The Destiny of a Lion—Winston Churchill’s Lifelong Prophecy

June 13, 2024 Topic: Security Region: Europe Tags: HistoryWinston ChurchillWorld War II

The Destiny of a Lion—Winston Churchill’s Lifelong Prophecy

British prime minister Winston Churchill survived multiple brushes with death before ascending to high office in World War II.


The date May 10, 1940, will forever be of singular importance in the history of warfare, the day on which Nazi Germany unleashed its simultaneous invasions of France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. Paradoxically, it was also the critical day that would preordain humanity’s eventual victory over the fascist plans of domination. That evening, Winston Churchill was appointed Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Writing in his war memoirs of that momentous day, he said, “I felt as if I were walking with destiny, and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial.”

The story and importance of Sir Winston Churchill is well known: laying at the core of the campaign of resistance against the Nazis, the British lion saved the free world. Had Britain and her Empire capitulated after the fall of France, the Nazis would have dedicated their entire military might against the Soviet Union—most likely striking deep into Eurasia. The United States would have remained geopolitically and militarily isolated, and North Africa would have served as fascist Italy’s playhouse. Imperial Japan would have dominated the Far East, and there would have been no opening for a D-Day and the subsequent liberation of Western Europe.


Crucial to Churchill’s role as the warrior safeguarding the flame of liberty and freedom in humanity’s darkest hour was that throughout his life, he maintained this titanic sense that he was “walking with destiny.”

First seen in the summer of 1891, a sixteen-year-old Churchill told his schoolfriend, “I can see vast changes coming over a now peaceful world; great upheavals, terrible struggles; wars such as one cannot imagine; and I tell you London will be in danger—London will be attacked and I shall be very prominent in the defence of London.” In that same conversation, the Victorian schoolboy would prophesize, “In the high position I shall occupy, it will fall to me to save the Capital and save the Empire.”

Such fervent predictions would have naturally seemed ludicrous at the time. Contextually, Great Britain was still the world’s undisputed superpower. Though other nations, like the United States, had been growing in influence, the 1890s were very much in the grand shadow of the Pax Britannica. The threats posed by Napoleon had long passed, and the British Empire had undertaken an exponential expansion in size and power. Britannia ruled the waves.

Two principal reasons gave him this profound sense of purpose and personal destiny: his ancestry and his many brushes with death.

He was a descendant of General John Churchill, the First Duke of Marlborough. A statesman and soldier, this general is regarded as one of the greatest military commanders in history. As Winston wrote in his biography of this grand ancestor, “It is the common boast of his champions that he never fought a battle that he did not win, nor besieged a fortress he did not take.”

Being of such legendary kin—after all, his own grandfather was the Seventh Duke of Marlborough—remained a cornerstone in his life story.

Moreover, Winston was born in Blenheim Palace, which Parliament bestowed to the First Duke of Marlborough in 1705 for his extraordinary victories in the War of The Spanish Succession.

On the matter of near-death experiences, Churchill’s life began with a struggle; he was born two months prematurely in an age of questionable medical care. Churchill was stabbed by a fellow schoolmate at ten; a year later, he almost died of pneumonia. Less than a month before he turned twelve, he nearly perished in a house fire. 

At nineteen, Churchill and his brother would almost drown in Lake Geneva in a boating expedition. Later, as First Lord of the Admiralty, he almost drowned boarding a ship in rough weather—luckily being saved by a nearby sailor.

Eager to learn to fly, Churchill took the skies in 1913. However, his progress was stopped after the many pleas of his wife, Clementine, who was concerned about the safety of such early aircraft. 

Nonetheless, between January 1919 and April 1921, the Liberal politician held the cabinet position of Secretary of State for Air and, as such, retook to flying. It was then, in July 1919, that he crashed his plane with his instructor—both, luckily, escaped with their lives. 

As a soldier, he fought in five different campaigns across four continents.

In 1897, he found himself as a Second Lieutenant stationed in the North Western Frontier of the British Raj. Taking part in the relief force of the Siege of Malakand, he wrote to his mother, “I have faith in my star—that is that I am intended to do something in this world,” in response to the idea that he may be killed or wounded in battle.

The following year, at the age of twenty-five, he took part in the last major cavalry charge of the British Empire—at the Battle of Omdurman. Following the battle, Churchill learned that his friend Richard Molyneux—the third son of the Fourth Earl of Sefton—had been severely injured. So, he gallantly gave a skin graft from his forearm, about the size of a British shilling, to save Richard—who was then a member of the Royal Horse Guards. 

Recounting the event in his autobiography, My Early Life, Churchill said, “I for my part keep the scar as a souvenir.” On learning of Molyneux’s passing in 1954, Sir Winston told his private doctor that “he will take my skin with him, a kind of advance guard, into the next world.”

Just over a year after the Battle of Omdurman, a twenty-six-year-old Winston Churchill found himself, yet again, in the heart of battle in South Africa, this time writing as a war correspondent for the Morning Post during the Second Boer War. 

Churchill was aboard an armored train derailed by Boer forces. Despite the hostile fire from Boer snipers, the young Winston directed the freeing of the locomotive and placed many of the wounded back on board. He was subsequently captured as a prisoner of war. Luckily for him, he was not shot dead by a field court-martial, a likely outcome for an armed civilian in combat at that time. 

Less than a month later, on December 12, 1899, he conducted his daring escape. On the run, he traveled through 300 miles of enemy territory from Pretoria to Portuguese East Africa—at one point hiding in a mineshaft. When his candle let out, he could feel the rats scurrying across his face. 

For his jailers, he left a letter. Addressed to the Transvaal Secretary of State for War, it smugly professed that, “I do not consider that your Government was justified in holding me, a press correspondent and a non combatant a prisoner, and I have consequently resolved to escape. […]  Regretting that circumstances have not permitted me to bid you a personal farewell, Believe me.”

Churchill could not help himself but add a postscript: p.p.c, meaning pour prendre congé (“to take my leave”). Contextually, this was frequently used by the British aristocracy on the calling cards that they would leave on a table or give to a butler present as they left a room. Churchill certainly knew that such a gesture was the exact kind of behavior despised by his Boer capturers.

In the First World War, following his leading role in the disastrous Gallipoli military campaign, Churchill later humiliatingly left the war cabinet to fight on the front lines in the Western Front. Acting as Lieutenant Colonel of the 6th Royal Scots Fusiliers, he crossed no-man’s-land at least thirty times, getting so close to the German trenches that he could hear the conversations of the enemy.

As a soldier of his battalion recounted, “He never fell when a shell went off; he never ducked when a bullet went past with its loud crack. He used to say, after watching me duck: ‘It’s no damn use ducking; the bullet has gone a long way past you by now.’”

Winston’s philosophy was that he would never force the soldiers under his command to do anything that he was not willing to do himself.

His bravery was simply unmatched. In fact, on one occasion, while having breakfast in February 1916, German shelling forced Churchill and his comrades into a nearby dugout for cover. Perhaps everyone but Churchill would have been shell-shocked by such an event, but Winston simply continued to eat his breakfast. As he subsequently wrote to his wife, “It was odd gobbling bacon & marmalade in the dugout, while the doctor bandaged the great raw wounds of our poor officer a foot or two away!”

What we ultimately see is that Churchill’s countless brushes with death—both in peace and war—paired with his illustrious ancestry provided such a rare and unique life story that allowed him to possess an unbelievable sense of purpose and destiny. 

It is thanks to his momentous, life-long prophesy that he became the one man who truly “walked with destiny” in one of humanity’s darkest hours.