Have you ever heard the story of Leonard Spencer?
During the Boer War of 1899-1902 between the British Empire and the South African Republic, Leonard was a war correspondent for the London Morning Post. At age 25, Leonard was the publication’s newest reporter, and his assignment was to jump on a train with the British Army and report on their progress.
But a few days after departure, that plan changed.
About 20 miles from Ladysmith in South Africa, Leonard heard the sound of booming artillery. He was aboard an armored train, so they didn’t avoid the conflict. Its destination was the frontlines.
Suddenly, there was a crash.
The train struck a boulder on the tracks – set up by the enemy for an ambush. Immediately rifle fire hit the cars, and bullets flew through the broken windows. The surprised British troops fired back, but they were outnumbered and unorganized.
And what about Leonard?
Instead of hiding under a seat, or retreating to a quiet place to write about what he was experiencing, he ignored the gunshots and exploding shells, jumped off the train, directed the British defense, helped to clear the wreckage from the tracks, and got the train moving ahead.
If it wasn’t for this unexpected hero from the London Morning Post, the train might have been lost completely and the British troops massacred. Instead, it escaped the ambush, and carried most of the British soldiers with it to safety.
Except for one young war correspondent.
During the battle, Leonard was captured, and even though he was a non-combatant, was thrown into prison at Pretoria, which at the time was among the world’s most carefully guarded strongholds.
But that didn’t stop Leonard from plotting an escape with two other British captives.
As darkness fell, the trio waited for their opportunity. When it was pitch black and the guards exchanged their posts, Leonard sprang across an open area, and hurdled a fence of barbed-wire mesh to the other side. When he looked back, there was no one.
His fellow prisoners had missed their chance!
300 miles of hostile territory lay between Leonard and his freedom. For a while, he followed the railroad tracks to the east, stumbling alone, through the dark… tired and hungry, dodging enemy patrols, knowing each step could be his last.
Darkness turned to light and back again, and again, until days and nights became blurred.
Finally, Leonard reached a mining town. His luck was thin but still holding. He knocked on the door of the only British subject in the territory and was smuggled onto a train loaded with bails of wool.
The train carried him back to the British consul and to safety at last.
Leonard Spencer, a 25-year-old fledgling correspondent, was the hidden hero on that train… that the situation called for. He went on to do a few more courageous things for England, Europe and the world – but you may know him better by his full name – Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill – the Prime Minister of England during World War II.
When Churchill stepped into his role as newbie war correspondent, no one knew there was a hero among them. When he stepped into his role as Prime Minister, no one knew it was his destiny to be there, and that he would be the catalyst to turn the tide against Nazi-Germany.
He was a world-changer that no one knew… until…one day they did.
At the beginning of our COVID-19 coverage, Mainstreet Daily News called on the community to celebrate the heroes that live and work and sacrifice among us. We called on business leaders, and neighbors to think of creative ways to celebrate them on the frontlines of this pandemic – doctors, first responders, healthcare workers, and nurses, but also caregivers, cashiers, cooks/chefs, delivery drivers, educators, farmers, food manufacturers, grocery store workers, janitors, pharmacists, postal workers, scientists, truckers and waste management workers.
All of them are taking great risks to keep our society together in a time of great need.
We threw down the gauntlet, and SunState Federal Credit Union and MARC Radio picked it up. These two businesses worked together throughout the pandemic on several different projects and repeatedly noted how volunteers impacted our community in weathering this storm.
And sometime before the stage one re-opening process, Robert Hart, Vice President of Marketing at SFCU, discovered a box of blank T-shirts in storage and decided to use them to recognize and thank volunteers. It was a gesture he hoped might brighten some people’s days.
So Hart got the t-shirts printed with a logo designed by a MARC Radio staff member, and gave them to the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office for distribution.
“Without volunteers all across our area coming out and working together for the common good in recent weeks and months, I am convinced North Central Florida would be experiencing much harder times than the hard times we have seen,” said Hart. “Everybody at the MARC radio stations and at SunState Federal Credit Union just wanted to recognize people who are making a difference and say thanks. Like the front of the shirt says – we are stronger together.”
Kevin Mangan, Operations Manager for MARC Radio, echoed Hart’s thoughts.
“The essential personnel and volunteers have unselfishly given their time to keep our community safe, healthy and fed,” said Mangan. “The shirts are a way showing our gratitude to all of the hidden heroes. The folks who are packing meals for the hungry, lending an ear to those who need it, making masks… there are so many selfless actions our neighbors are taking.”
We may never know who they are until they step into our world, our situation, our pandemic, and do something that no one else thought to do, or just kept quietly doing their job that suddenly is both essential and far more dangerous than it was a few months ago.
Some of the most seemingly unknowns around us, that we’d never suspect, are heroes in preparation – for a pandemic, to keep our community moving forward, or maybe to be an important part of saving the free world.
We thank you again for your service and may God bless you all.