The year was 1899, and England found itself embroiled in The Boer War of South Africa.
Things were going terribly for the Brits. For one young Englishman, things were about to get even worse.
Sent to act as a reporter on the war, the correspondent boarded an armored military train headed to Chieveley along with several soldiers.
The only problem? They were running right through the heart of Boer-occupied territory.
Riding through the heart of Africa in a steel box before the advent of air conditioning was about as miserable an experience as possible. But when the train came to a screeching halt due to a large boulder that had been rolled onto the tracks, things got even worse.
The train stumbled into a Boer ambush.
Boers hid throughout the undergrowth and then opened fire. For 70 minutes, the reporter assisted the soldiers in clearing the track so they could get out of there.
But the ambush was too much.
Some of the Englishmen escaped into the jungle, but the Boers marched the rest off to a prisoner-of-war camp at the Boer capital of Pretoria.
For four long weeks, the reporter chafed at his imprisonment. He later wrote that he hated his time in the camp “more than any other period in my life.”
And so, late one night, when the guards weren’t watching, the reporter stuffed a biscuit and a bit of chocolate into his pocket and climbed over the 10-foot wall that separated the prison from the rest of the world.
Somehow, he was free. But freedom was seldom safe, and for the reporter, this truth stuck hard. Three hundred miles of African wilderness lay between him and English territory.
He had to brave hunger, thirst, black mambas, and, of course, the Boers if he was to succeed.
But what other choice did he have? And so he pressed on.
Moving only under the cover of darkness, the correspondent happened across a railway that he knew headed east to Delagoa Bay, where safety awaited. When thirsty, he would drink from streams.
When hungry, he would steal food from homes he stumbled across. But eventually, his hunger got the best of him. He decided to take a chance and knocked on the door of a nearby coal mine manager.
As fortune would have it, the man who opened the door was another Englishman named John Howard. Howard knew that the Boers had placed a bounty on the reporter’s head and secreted him away in a nearby mine until he could safely smuggle the reporter out.
For several days, the reporter only knew the company of the rats that skittered across the floor. Eventually, however, the time was ripe for escape.
A freight train was headed to Mozambique. If the reporter could sneak aboard, he would have a chance.
The reporter followed John’s advice. He managed to get aboard the train without anybody noticing and made his way to freedom.
England was ecstatic when it welcomed the correspondent back to its arms…that correspondent…future Prime Minister Winston Churchill had just done the impossible.
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