Saturday, March 14, 2015

"A nudist who frequently wore only a pith helmet and carried a fly-swatter in camp"



I've been reading (and listening to) Andrew Roberts' exceptional The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War.  Highly recommended. On the audio side, the Audible narrator, a British chap, is highly entertaining, although his imitations of an American accent need some work (his renditions of Churchillian cadence are excellent though).

But I digress.  The purpose of this post was to highlight this brief description - which had me laughing out loud - of the extraordinary Orde Wingate, a highly unconventional British commander who developed and led two long-range jungle penetration missions into Burma in 1943 and 1944 by British, Indian and Ghurka troops known as the Chindits:

A manic depressive who tried to commit suicide by cutting his own throat with a knife in Cairo in 1941 after the Ethiopian campaign; a nudist who frequently wore only a pith helmet and carried a fly-whisk in camp; someone who never bathed but instead cleaned himself by vigorously scrubbing of his body with a stiff brush, Wingate ate raw onions for pleasure and has been described as a "neurotic maverick" and a "foul-tempered, scruffily dressed egomaniac."

Roberts also relates that Wingate told luncheon companions at the War Office in August 1940 that "'he had acquired quite a taste for boiled python, which tasted like chicken.'"

Churchill loved him though, "call[ing] him 'this man of genius who might well have become a man of destiny' and liken[ing] him to Wingate's relation Lawrence of Arabia . . .."

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