On March 24th of this year, it will be the 70th anniversary of the death or murder of one of England’s most flamboyant Major Generals, that being Orde Charles Wingate, DSO with 2 bars. Yet today he is portrayed as either an icon or an idiot of the Second World War. I personally don’t think he could have cared less just what people thought of him or his permanent place in British history or elsewhere. And coincidently both he and his contemporary – although never friends it seems – was Lawrence of Arabia, a rather distant cousin who would also die in a mysterious manner. So perhaps Lawrence was just to pro the Arabs whereas Wingate was much too close to the Jews it has been argued.
He has also been recently remembered as a devout Christian, yet somehow more of the Old Testament garden variety I suggest, than the New Testament era that offers salvation to the truly repentant sinner. Yet I do find Wingate rather an enigma “Christian” who frequently seems to have consumed alcohol, allowed denominational chaplains to operate in his theatre of war (maybe he couldn’t prevent this) and as far as I know, he never witnessed to them. Indeed this is demanded of the born-again Christian so I suggest that Wingate was a religious man as many insist and claim, but sadly he never experienced the new birth, because there is nothing we can substitute for lasting salvation: “Ye must be born again” (John 3:3,7.) And I’m not sure the general ever understood this. He may well have known the so-called Lord’s Prayer and could recite the Ten Commandments perhaps backwards yet these will not save the sinner from his sins because religion will not and cannot offer heavenly rewards, but only the atoning and precious blood of the Lord Jesus Christ can keep and preserve his eternal soul. All else is foolish and useless.
However, I have always had a special interest in Wingate and especially his army career as my own late father served under him in the steaming jungles of Burma for three long years. Unfortunately, in later years he rarely spoke about those days to me or any of us, or of that period of post-war chaotic Hamburg, Germany as well.
Born in 1903 in India the thread of an army life was inherited from Wingate’s father, another army officer, a colonel no less as well as the beliefs of John Nelson Darby, espoused by his brethren parents. Both of these strands of faith and fighting would form the mould of his future life and later leading to the lasting legend of Orde Wingate.
However, it is not the intention of this article in arguing and analysing Wingate’s military tactics either in Israel, Ethiopia or naturally Burma. We are not military historians and indeed the success in Burma in defeating the sprawling Japanese armies speaks for itself. And of his genius as a wartime commander in the field, you don’t after all gather a clutch of medals as he did before his death or murder in 1944, by hesitating in the field before a battle. But it is in his Biblical defence of the Jewish people and their ancestry and their bestowed God-given inheritance to that land, that places him far above others of his profession and privilege, and indeed officers of his class and rank today seem merely “wimps” in being too frightened to speak out if/where they are stationed. In other words modern day Sandhurst soldiers do not have the courage to contradict their political masters’ decisions, and all to the cost of the nation so often it seems. Indeed so much of the turmoil and tragedy of the Middle East’s problems today can be placed at the open door of Lawrence himself, and of his own personal fanatical influence on the then anti-Semitic English Foreign Office civil servants towards the Arabs in the 1920s, with much of it still lingering today.
Indeed characterization and assertions remain attached to the legacy of Wingate, rather like a gob of tar clinging to the flesh. And what about his eating rituals and ablutions. Is so much of it just crude propaganda fed to the media machine by his enemies. The late Michael Foot M.P. being just one of the perpetrators in that list. Wingate’s frequent military theatres of war can be encapsulated in what occurred in Israel, Abyssinia (Ethiopia) and of course Burma. Perhaps had he survived the war there was some speculation that he might have been created “Wingate of Burma” by Royal decree, but I’m not sure he would have accepted such an honour citing his reason being that so many men braver than he had lost their own lives in the dense jungles of that land. He would also cite divine providence, yet in that land today very few if any are born again Christians, and in fact today “Christians are harassed in over 111 countries” reported one recent think tank, press release, yet little is said about this silent holocaust inflicted upon too many. Even the world’s media expresses little concern in what is happening or even care. If it’s not in the secular/left wing agenda of the press or editorials then forget it or bury it in the television newsrooms.
I certainly do seriously suggest however that Orde Wingate had a split spiritual personality, and any of his Bible beliefs, especially as encountered in the New Testament were quickly abandoned when he took up the military mantle of political secular Zionism, probably in what was then British controlled Palestine.
Or maybe he finally just went native as some of his brother officers have suggested and repeated to anyone who listened concerning Wingate’s complex character.
Wingate incidentally was a Churchill favourite, perhaps even a prodigy and just maybe a fellow Freemason. Indeed Winston took him and his wife to Quebec to meet with FDR, a 33rd degree Mason in 1943. Interestingly there is a “Wingate lodge” and although I cannot prove that Wingate was a paid-up lodge man, he may well have been an honorary member due to his close connection with Churchill. Of course the army and its reputation will defend its integrity and honour turning a blind eye to Wingate’s so-called “demons” that he most certainly experienced in Burma, and incidentally, General Kirby wrote of Wingate that: “His fertile imagination would form an interesting psychological study.”
So is the general somehow suggesting that Wingate had serious mental problems and what for example of his “mortification of the flesh” gestures (did you know that years ago this act was called “self-discipline,” now its simply referred to as “self-harm” as if it makes any difference.) He also showed some deliberate “cold anger” to subservient and others later remembering him as: “A cold and calculating commander” with an almost “mystical” manner in approaching his battle plans (Gideon and Moses being two of his Old Testament heroes.) Well he did, after all, win most of them and it should also be remembered that the exhausting battle to liberate Burma from Japanese oppression was the longest British and Commonwealth campaign of the war, and at the cost as well of many lives. And it’s no mistake that they are still referred to as “the forgotten army.”
Yet there are however two mysteries to my mind that swirl around the complicated life of Wingate, rather like a past London fog. The first concerns his attempted suicide in the summer on 1941 in a popular Cairo hotel in either the “Shepherds” or the “Continental,” where apparently Orde placed a revolver to his head, fired but apparently, the gun then misfired. Then it seems he plunged a bowie knife or bayonet into his exposed throat, not once but twice it seems, and what of the blood transfusion -14 pints in all – carried out on him in the hospital, later where it is reported the plasma had been stored in empty “Gordon’s gin bottles,” can you believe. And what of the story that: “In a break from his delirium he found a Catholic priest by his side and asked him: “Father am I damned” to which the priest replied: “God will forgive you” and this appeared to comfort him. Rubbish! In fact, no Catholic priest can save or intercede for anyone, not even themselves with that new age rhetoric and only the true born again can know the gift of salvation, something Wingate certainly should have known about.
But of course the supreme mystery is the truth surrounding his plane crash on March 24th 1944, when he was killed in an American B25 Mitchell, with nine other crew members on board, consisted of six Americans as well as Wingate and two journalists, and with his death at 41-years-old the legend or lies about the man was finally created and linger to this day.
(Studying the evidence of sabotage)
What is fact it seems is that on the evening of 24th March 1944 a B25 Mitchell plane crashed into a mountainside in the dark, after leaving Imphal on route to Hailakandi: “Thus died a strange, lonely eccentric man, who inspired loathing and resentment, and loyalty and respect,” so observed the military historian, David Rooney. And he probably is correct in this personal description of Wingate.
Yet the sabotaged plane theory is still being discussed and doesn’t seem to fly away with the passing years, and it certainly has to be examined with care for example it seems the doomed plane then loaded with bombs was dispatched to collect Wingate, and then fly him on to an arranged crucial war update at HQ, but on arrival at Imphal airport and awaiting the departing general to board the flight, we are informed that the plane was guarded. But how tight was the security? Were the guards too often looking the other way and was there some form of fatigue amongst those soldiers.
So when the plane departed for Imphal it was dangerously overweight and packed with explosives. When the explosion occurred in the tail if this happened, it sent the doomed plane into a downward terrifying spiral spin, causing a 15-foot crater as it plunged into the ground, and incidentally, the explosion caused so much impact that the remains of the crew were never properly able to be identified. And remember this plane could carry with comfort a bomb load of 5200 lbs, including eight 250lb bombs and amazingly if needed a torpedo can you believe.
In fact, this bomber was a flying coffin to all who were flying in her, including the three extra passengers causing an overweight in the plane’s capacity. Strangely enough, Wingate’s own trademark pith helmet survived the carnage. I wonder what happened to that item. The author Dennis Hawley suggests that after his own personal investigation into the causes of the flight, researched over many years that it seems likely that: “The possibility of malfunction must remain uppermost as being the likely cause of the B25 crash.” Well maybe, but why was the experienced pilot so dramatically of course thereby causing the bomber to nose dive into the darkened jungle so that: “The plane was doomed…. it was a black night and overcast, there were no stars to assist navigation,” so it is also reported.
The then scattered remains located days later after the gruesome discovery in the jungles of northeast India would be afforded a simple burial near the site which seems to me to be appropriate. However, later they would be removed to Imphal in India, and then in 1947, controversially relocated in 1950 to Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, where the partial remains of the men on that flight remain to this day. There is however a believable theory that most of the remains of the crew of that ill stared flight are still buried somewhere in the jungle, perhaps under the nose of the shattered plane. Today, of course, it is covered by thick jungle vegetation.
It’s all very strange and suspicious to me that at the peak of his career and with a permanent place in history secure, and less volatile and with his devotion and dedication to the fledgeling state of Israel. Wingate would be snatched away by the hand of God. Certainly, God’s process is in all we do and try. Then later the flamboyant general Dyan would say of him with added admiration: “Wingate was the true founder of the Israeli army.”
No mean words uttered by Moshe Dyan here it seems and naturally Churchill would refer to him as a tribute to a hushed House of Commons saying that: “He was a man of genius who might also have become a man of destiny.”
(The Burma Star that my father wore with pride)
Yet more importantly to us is that of his “Christian” convictions. I discovered him to be more ecumenical than I had at first thought or expected and this does leave me with a taste of disappointment and doubt about the true Orde Wingate, that was always presented to the public as a true “Onward Christian Soldier.” Yet in my estimation, he was just, after all, a seriously flawed man and perhaps swimming in a sea of uncertainty and doubt and all very sad, but remember: “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23.)
Major General Orde Wingate was after all, without doubt, a fearless warrior in the true Biblical sense, yet who somehow sadly lost his way and maybe his true faith in the jungles of Burma long ago in the country of the forgotten army.
“It is appointed unto men once to die after this the judgment.”
The death of Wingate, Dennis Hawley
Wingate and the Chindits, David Rooney
Orde Wingate, BBC DVD, 1976
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