Major General Order Wingate
by Michael Cohen
Orde Wingate was born in 1903 in India whilst his father was serving there as a colonel of a regiment. He was born into a family of Plymouth Brethren (Protestant “Cheredim”) totally committed to every word printed in the (St. James’s) Bible. Whilst in his adult life he never professed the strong religious background of his parents he acquired an encyclopedic knowledge of the Bible, Israel and Biblical personalities, identifying throughout his life with Gideon the Judge. From Charterhouse school he went to the Woolwich Military Academy and was gazetted as an artillery officer in 1923. In his first UK posting he became an accomplished horse rider representing the army in a number of national and international events.
Our interest in Wingate began in 1926 when encouraged by his uncle Rex who had been Governor General of the Sudan he applied and was accepted by SOAS to study Arabic which he passed with distinction the following year and in 1928 he was posted to the Sudan (still a UK protectorate) as captain in the East Arab Corp where he perfected his language skills and techniques for ambushing smugglers and ivory poachers.
In 1935 he married Lorna Patterson and in 1936 was posted to Palestine as an Intelligence staff officer in the British mandate because of his proficiency in Arabic. He arrived at a time when Arab nationalists had begun their terrorism campaigns against the British and Jewish settlers. Although never previously interested in Jews or Judaism he immediately identified with the “underdog” problems faced by Jewish settlers and the need for Jews to protect themselves from these terrorists.
It is believed that led by his Biblical appreciation, the antisemitism of Germany and Austria and the numerical disadvantage of the Jews of the Yishuv his saw that his destiny was to create a protective Jewish force to defend and repulse Arab attackers and he later stated that he was convinced that “the enemies of Jews were the enemies of mankind”. He persuaded both Wavell, the military commander of the mandate, the Jewish Agency and the nascent Haganah to allow him to create and train a commando force called Special Night Squads. Based at Kibbutz Eh Harod in the Gilboa (because of his reverence of the Judge Gideon) he established his training camp. It was here he perfected and instilled into his forces the guiding principle of his own military philosophy that defense fighting a numerically superior enemy means offense and offense means being prepared to fight deep inside enemy territory. This philosophy remains the guiding principle of the IDF to this day and Ze’ev Schiff in his book The History of the Israeli Army labels Wingate “the single most important influence on the military thinking of the Haganah”. Whilst another historian Samuel Katz confirmed that “Wingate had a profound impact on the moulding of Israeli Military doctrine. He became a hero of the Yishuv and both Moshe Dayan and Zvi Brenner were inspired by him. It was during a mass Arab revolt, aided by the Special Night Squads under British leadership, Captain Wingate was able to quell the rebellion and was awarded the Distinguished Service Order, usually awarded to officers - majors and higher ranks for outstanding leadership under fire.
He was now totally committed to the Zionist cause and during leave in England in 1938 he spoke publicly about the need for Jews to have their own homeland and this led his superiors in the War Office doubting his effectiveness as an intelligence office in Palestine and he was posted back to the UK.
After a short stay in the UK he was sent to Ethiopia where he enhanced his command reputation and he later led the two guerrilla campaigns in Burma – the famous Chindits. He died in a plane crash in Burma in 1944 whilst flying to his base camp with a group of American officers and his and their remains were re-interred in Arlington Cemetery in 1950.
Today most towns in Israel have a Wingate street and in the Carmel Mountains there is the Yemin Orde Wingate Youth Village for disadvantaged children; the most famous memorial to his name is of course Israel’s national sports and health education centre Machon Wingate (The Wingate Institute).