"This umbrella was stolen from Col. A.D. Wintle" - note left in his permanently furled umbrella
Following yesterday's mention of the passing of the great eccentric Peter Lunn I'm reminded of so many more of his ilk who were a product of their time, who squeezed every last drop out of life right up to the end and who added colour to the pages of our modern history.
Comparisons to todays "eccentrics," largely just flatter those who find themselves on todays front pages for one reason or another. Let me give you an example.
Jeremy Clarkson hit the headlines last week following his remark that public sector strikers should be taken outside and shot. This was of course, a phrase which was in widespread popular use in the sixties and seventies when men like Mr Clarkson and I were growing up. Rarely though, was it used with malice or evil intent; it was simply a standard response to hearing that the Leyland workers, or whoever, were downing tools and striking again.
One man though, used the phrase and meant it; he really meant it.
They don't though, make Englishmen like Lieutenant Colonel Alfred Wintle MC anymore. Monocle wearing Wintle, (he lost his eye "and a few other bits,"at Ypres), fought in both World Wars and was the first non-lawyer to achieve a unanimous verdict in his favour in the House of Lords, (you can find the full story of his fascinating legal adventure here, chap 13). Having been hospitalised in England to recover from his injuries, and desperate to get back to the front, he disguised himself as a nurse to make his getaway; the monocle though was something of a giveaway. He is said to have found the inter war years, "intensely boring."
On to the Second World War and after the French surrender, Wintle had demanded an aircraft (with which he intended to rally the French Air Force to fly their planes to Britain and continue fighting Germany from British air bases) and upon being prevented from this had threatened a bureaucratic officer of the RAF, Air Commodore Boyle with a gun. It was alleged that he had threatened to shoot himself and the unfortunate Boyle. For this he was imprisoned in the Tower of London.
When his case arose, Wintle was read the charges against him, of which there were three. The first was that he had feigned defective eysight (and therefore infirmity in order to avoid active duty). This charge was dismissed after Wintle's defence provided medical evidence to disprove it.
The second charge was assaulting Air Commodore Boyle; and the third was conduct contrary and to the prejudice of good order and military discipline. To the latter was added the claim that he had drawn a gun in the presence of the RAF officer, and stated that ‘people like you ought to be shot.’ Wintle admitted the act, and produced a list of people, mostly government ministers, who he felt should likewise be shot as a patriotic gesture. The list must have been a topical one, for after he had read out the sixth name upon it, (Hore-Belisha then Secretary of State for War), that particular charge was also dropped. The government - embarrassed by his accusations - upheld the court decision to drop all charges, bar one, the assault on Commodore Boyle.It seems though, that Wintle was in the pretty safe position of being tried by an Army court whilst on charges brought by the RAF.
So you see, Clarkson is a tame pussy cat compared to the real thing and I rather suspect that Clarkson would be the very first to agree.
Incidentally, should you ever come across this autobiography in a second hand book shop, just buy it; there aren't many around.