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Podcast #21 - Did James Churchward earn the rank of Colonel? Part Two

This is part two of a two-part podcast examining the evidence to answer the question, "Did James Churchward earn the rank of Colonel?"

In part one we discussed the evidence that showed James was a Colonel and in this podcast we will examine evidence to the contrary.

First, most of the biographies written about James use the date of 1868 or late 1860s to identify the time period that he served as a Colonel. Whoever wrote the material obviously does not understand that not many teenagers (in 1868, James would have been seventeen years old) were placed in command of large military units of the British Empire. James was not old enough to be a Colonel in the late 1860s or 1870s, so his age does not lend credence to a claim of having achieved the military rank of Colonel during that time period.

Next, according to the official 1871 British census, James was living with his mother and three siblings in Croydon, London. It is possible that he was just using his mother's house as home address for correspondence while he was away in the military, but the occupation block on the form would note this. James' occupation was listed as a Banker's Clerk, actually the form reads that he had the same occupation as his brother, John, listed above him and brother John was a Banker's Clerk. Younger brother Albert is listed as a medical student, just in case you were wondering. In 1871, three years after leading the Bengal Lancers and Royal Engineers in far away India, James was living at home with his mother and working as a Banker's Clerk in London. Either James goofed up something so bad that he was expelled from the service or he was not a Royal Engineer or Bengal Lancer commander at the age of twenty.

Remarkably, James did marry Mary Julia Stephens in December 1871 and became the owner of two tea plantations in Sri Lanka. One of them was named 'Hatherleigh', according to a copy of a letter from his wife. In September of 1872, my grandfather, James Alexander was born in Colombo, Sri Lanka. During the next seven or so years, James lived and worked on his Tea plantations where he maybe served in a local militia, but not in the regular forces.

In the official 1881 British census, James' occupation is listed as an 'East Indian Planter'. James' departure from Sri Lanka was accomplished by boarding a native schooner using a disguise and slipping away at night, according to an account in his own handwriting dated September 5th, 1881. Because he escaped custody to take his cruise, it was unlikely that he might be a suitable candidate for the British military. While wanted by Sri Lankan and other British authorities, he might have traveled incognito for the next few years in the Pacific. I believe that enough evidence has been presented to show that James Churchward did not have the time necessary to be in the military and rise to the rank of Colonel.

My correspondence with the British Library, which holds all the records from the British Empire in India, reveals that nobody with the name James Churchward served in the military in India. There were other Churchwards, but none with the name 'James.'

Of course rumors from an unimpeachable source that he served in some secret intelligence service and had his official records purged could explain the lack of documentation. On the other hand, a more reasonable explanation is that the rumor was fabricated to bolster James' reputation and explain away the lack of records about his military service. I can surmise that the ultimate aim of this subterfuge is to sell books; for the record: I do not have a financial interest in sales of his books and I am only interested in the truth.

Another piece of solid evidence against James using the title 'Colonel' is in the form of a letter between James wife, Mary Julia and James' brother George Gould Churchward dated May 14th, year unknown. In part she states:

"He is no more a Colonel than you are and of course he has never been in the army except as a volunteer."
"When I came to this country in 1889, I heard to my astonishment - that he claimed to be a British military officer he dropped that and stuck a C.E. after his name."
To be fair, James did have cousins in the British military. For instance, Brigadier-General Paul Rycaut Stanbury Churchward (1858-1935) had a distinguished military career and served in India, Ceylon and Africa. After being wounded at Gallipoli, he developed dysentery and retired in 1917. Paul's son, Capt. Paul Rycaut de Shordiche Shordiche-Churchward (1907-1981), also had a distinguished military career. He is also known for his participation in the 1931-1932 expedition to central Brazil to find Colonel Percy Fawcett.

In summary, I believe that the evidence shows that James Churchward was not a Colonel in the British Army and the use of the title was unearned. While this is the conclusion I reached given the evidence, I would be absolutely dumbfounded if someone did not disagree. If I have overlooked something, I am more than willing to re-evaluate the subject with any new evidence that is presented.

On the other hand, James, as a showman, needed the title to create the atmosphere and keep his audience enthralled. At the end of the day, if James used the title to bolster his presentation and sell himself to make a living, then who am I to judge him? I already know the truth; does it change his message? Is the underlying theme of hope through understanding overshadowed by the knowledge that James embellished his persona? I certainly hope not. Anything that gets people away from conflict and confrontation and towards dialog should be a positive contribution. Essentially, James' theory was that we all came from the same place and we are all the same people - and we need to find a way to get back to that realization. In this day and age, is that a bad thing? Whatever your ethnicity, national identity or religious (or unreligious) background, can we recognize our shared human condition? Can we agree to be more tolerant of that which we don't understand until we understand it and agree to be less tolerant of behaviors that push people apart? I am not advocating everybody sit in a circle, hold hands and sing kumbaya, but goodness gracious, can't we have a civil discourse?

I'm climbing off my soapbox now.

Thanks for listening and have a great day.

2010 Churchward & Company, Inc.