Churchill’s First War

Written by Con Coughlin
Review by Mary Tod

What many people know about Winston Churchill centers on his stirring leadership during WWII as Britain’s Prime Minister. Here Con Coughlin gives us a young Churchill, a man of aristocratic upbringing whose father left the family impoverished and with a “somewhat tarnished reputation.” After successfully graduating from Sandhurst, Winston sets out to gain “personal and political advancement.” His objective is to distinguish himself in battle. With ongoing struggles on the North-West Frontier, India is the logical choice, and Winston pulls many strings to secure himself a role with the Malakand Field Force.

As Coughlin relates Churchill’s military exploits, he provides great insights into Britain’s colonial past and its troublesome relationship with the Afghan tribes, notably the Pashtuns. He then enriches the story by drawing parallels to recent events involving Britain, the US and other NATO countries in Afghanistan. Churchill’s experiences “gave him a deep awareness of the human cost of conflict.” During WWI and WWII, he remained “in close contact with soldiers fighting on the front line to make sure he kept its horror clear before his eyes.”

Churchill’s First War is a deeply researched work. Weaving narrative with quoted materials from an extensive collection of books, articles, journals and letters, Con Coughlin explains the failures of the campaigns to quell the Afghans in the late 19th and early 21st centuries.