The great Wingate all smiles as usual
Sometimes a short life, lived to the fullest, is the most rewarding. This could be said of the son born in 1903 to a British officer in India who lived for only 41 years, but they were full ones. A solid Christian who believed in the prophetic place of Israel in his beloved Bible, Charles Orde Wingate would, in the spirit of his hero Gideon, go on to make Israel a safer country. His Plymouth Brethren upbringing made him not only a devout believer in Christ and Israel, but his six siblings helped forge a fierce and independent fighter too. A glimpse into his early military training sheds some light on this unique soldier’s character.
In 1921, Wingate entered Britain’s officer training school for artillery. Like most military schools, first-year students got pretty rough treatment for minor infractions. One punishment used on plebes had them strip and run a gauntlet of knotted towel raps from seniors, and then tossed into an ice-cold tub of water. After a minor cavalry offense (he was an extremely talented rider), Wingate refused to take the humiliation and instead took the offensive in approaching each senior, toe-to-toe, daring him to hit him with his towel. Each one refused, all the way down the line. When Wingate successfully challenged the last boy, he flung himself into the cold tub to the shouts of his classmates. A leader was born.
After his military education, Wingate served in the British army in India and Sudan. In 1936, after studying the history of Palestine’s Arabs and Jews, he was transferred to his dream post, Israel. He would spend three hard years here and earn such distinction for his actions in defending Britain and Israel that the College of Physical Education in Netanya would one day be named in his honor, as would Wingate Square in Jerusalem, a forest at Mount Gilboa, and the Orde Youth Village in Haifa.
“Nowadays people seem to imagine that impartiality means readiness to treat lies and truth the same, readiness to hold white as bad as black and black as good as white. I, on the contrary, believe that without integrity a man had much better not approach a problem at all. I came here with an open mind and I testify that I have seen. I believe that righteousness exalteth a nation and righteousness does not mean playing off one side against the other while you guard your own interests.”
Captain Wingate earned the love of the Israelis almost instantly, when as an innovative intelligence officer, he put a stop to the deadly raids and riots by local Arabs. His reputation, albeit somewhat eccentric, was sealed as surely as Gideon’s with his men when he took the trouble to learn Hebrew and set up a commando style camp at the Spring of Harod to train his infamous SNS.
The “Special Night Squads” that Wingate trained, and personally led with extremely unconventional methods, were made up of Haganah soldiers. In the spirit of Francis Marion and John Mosby, they combined audacity, surprise, and mobility to thwart Arab incursions in night attacks and even defensive stands protecting the Iraq-Haifa oil pipeline. Moshe Dayan was trained by Wingate and attributed his leadership to making the famed IDF what it would one day become. Underlying his passion for Israel was a firm belief in their right to their biblical homeland, as well as the source for his Christian faith, and something that made him beloved as a “friend of Israel.”
His successful ambushes and brutal attacks, along with his strong stance for Zionism, made him more controversial that Britain preferred and in 1939, under Arab pressure, he was transferred back to England. He would arrive just in time for the outbreak of World War II.
In 1941, he fought in Ethiopia and helped liberate it from the Italians by creating the Gideon Force (a small guerrilla unit made up of Ethiopians, British, and Sudanese soldiers). Wingate recruited some SNS friends to help him and with the aid of local fighters, they continuously harassed the Italians and their supply lines. By the end of the Ethiopian liberation, his Gideon Force of less than 2,000 fighters forced the surrender of almost 20,000 Italians.
In Burma, he organized and trained the Chindits, a special-forces jungle unit named for the Burmese Lion (the Chinthe) that operated behind the Japanese lines. Although a dangerous environment to fight in that proved costly in lost British, Gurkha, and Burmese soldier’s lives, their deep jungle penetrations caught the Japanese completely off guard and forced them to alter their plans to fight the Chindit incursions instead.
His untimely death was front page news
Sadly, Major-General Charles Orde Wingate was killed in an airplane crash in Burma in 1944 and eventually buried in Arlington National Cemetery (several Americans died in the crash, and with all 10 men burned beyond recognition, they were buried together at Arlington). Churchill called him “one of the most brilliant and courageous figures of the second-world war.” Knowing Wingate, his Israeli title from the Yishuv (Jews in Israel before 1948) of “ha yehdid” probably meant more to him than the Prime Minister’s praise. It translates simply as what he always wanted to be, “The Friend (of Israel).”