On Orde Wingate

Orde Wingate: Irregular Soldier

by Trevor Royle (London

Orde Wingate was a man of passionate convictions who provoked considerable controversy at every turn, a true individualist who would not countenance compromise. He fitted in nowhere and was the classic outsider. No wonder he understood and fought for Jewish aspirations in Palestine.

Born into a family of Plymouth Brethren, Wingate was sent to Chart-erhouse as a day student rather than to the sort of traditional boarding school favoured by the upper classes. His father believed that this measure — and missing chapel — would prevent him falling under the influence of high Anglicanism.

Thus excluded from the school mainstream, he was thrown together with the few Jewish boys. And, while remaining a committed Christian, he read far beyond what was expected of an officer and a gentleman.

When Wingate arrived in Palestine, the preference of the imperial servants was “for the martial races, Pathans or Punjabi Muslims, people who were loyal and trustworthy and whose demeanour seemed to mirror British values.” Wingate’s accelerating identification with Jews and his proximity to Chaim Weizmann, Moshe Sharett and other leading Zionists earned him the deep hostility of his fellow officers.

As an intelligence officer at military headquarters in Jerusalem, he broke all the rules. In a letter to Weizmann, he offered “trained and military advice” and clandestinely passed on information to his Jewish contacts from the seat of a dilapidated Studebaker convertible.

Under the patronage of Field Marshall Wavell, he instituted the famous special night squads which provided military training for the first time for many Jews, including Moshe Dayan, and laid the foundations for counter-insurgency warfare.

the resentment against Wingate and his unorthodox modus operandi reached its apogee at the end of 1938. A conference on internal security stated its profound opposition to ‘the dressing up of Jews as British soldiers: in particular it is considered undesirable to have a proportion of Jews in SNS detachments: these should be entirely British.’

A few months later, Wingate was ordered to return to Britain, where he continued to advoocate the need for a Jewish army.

trevor Royle, a writer on British military affairs, has written a detailed informative biography, utilising previously unseen sources to throw light on these and other events.

And, as his book shows, Churchill was clearly wrong when he told the Commons after Wingate’s untimely death in Burma that he was ‘a man of genius who might well have become a man of destiny.’ In Jewish eyes, Orde Wingate had undoubtedly earned that lofty status already.

Jewish Chronicle 1995

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