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Fleming Churchill Story - An Internet of Lies Winston Churchill’s life saved by a doctor

Summary of eRumor:

A Scottish farmer saves a drowning boy’s life, but refuses a reward from the boy’s nobleman father.  The nobleman then offers to provide an education for the farmer’s son.  The son grows up to become Sir Alexander Fleming, the discoverer of penicillin.  Years later, the nobleman’s son is stricken with pneumonia but saved by penicillin.  That nobleman’s son is Winston Churchill.

The Truth:

According to the Winston Churchill center in Washington, D.C., this is a myth.  There is no evidence these events ever happened.  Churchill’s official biographer, Sir Martin Gilbert, says there’s no record of Churchill nearly drowning or of his father paying for Fleming’s education.  Churchill was once treated for pneumonia, but according to the center, not with penicillin.

updated 07/06/07

So, Alexander Fleming's father saved a young Winston Churchill from drowning in a bog. Or young Alexander Fleming himself saved a young Winston Churchill from drowning in a swimming hole. Or young Alexander Fleming helped Winston Churchill's father get his carriage out of the mud and back onto the road. Well, whatever: we've got two fathers and two sons: one of the four helped one of the other three, and one of the remaining two paid for somebody's education. Or something like that. It's a good story, so let's not weigh it down with a bunch of pesky
know of these people's lives. No Churchill biography we've found mentions young Winston's chance encounter with a Fleming, father or son. Alexander Fleming was born in a remote, rural part of Scotland and lived on an farm that was a mile from the nearest house — not the sort of place where a vacationing Winston would have been likely to wander, or to be discovered by anyone if he had. As well, Winston was seven years older than Alexander, so young Alexander would probably have been too small to physically rescue the older and larger Winston from drowning.

But we don't have to speculate about those matters to disprove the tale. Alexander Fleming did not leave the farm to rush off to medical school to become the doctor he had supposedly always longed to be. In fact, young Alec (as he was then known) departed for London when he was 14, where his older brother Tom had studied medicine and opened a practice. Alec attended the Polytechnic School in Regent Street; after graduating, he entered the business world at the urging of his brother, worked as a clerk for a shipping firm for a few years, then joined a Scottish regiment when the Boer War broke out. It was not until after all of this that Alec decided to try his hand at medical school, and even then it was the encouragement of his older brother that was the deciding factor, not a lifelong yearning on Alec's part to become a doctor. Additionally, Alec's medical school education was financed with a £250 inheritance from a recently-deceased uncle, not an endowment from a grateful Randolph Churchill.

Nor is the other end of this tale true. Winston Churchill did come down with a sore throat and a high fever while in Tunis (on the way home from his meeting with Franklin Roosevelt and Josef Stalin in Tehran), and the diagnosis of the medical team called in from Cairo by his personal physician (Charles Wilson, later Lord Moran) was pneumonia. According to Wilson's biography, Churchill was treated with sulphonamide (an antimicrobial, but one unrelated to penicillin) and digitalis (for his heart) and sent to bed to rest. By the time a specialist, Professor John Scadding, was flown in from London, Churchill was already well on his way to recovery. In short, Alexander Fleming was neither present nor consulted when Churchill was diagnosed with pneumonia, nor was penicillin used to treat the British prime minister.

According to the Churchill Archives Centre in Cambridge, Churchill publicly denied the Fleming story in 1946.

This bit of netsam aside, Alexander Fleming's life has already been the subject of considerable mythologizing. His discovery of penicillin was not the instant boon to medicine that we now assume it was. In fact, Fleming himself did not realize the significance of his findings: thinking he had developed a mere antiseptic that was too slow-acting and too difficult to produce in large quantities, Fleming failed to test his penicillin thoroughly, wrote a tepidly-received paper about it, and moved on to other work. There ended his real involvement with the "greatest medical advance of the 20th (or any other) century." In 1935, two specialists, Howard Florey, head of Oxford's William Dunn School of Pathology, and Ernst Chain, a Cambridge took up where Fleming's paper left off and spent several years at the arduous laboratory work of refining and testing penicillin to produce the world's first effective antibiotic. Fleming visited the two men at the Dunn School after they published their first paper on penicillin in 1940 (by which time Chain thought Fleming was dead) and didn't reappear on the scene until after penicillin had proved itself invaluable during World The press lauded the newly-emerged Fleming as the lone genius responsible for the miracle of penicillin, and he was awarded numerous honors, including a knighthood and the 1945 Nobel Prize for medicine. (The Nobel Prize committee, at least, was on the ball and named Florey and Chain as of the honor.)

Read more at http://www.snopes.com/glurge/fleming.asp#ihkZx0oRCgZdSdQY.99

A real example of the eRumor as it has appeared on the Internet:

His name was Fleming, and he was a poor Scottish farmer. One day, while trying to make out a living for his family, he heard a cry for help coming from a nearby bog. He dropped his tools and ran to the bog. There, mired to his waist in black muck, was a terrified boy, screaming and struggling to free himself. Farmer Fleming saved the lad from what could have been a slow and terrifying death.

The next day, a fancy carriage pulled up to the Scotsman’s sparse surroundings. An elegantly dressed nobleman stepped out and introduced himself as the father of the boy Farmer Fleming had saved.

“I want to repay you,” said the nobleman. “You saved my son’s life.” “No, I can’t accept payment for what I did,” the Scottish farmer replied, waving off the offer. At that moment, the farmer’s own son came to the door of the family hovel. “Is that your son?” the nobleman asked. “Yes,” the farmer replied proudly. “I’ll make you a deal. Let me take him and give him a good education. If the lad is anything like his father, he’ll grow to a man you can be proud of.”

And that he did. In time, Farmer Fleming’s son graduated from St. Mary’s Hospital Medical School in London, and went on to become known throughout the world as the noted Sir Alexander Fleming, the discoverer of Penicillin.

Years afterward, the nobleman’s son was stricken with pneumonia. What saved him? Penicillin.

The name of the nobleman? Lord Randolph Churchill. His son’s name? Sir Winston Churchill. Someone once said: What goes around comes around. Work like you don’t need the money. Love like you’ve never been hurt. Dance like nobody’s watching.

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