Page last updated at 13:01 GMT, Thursday, 17 December 2009

Churchill's unpaid India bill on show

By Geeta Pandey
BBC News, Bangalore

Churchill's unpaid ledger at the Banglaore Club
Evidence of the unpaid bill is clear for all to see

Former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill still owes the exclusive Bangalore Club in southern India 13 rupees in unpaid bills.

An entry in the ledger book of the club from June 1899 has "Lt WLS Churchill" named as one of 17 defaulters.

Churchill arrived in Bangalore in 1896 as a young army officer and left three years later to fight in the North-West Frontier - now in Pakistan.

The Bangalore club was formed in 1868 by a group of British officers.

Today, it is one of India's most elite clubs, retaining much of its late 19th- and early 20th-Century splendour.

'Rarest of the rare'

"He was just another young officer, no-one thought he would one day become the prime minister of Britain," club Secretary Col Krishnan Dakshina Murthy told the BBC.

Bangalore Club Secretary Col Krishnan Dakshina Murthy
It is seldom that the prime minister of a country would be owing something to a club in another country
Col Krishnan Dakshina Murthy

"It is seldom that the prime minister of a country would be owing something to a club in another country. It's the rarest of the rare case," he says.

The ledger book with handwritten entries of bill defaulters is displayed in the main club building which is more than 150 years old.

A framed photograph of a strapping young Churchill with fellow officers adorns the wall above the display.

The entry in the ledger is clear and concise. It is dated 1 June 1899.

"The sub committee approved the following unrecovered sums being written off," it reads.

Churchill's is the 12th name from the top in a list of 17 names.

His debt to the club was discovered posthumously and, after it became public, many visiting British citizens have offered to clear the dues.

Col Murthy says in the last three years that he has been the club secretary, many Britons have approached him.

"We tell them that history is history, it can't be rewritten," he says.

Sleepy cantonment

The club has no historical records of Churchill in Bangalore.

Photograph of Churchill and his contemporaries in Banglalore
Churchill (standing on extreme left) did not enjoy his time in Bangalore

"We have only the old ledgers and the minutes of club meetings documented there," Col Murthy says.

In the days Churchill made Bangalore his home, it was not a bustling city with bright lights.

Historians say it was then a sleepy cantonment town with little to offer in the way of amusement to young soldiers.

And Churchill, by his own account, found the city boring. He spent most of his time reading and collecting butterflies.

In his memoir, My Early Life, he describes Bangalore as a "third rate watering place" with "lots of routine work" to do and "without society or good sport".

In such circumstances, it is assumed that Churchill spent many an evening in the Bangalore club, drinking whisky which cost seven annas (less than 50 paise, or half a rupee) for a large drink and four annas (25 paise) for a small peg, or measure, of whisky.

And perhaps that is how he accumulated the debt of 13 rupees - a considerable sum in those days.

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