Fire in the Night: Wingate of Burma, Ethiopia, and Zionby John Bierman
Winston Churchill thought he was a military genius; others considered him greatly overrated; a few even thought him mad. Almost sixty years after his death at age forty-four in an airplane crash, Orde Wingate remains perhaps the most controversial of all World War II commanders.
Times Literary Supplement
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As the Dorsetshire steamed westward, Wingate shut himself in his cabin and, forgoing the end-of-term social shenanigans of fellow officers and their wives, began writing a twenty-seven-page memorandum that he entitled "Palestine in Imperial Strategy."
This was an extraordinary document, tapped out on a typewriter borrowed from the ship's purser. In it Wingate set out, no less, to change the whole course of British Middle East policy and, in so doing, revealed much of his own complex and contradictory personality. As might be expected, he energetically skewered the prevailing racial prejudice of his day, anti-Semitism. At the same time, however, he displayed rather less generosity of spirit toward the Arabs.
As a rhetorical device, he first summarized the well-known arguments, both overt and concealed, in favor of a pro-Arab strategy:
We must foster Arab gratitude and co-operation by opposing Jewish settlement and supporting Arab national aspirations, especially in Palestine. . . . The Jews are a peculiar people whom nobody likes, and for this there must be a good reason. Their manner is unpleasant. We do not trust them. . . . They are not a military race. Their fighting value in war would be small. . . . All the cards are in our hands and provided we proceed with proper tact and deliberation we have nothing to fear from the Jews.
Thenafter trashing "that unfortunate masterpiece," T. E. Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom, and those "distinguished Britons who found it amusing and convenient to live among and write about the Arabs"he proceeded to demolish the straw men he had put up:
The united [economic]strength of all the Arabic speaking communities . . . is equivalent only to that of a fourth class power. . . . The military potential of the Arab world is very far below that. . . . Any country that was in earnest in its desire to quell the feeble kind of rebellion we have witnessed in Palestine would find little difficulty in doing so. . . . The Arab is lazy ignorant, feckless and, without being particularly cowardly, sees no point in really losing his life.
In another dig at his remote kinsman, Lawrence, Wingate discounted the importance of the Arab Revolt of World War I:
The vanity of the principals plus a great amount of romantic dust has been allowed so far to obscure what really did happen. A ragged horde of at most a few thousand and often only a few hundred Bedouin, paid in gold for approximately two days' fighting per month . . . caused the Turks a certain amount of embarrassment and anxiety. . . . In return for the highly paid assistance of this small rabble of Hedjazi Bedouin, we have handed over to the "Arabs" the whole of Saudi Arabia, and the Yemen, Iraq, Trans-Jordan and Syria. A more absurd transaction has seldom been seen.
As for the "so-called" Arab population of Palestine, they had "fought against us throughout the war until the utter defeat of the Turk made it wise and profitable to desert him." Wingate went on to deny the validity of promises made to the Arabs in World War I by Sir Henry McMahon, Cousin Rex's predecessor as high commissioner in Egypt. "When we turn from the Arab cause to the Jewish, what a contrast!" wrote Wingate:
Instead of the ambiguous letters of a plenipotentiary making promises to unrepresented third parties in the enemy's camp, we have the united war cabinet giving an undertaking [the Balfour Declaration] to a principal. We have the Jews making services to the allies which, however lowly they are rated, must have been many times as valuable as those of the Hedjazi Bedu. Finally, we have the League of Nations granting us the Mandate on condition that our promises to the Jews be fulfilled.
As for the sanctity of Palestine to the Arabs, Wingate asserted Jerusalem to be many times as holy to Christianity and Judaism as to Islam: "Low be it spoken, but the whole claim of Islam even to the Dome of the Rock rests upon a tale that today is regarded as at least as incredible as the Arabian Nights by all but the most fanatical of Moslems." This was a reference to the Muslim belief that the Prophet Muhammad, astride his horse Burak, ascended in a dream to heaven from a spot in Jerusalem that was later enclosed within the Dome of the Rock, Islam's most ancient and beautiful shrine.
Wingate enthused, as usual, about the successes and the potential of the Zionists in Palestine. No one who had not thoroughly inspected their settlements could readily believe the extent of their achievements, he said:
The natural character of the Jew is that of a creative individualist. He is obstinate, but a tremendous worker, capable of great enthusiasm. All over the world today are homeless Jews with not only excellent natural facilities but also a high degree of training. . . . The industrial potential of the Jews now in Palestine is high. Capital is available if the word is given. The industrial potential of the Jews waiting to come to Palestine is even higher. . . . It will be at once evident what a powerful accession of strength such a development will mean to us. Instead of having in Palestine an army without striking power . . . holding down a despairing Jewish community . . . we would have an army which could be absolutely secure of its base, with excellent facilities for repair and local supply, with an army of technicians ready to hand . . . leaving it free to fight the real enemy.
Wingate summed up by recommending that the 1939 White Paper be shelved ("we can easily have it declared illegal"); that the Mandate should continue, with large-scale Jewish immigration authorized and illegal immigration winked at; that the Jewish development of Palestine should become the cornerstone of imperial policy; that a Jewish army should be raised at once and the Arab rebellion extinguished by the expansion of the Special Night Squads or similar formations throughout Palestine. Such a Jewish state, Wingate concluded, "will of course become a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations."
There was no mention throughout this document of the all-important three-letter word Wingate so often overlooked when considering Middle Eastern policy: oil. Nor, less characteristically, was there a single biblical reference.
When the Dorsetshire reached Gibraltar, Wingate took unusual steps to bring his opus to the attention of the highest possible military authorityGeneral Ironside, governor of Gibraltar, commander in chief designate for the Middle East, and at the outbreak of war to become (if only briefly) chief of the Imperial General Staff. The Dorsetshire was to stay in port only a few hours and no shore leave was allowed. Ignoring this, Wingate slipped ashore just after dawn, passed unchallenged through the dockyard, and hitched a lift to Government House.
There, with characteristic audacity, he sent up a message to Sir Edmund, who was still in bed, requesting an immediate interview. Ironside had no difficulty recalling the battle-grimed officer in the old-fashioned Wolseley helmet who had given him his name on the heights above Tiberias and sent word that he would meet Wingate in his dressing room. There, Wingate handed over his memorandum and exchanged a little inconsequential chat before returning to the ship, his absence unnoticed.
In London a couple of weeks later Wingate received a letter from Ironside expressing "complete agreement with your paper." The general also agreed with Wingate about "that unfortunate charlatan Lawrence," with whom he had had some dealings in Iraq in 1920"He was such an impossible creature that I cannot understand how this wretched myth has sprung up around him." Ironside also expressed "the profoundest admiration" for the Night Squads' achievements and said that "to hear that these activities have ceased is sad." He said that if the situation had worsened in the autumn of 1938 he had "made up my mind to arm the Jews and to withdraw most of the troops." About the Jews as a people, he seemed somewhat ambivalent.
I do not know the Jews, except under the worst conditions of oppression in Russia and Germany, but I must confess that I have been a little frightened of the strength and sincerity of Zionism. To see Jews in such numbers is somewhat terrifying. I must confess that Tel Aviv was an extraordinary experience. I wondered what would happen were the country to become very prosperousas I am sure it would under the Jews. I wondered if the Jews would not radiate once more from their new home in Palestine back into the world of Gentiles. Would that be good for the British Empire? It is very perplexing.
As Wingate should have known, soldiers do not set policy in the British political system, and Ironside's "complete agreement" with his memorandum counted for nothing. Britain's politico-military Middle East strategy remained unaffected.
While on leave in London Wingate received copies of the confidential reports written by his superiors at the conclusion of his service in Palestine. He was outraged. Ritchie alleged that he had carried out his duties "indifferently" and said that despite Wingate's "many exceptional qualities [his] ardent nature often obscures his judgment and distracts his sense of proportion. . . . [H]e has given his sympathy so wholeheartedly to the Jewish cause that his success in the intelligence branch has become valueless."
General Haining concurred:
The tendency . . . to play for his own ends and likings instead of playing for the side . . . has become so marked, and a matter of such general comment, as to render his services in the Intelligence Branch nugatory and embarrassing. His removal to another sphere of action has been timely.
From the headquarters of his new brigade in Chelsea, Wingate struck back in a formal complaint, accusing Ritchie of bias. "The views he held contrary to my sympathies [have] invalidated his proper appraisement of my qualities," he wrote.
I left Palestine in the belief that I should not receive an adverse report. . . . I had ample means in Palestine of producing evidence to rebut every adverse comment. . . . Much of the evidence on which I could then lay my hands is not available here.
Requesting that Ritchie's report be withdrawn in favor of one by Brigadier Evetts"the officer who alone could estimate fully the value of my work"Wingate stressed that "neither I, nor my wife, nor any member of our families has a drop of Jewish blood in our veins." But, "I am not ashamed to say that I am a real and devoted admirer of the Jews. . . . Had more officers shared my views the rebellion would have come to a speedy conclusion some years ago."
In formal terms Wingate's rebuttal took the form of a Complaint to the Sovereign, in accordance with any officer's right to appeal, under the terms of the Army Act, against an adverse report. This was a serious and solemn proceeding. First his appeal would be considered by the Army Council. Then the council would send its recommendations to the secretary of state for war. After consideration, the secretary would convey the matter to the king himself, with his own recommendations. Wingate put his case for redress in a fifteen-page document, claiming inter alia that in carrying out his duties he had displayed "creative ability; judgment of men, military problems and political realities," andrather less credibly"tact."
The matter dragged on for months, while Britain and Germany stood on the brink of war and beyond. Wingate's complaints were relayed to Ritchie and Haining in Jerusalem. They replied to them, point by point. This inspired a further lengthy "annexure" from Wingate to his original memorandum. In October the Army Council decided that his appeal should be denied and advised the war secretary, Leslie Hore-Belisha, accordingly. This meant that unless Hore-Belisha felt otherwise, or Wingate withdrew his appeal, the complaint would have to go before the king. That would put Wingate's army career at great peril, for unless the king found in his favor his commission would be forfeit
Fortunately for Wingate, Ironsideby now chief of the Imperial General Staffintervened at this point, with a note to Hore-Belisha commending Wingate's "very valuable qualities" and suggesting that "had [he] been handled better, I think that he might have stopped his supreme crime of favouring the Jews too much." This was a shrewd thrust: Hore-Belisha was himself Jewish. He took Ironside's point that there was "nothing in the report which prevents Captain Wingate being employed for the good of the Army" and that "his merit is thoroughly known" and suggested to the Army Council that Wingate be given the opportunity to drop his appeal.
The Army Council gave Wingate that opportunity, in writing, on Christmas Day 1939. On Ironside's private advice, Wingate wisely agreed to back off and drop his complaint, and the matter was formally closed. As would occur more than once, the career of Wingate the rebel had been saved by an exalted member of the very hierarchy with which he so often found himself at odds. From Cousin Rex through Archibald Wavell to Winston Churchill, the names of his admirers and sponsors were a roll call of the Great and the Good. Orde Wingate may have been an outsider, but he was an insider's outsider, just as the Zionists themselves, for all their outsider status, had powerful insider connections within the British establishment.
Six decades on, it seems almost bizarre that, with Britain at war with Germany from 3 September 1939, so picayune a matter as the future of a junior officer should have been allowed to occupy even a moment of the Army Council's time. But this was the period of the so-called Phony War (not so phony, of course, for the Poles, who were overrun within days) and an almost eerie atmosphere of "business as usual" prevailed, at least on the surface, in Whitehall.
The feared immediate aerial onslaught against London and the Home Counties did not materialize, so Wingate's duties as brigade major of the Fifty-Sixth Light Anti-Aircraft Brigade, headquartered at Duke of York's Barracks, Chelsea, and later at Sidcup, in Kent, were not particularly demanding. Nor were his material circumstances. Thanks to Lorna's allowance, the couple were able to rent a flat at 49 Hill Street, Mayfairan address well beyond the salary of a major without private means.
This was close to the Dorchester Hotel in Park Lane, where Weizmann and other Zionist luminaries held weekly court when they were in London. Wingate, still passionately involved in Zionist affairsand particularly in the campaign to raise a Palestinian Jewish legion as part of the Allied forceswas one of the regulars at these meetings, where he was able to expand his circle of influential acquaintances. These, apart from the indefatigable diarist Baffy Dugdale and her husband, included the likes of Leo Amery, MP, soon to become secretary of state for India; Robert Boothby, MP, a close associate of Winston Churchill's; Victor Cazalet, MP, who as a Territorial Army major also happened to command one of the anti-aircraft batteries in Wingate's brigade; the celebrated historian Professor Lewis Namier; and Walter Monckton, MP, another future cabinet minister.
At about this time Wingate also made the acquaintance of two influential journalistsFrank Owen, who was editor of Lord Beaverbrook's Evening Standard, and Michael Foot, the Standard's assistant editor and chief leader writer. Foot, a brilliant left-wing gadfly who was many years later to become leader of the British Labour party, had come to know Wingate through the latter's sister Sybil, herself a Labour party activist on the left wing of the party.
Foot recalls that Wingate "had a kind of mystical belief" that all the failures of prewar British policy in the face of Axis aggression "had to be put right." Such failures of course included Palestine, but also the appeasement of Hitler and Whitehall's inaction over the Spanish civil war and the Italian conquest of Ethiopia, then more commonly known as Abyssinia. Although Palestine and Zionism were his main preoccupation, Wingate spoke passionately on all such issues. "He told us how he intended to have a part in restoring Haile Selassie to his throne, and lo and behold he eventually did just that," said Foot.* "He had a kind of belief, I suppose, that God was guiding him, though he expressed it in an amusing manner. He had a streak of zealotry, but it was also with a sense of humour."
Foot and Owen had two or three all-night talking and drinking sessions with Wingate in Owen's Lincoln's Inn flat. Owen, who was something of a military expert** and employed a stable of top-flight military analysts, including J. F. C. Fuller and Basil Liddell Hart, was particularly impressed by Wingate's innovative ideas on how the war should be conducted. Foot was impressed by his political ideas, unusual for a career officer, and his capacity for alcohol. "Despite his puritanism and his Plymouth Brethren upbringingthey're teetotallers, I believeWingate was very good at drinking," Foot recalled. "We sat up all night bibbing red wine and I think we took him to Henekey's [a well-known London bar] once or twice, too. His sister Sybil was a flaming left-wing socialist and I assume that Wingate was something of a socialist too."
*Wingate's mother-in-law, Ivy Paterson, also recalled a prediction by Wingate, as early as 1936, that one day he would put Haile Selassie back on the throne.**Owen subsequently became editor of SEAC, a newspaper produced in Delhi for the troops of Southeast Asia Commanda post in which he would once more come into contact with Wingate, not always amicably.
During this Phony War period, with the Luftwaffe providing little to keep his anti-aircraft batteries busy, Wingate had free time to devote to the Zionist goal of persuading the British to sanction the creation of a Jewish fighting force, which he hoped to command. The Chamberlain cabinet, including the Jewish war minister Hore-Belisha, had so far been distinctly cool toward Weizmann's offer to raise a Jewish legion, analagous to the Free Polish, Free Czech, and later Free French armies. "Your public-spirited assurances are welcome and will be kept in mind," Chamberlain had notified Weizmann stiffly. The prevailing official view at the time was that if the Jews of Palestine wished to fight the Nazis they should do so as individual members of the British armed forces. In Palestine, the Haganahits status always ambiguouswas being treated as a purely illegal organization. And Wingate had been incensed to learn that forty-three of his Night Squadsmen and NCO candidates, including Zvi Brenner and Moshe Dayan, had been arrested for drilling with unauthorized weapons. As Baffy Dugdale recorded in her diary, "Victor [Cazalet] and Wingate beside themselves with rage."
At their trial, Dayan and his comrades protested that they had been training solely to defend Palestine against a possible German invasion, but they were nevertheless sentenced to varying terms of imprisonment in the Crusader fortress at Acre. General Ironside seems to have been as appalled as Wingate, calling the sentence "savage and stupid" and telling Weizmann, "The idea of condemning one of Wingate's boys to imprisonment! They ought to have given him a DSO." But the wheels of military justice grind slow, and despite Ironside's strictures, the Haganah men remained prisoners for eighteen months until they were pardoned* by the anti-Zionist but fair-minded Lord Lloyd, by then colonial secretary.
David Ben-Gurion, who was one of the Zionist leadership in 1940 London and would become Israel's first prime minister, believed that the formation of a Jewish army to fight alongside the Allies was "more than a right; it is a necessity of the moral strategy of this war, which is waged not merely for national self-interest, but for human justice and freedom." But Wingate, who wanted passionately to lead such a legion himself, felt that Ben-Gurion and Weizmann were not pushing the case vigorously enough and told them so in terms so blunt that he and they temporarily fell out over it.
When Churchill replaced Chamberlain as prime minister on 10 May 1940, hopes rose among the Zionists. But sympathetic though he was to their cause, Churchill did not feel he could break ranks with his new colonial secretary and other cabinet members, who held to the view that by arming the Jews Britain would make enemies of the Arabs.
*On his release, Dayan volunteered to fight alongside the British against the Vichy French in Syria and received the wound that left him with his trademark eye patch.
A memorandum headed "Palestine 1940," which Wingate submitted privately to Churchill through the great man's acolyte, Brendan Bracken, perhaps did not help matters. Churchill himself might not have thought so, but some in his entourage felt its language was needlessly provocative. "Our government's policy over the past twenty years of toadying to any and every enemy, eagerly offering as a peace-offering the lives and interests of avowed friends, is still continued," Wingate wrote. "It makes us greatly despisedand disliked."
This document was interpreted by many as a personal attack on the new high commissioner in Palestine, Sir Harold MacMichael. Baffy Dugdale, for one, "was much upset by Vera [Weizmann] blabbing out, before half a dozen people, that Orde Wingate had written eight pages to the PM accusing the High Commissioner of being a Fascist." Mrs. Dugdale added: "Wingate is an able man but an irresponsible lunatic, and I only hope Lewis [Namier] is right in saying that such action will do no harm to anyone but himself."
By this time the war was entering a phase of acute danger for Britain and calamity for France. On the day Churchill assumed office, 10 May, Hitler launched his blitzkrieg against western Europe. Within three weeks his Wehrmacht outflanked France's supposedly impregnable Maginot line, swept through the neutral Netherlands and Belgium and into northern France. The 300,000 strong British Expeditionary Force was forced onto the beaches at Dunkirk, where they destroyed their heavy equipment and, under relentless attack by the Luftwaffe, began their epic evacuation across the Channel. Among these evacuees were two of Wingate's SNS subalterns, Bala Bredin and Rex King-Clark. France's collapse was imminent,* and Britain was threatened by the very real possibility of invasion.
The debacle in France was being partly explained by the presence of hundreds of saboteurs the Germans had infiltrated behind the Anglo-French front lines. These stories were exaggerated but widely believed. The best one had German paratroopers fluttering to earth disguised as nuns. On 1 June 1940, three days before the Dunkirk evacuation ended, Wingate went to the War Office to see General Ironside, whom Churchill had removed as CIGS and put in command of Home Forces. Wingate proposed the formation of a unit similar to his Special Night Squads. Its task would be to hunt down the sabotage units the Nazis were expected to insert before their main invasion force.
*German troops entered Paris on 14 June and France signed an armistice eight days later.
The idea was initially well received. Preliminary arrangements were put in hand for Wingate to command a special guerrilla-type unit of 10 officers and 150 men, all of whom would be drawn from the anti-aircraft brigade he was attached to. At first, it was decided to deploy them in Northern Ireland, where it was feared the Germans might exploit Republican sentiments as they had done farther south in 1916. Wingate flew to Belfast to see the general in charge.
But the plan was quashed by Wingate's old nemesis General Haining, now vice chief of the Imperial General Staff, who for once was perhaps right as far as Wingate was concerned. He feared that if the Germans were not stirring the IRA up Wingate certainly would. "It is not thus that nations win wars," despaired Wingate on his return.
Tiny Ironside came to his rescue.* There had been reports of "fifth columnists" in Lincolnshire, which the general considered a likely area for a German landing. Wingate and his 150 men were posted to Northern Command headquarters at York.
By this time, however, the circumstances of war had changed somewhat and, unknown to him, Wingate's name was being mentioned in connection with a different project, far from the home front. On 10 June, four days before the Germans entered Paris, Mussolini had perpetrated his notorious "stab in the back" by declaring war on France and Britain. "With the courage of a jackal at the heels of a bolder beast of prey, Mussolini has now left his ambush," declared The New York Times in an America sounding less neutral by the day.
Determined to grab some of the spoils of victory, one of Mussolini's first acts was to try to expand his colonies in Africa, where Libya in the west and Ethiopia in the east were separated by British controlled Egypt and Sudan. From their strongholds in Ethiopia, Italian forces lunged against the surrounding British colonies, which were all weakly garrisoned. British Somaliland became the first to fall after it was invaded from neighboring Italian Somaliland.
*This was the last time. A month later Ironside, who was sixty, was sacked as CIC Home Forces and retired with the rank of field marshal.
By then the British cabinet was already contemplating operations against the Italians in Abyssinia. First discussions took place in July, when Wingate's name was put forward by Leopold Amery, now secretary of state for India, as the "ideal man" to lead a guerrilla force to operate inside that Axis-occupied African kingdom while regular Allied forces attacked from neighboring British East Africa. Amery saw in Wingate "a much more virile and solidly balanced Lawrence, but with much the same sort of power of inspiring others."
Had he known of it, Wingate would no doubt have been excited by this recommendation, not just because it was an indication that, despite evidence to the contrary, his stock was high in influential circles, but because of his particular concern for the fate of Abyssinia. Despite his previously expressed ambition to help restore Emperor Haile Selassie to his throne, however, Wingate had by this time conceived somewhat different ideas for action against the Italians. Driven by his desire to lead Palestinian Jews into battle, he had devised a plan to command a Jewish long-range desert force in an attack from the south on the Duce's forces in Libya.
This plan, incorporated by Weizmann in a proposal he sent to Churchill on 3 September 1940exactly a year after Britain had gone to war against Germanyseemed to turn the tide of governmental reluctance to arm the Jews. Ten days later, on Friday the thirteenth, Lord Lloyd and the foreign secretary, Anthony Eden, informed Weizmann that His Majesty's government agreed in principle to the raising of a ten-thousand strong Jewish fighting force in Palestine. "A lucky day. A great day!" Mrs. Dugdale recorded in her diary:
The walls of Jericho have fallen, fallen! I looked in at the Dorchester and found Chaim just back from his interview, elated and solemn. He said "It is almost as great a day as the Balfour Declaration." Orde Wingate was there, too, radiant. It may be the beginning of a great future for him, too.
The next day, Mrs. Dugdale went to the Wingates' flat, where she found Orde and Namier enthusiastically discussing plans for recruiting, training, and deploying the proposed Jewish fighting force. "[Orde] said without conceit that no-one could carry out these ideas except himself, failing himself General Evetts." But the British had apparently made Weizmann aware that they wanted someone other than Wingate to command the force. Unwilling to provoke a clash with the government just as they were coming around to accepting his proposal, Weizmann was proceeding cautiously. Wingate sensed this and accused the Zionist leader of dragging his feet over setting up an appointment for him to see the new CIGS, General Sir John Dill. "He lost his temper very badly when he thought Chaim had failed to be straightforward with him," wrote Mrs. Dugdale, ". . . and nearly smashed the teacups. Afterwards, he apologised, but he is a most ungovernable character."
Three days later Wingate was summoned to the War Office for his meeting with Dill, expecting that at last he was to fulfill his ambition to lead a Jewish army into battle. For a while they talked at cross-purposes. Then Dill made it clear that Wingate was destined not for Palestine but for Abyssinia. He was to report forthwith to Middle East GHQ in Cairo, where he would receive his orders. And he was not on any account to go to Palestine, either on duty or on leave; his passport was to be endorsed accordingly.
Wingate was dumbfounded. He drove straight to Zionist headquarters in Great Russell Street, Bloomsbury, where he sputtered out his fury and frustration to Weizmann. He begged Weizmann to intervene with Churchill to change his orders. Weizmann said this was impossible and sensibly counseled Wingate to swallow his disappointment and seize the opportunity to win fame and battle honors in Abyssinia.
Wingate refused to be mollified, convinced that Haining and other enemies in the War Office were punishing him by denying him the job he most coveted. The prohibition on his entering Palestine or Transjordan seemed to him to be proof of that and put him into what Mrs. Dugdale described as "an awful state of mind." The truth was that he had been earmarked for the Abyssinian campaign and his appointment endorsed by Wavell, the Middle East commander, before the plan for a Jewish legion ever received serious consideration. Dill told Weizmann as much in a subsequent interview, but Wingate refused to be convinced. His undoubted zeal to see the Italians driven out of Abyssinia was as nothing to his longing to command a Jewish army. Right up to the moment of his leaving for Abyssinia via Cape Town, Cairo, and Khartoum on 19 September, Wingate went on badgering Weizmann to intervene personally with Churchill on his behalf. But Weizmann was determined to keep his powder dry for matters of greater importance, and they parted in anger.
Even after Wingate had gone, Lorna kept up the pressure. As late as January 1941, by which time she was anticipating her husband's return from his Abyssinian adventure, she was criticizing Weizmann for his lack of vigor in the matter, prompting him to reply that while he had "tried my best" the problem was partly due to Orde's "differences with some of the high and mighty." The crux of the problem, he said, was "the real disparity between our views and those of the people with whom we have to deal and who are in control."
You and Orde are suffering from it, as you put it, for four years. I can boast of fifty years' work, disappointment, frustration and achievement and those fifty years are merely a tiny fraction of the age-long suffering of my people.
Weizmann's exasperation is evident. But he retained a fatherly fondness for this sometimes uncomfortable young couple. "I knew in what spirit [Wingate's] reproaches had been made," he would say. "My wife and I both loved and revered him."
In the event, all the frustration and tension were for naught. Differences within the British cabinet kept the issue of a Jewish fighting force in suspension for nineteen months. Then, within inches of a final agreement, Whitehall put the project on ice. "Our readiness to serve has earned us only rebuffs and humiliations," Weizmann protested to Churchill. ". . . Ten thousand Palestinian Jews have fought in Libya, Abyssinia, Greece, Crete and Syria. But our people are never mentioned; our name is shunned; all contact or co-operation with us is kept dark as if it were compromising. . . . Even in Palestine our people . . . are permitted to serve only under humiliating limitations and conditions."
Perhaps at that point Weizmann thought back to Wingate's headstrong advice in that hectic autumn of 1940, before he left for Abyssinia: "You ought to go into Winston's room and demand a Jewish army. You ought to bang the table!"*
*In 1945 a Jewish Brigade, far less than the promised ten thousand men, did eventually go into action with the British army in Italy during the last three months of the war. Included in its ranks were Israel Carmi, Zvi Brenner, and Avraham Akavia. Brenner was badly wounded and never able to walk properly again. Apart from this, as Weizmann said, Palestinian Jews who volunteered on an individual basis saw action in British units all over the world. His son, Michael, was killed flying with the RAF.
Meet the Author
John Bierman and Colin Smith are veteran news correspondents, both with firsthand knowledge of the locations mentioned in this book: Sudan, Israel, Ethiopia, India, and Burma. Both men currently live in Cyprus, now quiescent but one of the many late-twentieth-century trouble spots on which they have reported as roving correspondents--Bierman for the BBC and Smith for The Observer. Separately, each has published a number of books; jointly, this is their first effort.
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Orde Wingate is not the only foriegn or british officer to be buried at Arlington, nor the highest ranking, nor the first. General Sir John Dill, former Chief of the Imperial General Staff (the same as the US Chief of Staff of the Army) during 1940-41 is also buried at Arlington, having been picked by Churchill to head the British Joint Staff Mission. He achieved such a rapport with General Marshall, that upon his death in December 1944, Marshall at the request of his widow (she had suffered a stroke in December 1940, and may not have been able to afford shipping him home) saw to it that he was buried at Arliongton with full American Military honors. I suggest you check with the National Cemetery as to how many foriegn oficers are buried there, as I'll bet they are not alone. Dill was very well regarded by his peers in the British Army, but was not of the outrageous argumentative type that Churchill thrived on in his postmidnight reviews of the war effort, where he deliberately said provocative insulting things about the army, or something else to get someone to argue it out, or perhaps to change whatever it was that had attracted his ire. The RAF brass who always attended these sessions, and had gone to some length to cultivate Churchill, hinting that he was the true father of the RAF,and when in trouble (their bombing campaign in 1940-41 was incompetent and pathetic) they often distracted him by criticizing the army. Considering the traditions and bureaucratic nature of the british army, that limited any reforms, the effectively abject neglect of rearming the army before the war(perhaps 10% of the defense budget), parlimentary strictures on dicipline and trainning made his tasks almost impossible, yet he carried the load well until the burden of personally caring for his wife after her stroke (her modesty did not permit strangers to perform the more personal aspects of care etc). There was a period during the winter when his staff wondered when he slept; between the normal duty day, then nursing his wife, then attending to the PM's post midnight skull sessions, he might have got an hour or two. Churchill was oblivious to Dill's predicament with his wife's care until far too late. Though replaced by Brooke, Dill accompanied Churchill to Washington after Pearl Harbor, and then was tapped to preside over the Britsh side of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. General Marshall considered Dill to be of enormous help during the war (and said so frequently); the two were quite a team in keeping the atlantic allies united and on track to victory. Secondly, it was March of 1944 when Wingate's plane crashed after he overode the pilot's warning about trying to fly in those conditions. Orde Wingate's burial is more due to his American wife's citizenship and the pitifully few remains of him and his american crew found in the burned out plane crash site. Not to put a fine point on it, but between the forensic limits of the time and wartime politics, the british aquiesced in letting what was assumed to be left of Wingate be buried at Arlington rather than have some part of an American not be. Orde Wingate's reputation has understandably grown, as the reputation of the Isreali Army and the stress their early leaders put on Wingate's contribution to their victories. His campaigns in Ethiopia and Burma are amazing, in no small part due to his overwhelming detirmination to overcome all obstacles including incredible logistic and personnel problems. However this book seems to suffer from the same limitations the other books do, namely poor or non-existant maps . When one has to refer to a couple of atlases for the data that should be obvious in any book about Wingate, one could be mistaken for thinking the writers or publishers of these books, don't care or want the readers to see what he accomplished!