 166); and to Charles II (His­to­ry of the Eng­lish-Speak­ing Peo­ples, II, 298).

I will add this to the cor­rec­tions for my next edi­tion of Churchill in His Own Words—”if there is one.”

2 thoughts on “Churchillnomics: The “Stricken Field”

  1. Accord­ing to Ernest Hem­ing­way: A Com­pre­hen­sive Bib­li­og­ra­phy, by Audre Han­ne­man, “Hemingway’s anony­mous epi­graph for Martha Gellhorn’s nov­el, A Strick­en Field [is] cred­it­ed to a ‘Medieval Chron­i­cle.'” Gellhorn’s nov­el was pub­lished in 1940, Churchill’s first usage was 1903, McRae’s 1895. Unless there is some ear­li­er work named a “Medieval Chron­i­cle,” would it not be more like­ly that Gell­horn, like Churchill, read McRae? It would seem right up her alley.

  2. A much ear­li­er use of “a strick­en field” is found in a Medieval Chron­i­cle. See the full pas­sage used as an epi­graph by Martha Gell­horn in her nov­el of that title, A Strick­en Field. While “The Uncon­quered Dead” may have been in Churchill’s mind, one won­ders whether he also had read the Chron­i­cle. Cer­tain­ly he shared the view of the old knight who says, “…A bat­tle is fought to be won. And it is this that hap­pens if you lose.”

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