With Winston Churchill at the Front, by Captain X
London & Glasgow: Gowans and Gray, Ltd., 1924. First edition. Paperback. This scarce 1924 paperback is a personal reminiscence of Winston S. Churchill’s improbable and extraordinary active service at the Front during the First World War. “The soldiers of Churchill’s command in Flanders in 1916 received him dubiously as an exiled politician plied regularly with luxury parcels from home; by the end of his tour of duty Churchill had earned their respect.” In this scarce and compelling book, “The author, who served with him, expounds favorably on the transformation.”
That author, anonymously credited as “Captain X” in this publication, was Captain Andrew Dewar Gibb (1888-1974). Gibb served with Churchill’s Royal Scots Fusiliers, eventually achieving the rank of Major. Gibb later became a member of the English Bar, a distinguished legal scholar, lecturer in English and Scots law at the Universities of Edinburgh and Cambridge, and eventually Dean of the University of Glasgow’s Law Faculty. Like his former commanding officer, Gibb was also no stranger to politics, serving as Scottish National Party leader from 1936-1940.
This visually striking little paperback measures 6.5 x 3.75 inches (16.5 x 9.5 cm) and numbers 112 pages. The front cover features a head and shoulders image of Churchill circa 1916 wearing a trench coat and his French Poilu's helmet. Within is a frontispiece photograph featuring a full-length photograph of Churchill in Flanders in 1916, kitted in the same coat and helmet. Of note, this photograph became the basis for the image featured eight years later on the dust jacket of Churchill’s Amid These Storms (1932).
Condition is good, with age and wear expected of a century-old paperback but nonetheless sound. The covers remain attached, albeit soiled, spotted, and edge worn with closed tears at the hinge extremities. The spine is substantially intact, missing the bottom 1 inch (2.5 cm). Despite the loss, the entirety of the printed spine title – “WITH WINSTON CHURCHILL AT THE FRONT” – remains intact. The contents are bright with no previous ownership marks, though with intermittent spotting, substantial only at the prelims.
A quarter of a century before the Second World War endowed him with lasting fame, Churchill played a uniquely critical, controversial, and varied role in the “War to end all wars”, which imposed a double jeopardy on Churchill, nearly costing him both his political and corporeal lives.
In October 1911, aged 36, Winston Churchill was appointed First Lord of the Admiralty. He entered the post with the brief to change war strategy and ensure the readiness of the world’s most powerful navy. He did both. Nonetheless, when Churchill advocated successfully for a naval campaign in the Dardanelles that ultimately proved disastrous, a convergence of factors sealed his political fate. Churchill was scapegoated and forced to resign, leaving the Admiralty in May 1915.
By November, Churchill resigned even his nominal Cabinet posts to spend the rest of his political exile as a lieutenant colonel leading a battalion in the trenches at the Front. This was as extraordinary as it sounds. Churchill had last seen active service in 1900. In the intervening years, he had served nearly 15 years as a Member of Parliament, 7 years as a member of the Cabinet, and more than 4 years in charge of the British Navy. But now, at 40 years old, Churchill returned to battle. He commanded Royal Scots Fusiliers at Ploegsteert (“Plug Street”), Belgium, south of Ypres, northwest of Armentieres. Gibb wrote “No more popular officer ever commanded… he left behind men who will always be his loyal partisans and admirers.”
Before war's end, Churchill was exonerated by the Dardanelles Commission and rejoined the Government, foreshadowing the political isolation and restoration he would experience two decades later leading up to the Second World War. Despite Churchill's political recovery, the stigma of the Dardanelles lingered, eventually eclipsed only by his storied Second World War premiership.
Reference: Zoller A9. Item #006726