In late 1895 Winston Churchill and a brother army officer, Reginald Barnes, traveled to Cuba to serve as observers with the Spanish army in the field against the Cuban rebels. It was Churchill’s first adventure. The 18-days Churchill spent in Cuba is studied in a thorough fashion in Churchill Comes of Age: Cuba 1895 by Hal Klepak. In this excellent and well-written book the author argues that in the “conception, preparation, conduct and aftermath” of the Cuban adventure Churchill “came of age” and had “taken a giant step towards becoming his own man.” On the island he came under fire for the first time, reported on the conflict as a correspondent for a London newspaper, received public attention for his exploits, aroused controversy in the American and British press, and had the opportunity for political and military analysis of the Cuban situation as well as developed an appreciation for cigars and siestas.
Klepak is a professor emeritus of the Royal Military College of Canada and author of Cuba‘s Military 1990-2005: Revolutionary Soldiers During Counter-Revolutionary Times and Raul Castro and Cuba: A Military. Possessing both a knowledge of Cuban history as well as a fluency in Spanish, he sets the story of Churchill in Cuba amid the overall Spanish and insurgent military operations underway on the island in late November and early December 1895. As Klepak, writes Churchill was attached to the Spanish forces during a critical moment in Cuban history, the invasion of the western part of the island by the rebels. By “extraordinary” coincidence Churchill was present at the “culminating moment of Cuba’s military and thus political history.”
The author uses Spanish language materials (archival documents, periodicals, newspapers, memoirs, and secondary sources) to good effect in telling the story. He emphasizes that Churchill’s visit was welcomed by the Spanish, includes comments from Spanish General Suarez Valdes on Churchill’s calmness and courage while under fire, and questions the claim that Churchill received his baptism of fire on his 21st birthday. It was actually on the day after. Capsule biographies of many of the Spanish officers Churchill encountered on the island are included.