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Dad's army

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60456.  Fri Mar 17, 2006 10:30 am Reply with quote

Q: What was the man who inspired dad’s army arrested for?
F: You stupid boy!
A: Inciting British soldiers to mutiny.

The man who was the main (practical and inspirational) driving force behind the formation of the Home Guard in Britain in WW2 was Tom Wintringham. In 1925, however, as an early leading figure in the Communist Party, he was one of 12 top dissidents jailed for sedition and for inciting soldiers to mutiny.

Actually, we could fill an entire series with Tom’s extraordinary story. I’ll try to keep this brief ...

Born in Grimsby in 1898 (died 1949). Dropped out of Balliol College to join the Royal Flying Corps during WW1. Demobbed in 1919, having served on the Western Front.

Became a journalist specialising in military matters. Helped found the Daily Worker and the journal Left Review. Joined the CP in 1923; jailed 1925.

1935: author of ‘The Coming World War.’ In 1936 went to the Spanish Civil War as a journalist, but stayed to fight, eventually becoming the commander of the British battalion of the International Brigade, which fought for the democratic government against Franco’s Hitler/Vatican-backed coup.

Wounded out of the war in 1937, he wrote ‘English Captain,’ his account of his war, and considered one of the classic memoirs of the struggle. He worked for the Picture Post (for which he wrote famous essays on Marxism), and as a highly-regarded and widely-read columnist for all sorts of journals became Britain’s leading advocate of guerrilla warfare. He published articles in various papers which showed people how to make bombs and plan ambushes. You’d get 20 years in Belmarsh for that nowadays! His theories and opinions were highly influential; it seems clear that without his writings and lobbying, there would never have been a Home Guard.

Incidentally, when he was lying injured in hospital, no less than four women turned up at his bedside each calling herself Mrs Wintringham. He was a popular chap, with armies of friends, two legal wives (separately) and several mistresses.

When WW2 began he blagged his way into being recruited as a Home Guard trainer, transforming “Dad’s Army” from being merely a morale-boosting way of occupying middle-aged men who’d been turned down for the regular forces into a serious terrorist organisation in embryo. When the seemingly inevitable German invasion occurred, Wintringham and Churchill believed the Home Guard could become a resistance army, organising terror attacks, sabotage, assassination and arson (all strictly illegal under international laws of occupation).

Through contacts, Tom was lent Osterley Park, a stately home, as a training ground. The owner, the Earl of Jersey, asked only that he tried not to blow the place up, as it “had been in his family for some time.”

It’s recently become clear to historians that left-wing Home Guard leaders - like Tom, Michael Foot and George Orwell - had another purpose in mind for Dad’s Army. They were sure that the Conservatives would ditch Churchill as soon as possible and make peace with the Nazis. When they did, the Home Guard would become a workers’ militia to lead a civil war against the traitors. MI5, it is now known, spent some effort during the war on infiltrating the Home Guard (Sergeant Wilson, perhaps? Right background ... ) This group, led by Tom W, had as its aim a wholly and permanently armed citizenry.

In his 90s, Michael Foot (who in the 1980s was Leader of the Opposition) calmly explained how he would have taken care of the assumed arch-traitor, Foreign Secretary, Lord Halifax: “I’d have killed him.”

Expelled from the CP in 1938, after his wife Kitty was accused of being a Trotskyist spy, Tom W was a founder of the Common Wealth Party - which advocated common ownership, “vital democracy,” and “morality in politics” - which was (I think) the only party to win a by-election during WW2 (when there was an electoral truce between the main parties).

One other claim to fame, among many: Tom is thought to be unique amongst war poets in being the only one who served in, and wrote poetry about, two of the 20th century’s major wars (WWI and Spain).

(If the question seems too contrived, how about “The man who inspired dad’s army had a criminal record; what for?”)

Morning Star, 14 March 2006.

61159.  Tue Mar 21, 2006 7:17 am Reply with quote

Arnold Ridley, who played the frail, incontinent Private Godfrey in Dad’s Army, served in both world wars, was wounded at the Somme, and played rugby and cricket for his county. (Word magazine, February 2006).

62423.  Wed Mar 29, 2006 6:37 am Reply with quote

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