On January 10, 1893 the 18-year old Winston Churchill suffered a terrible fall while playing in the forests on the estate of his aunt Lady Wimborne that was near Bournemouth. The dense woods were a great place for a game of chase that he played with his younger brother and cousin. For twenty minutes he was pursued through the woods by the pair. By now tiring and out of breath, Churchill decided to evade his chasers by crossing a “rustic” bridge that stretched over a deep gully. He had reached the middle of the 50 yard bridge when he suddenly realized that the bridge had been a mistake as his pursuers had, in a piece of brilliant strategy, split up. They suddenly appeared at each end of the structure. Capture was imminent, but then “in a flash” Churchill thought he saw his avenue of escape. There were many young trees near the bridge and if he jumped from the bridge to the top of a tree he could slide down with the branches snapping off as he went thus slowing his descent. Churchill fearlessly climbed over the balustrade and hesitated as he considered his predicament. As he wrote in his memoirs at that point “to plunge or not to plunge, was the question.” Of course, being Churchill he plunged. The sound thinking in theory turned out to be reckless in application. He fell 29 feet to the ground, suffering a ruptured kidney among his injuries. Unable to rouse Churchill when they reached him on the ground, his brother and cousin raced to fetch Lady Randolph telling her that Winston had jumped from the bridge and “he won’t speak to us.” The romp in the woods ended with eminent surgeons being summoned, Lord Randolph racing over from Dublin, and Churchill unconscious for three days.
This blog entry is drawn from my article, “The Accidental Churchill: Mishaps, Tumbles and Narrow Escapes” that was published in The Churchillian: The Magazine of the National Churchill Museum (Winter 2012). The journal is available here.