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.
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.”