On August 19, 1893 the 18-year old Winston Churchill was at the Hotel de Zermatt in Zermatt, Switzerland on a walking tour of the country. The tour was made in the company of his brother Jack as well as J.D.G. Little, an Eton tutor.

During the tour the group climbed in the mountains and went to Lausanne. In his memoirs of his youth, My Early Life, Churchill tells the story of how he and his brother went for a row in a small boat on the beautiful lake at Lausanne. When they were over a mile from shore Winston and Jack decided to pull off their clothes and jump into the water for a swim. They had great fun. Their boat was about 100 yards away with a breeze picking up when they decided they had had enough swimming. As the pair swam towards the boat it drifted farther along with the vessel’s awning acting as a sail in the breeze. After hard swimming they only halved the distance to the boat while the breeze was strengthening and both of them were tiring. Churchill later wrote that “up to this point no idea of danger had crossed my mind.” The boat was, however, moving away from them at about the same speed as they could swim.

With no help nearby and the shore too far away, the desperate situation they faced became apparent. It was in the water at Lausanne that day that Churchill “now saw Death as near as I believe I have ever seen Him.” Death was “swimming in the water at our side, whispering from time to time in the rising wind.” Winston desperately swam ahead of Jack. Twice he came within a yard of the boat only to see it carried off by another gust of wind. At last with a “supreme effort” he caught a hold of its side and held on just as another breeze caught the awning. Churchill managed to scramble aboard the boat and quickly rowed back for Jack who was tired but unaware of the “dull yellow glare of mortal peril that had so suddenly played around us.”