Major Alfred Daniel "Freddie" Wintle, MC, was a British Army officer who gained notoriety after his involvement in a sensational assault case in 1955.
He served with the Royal Garrison Artillery during the First World War, and was awarded the Military Cross during the final advance into Flanders in November 1918. He was he was severely wounded during the war, losing the sight of his right eye.
He later transferred to the 18th Hussars, and then in 1923 to the 1st Royal Dragoons. He was promoted to Captain in 1929, and in 1931 took up a post as instructor in English at the École spéciale militaire de Saint-Cyr. He returned to his regiment in December 1935.
Second World War
In late-1938, Wintle was posted to the intelligence department of the Air Ministry, as a General Staff Officer Grade 2, to head a group co-ordinating research into German air defences. Wintle was not an expert on anti-aircraft weaponry - whilst he had trained as an artilleryman, he had served with a cavalry regiment for twenty years - and it is not clear why he was given the post. One suggestion was that he (as an Army officer) was appointed to ensure a cross-Service representation in the section - the Army operated all British anti-aircraft guns - whilst another theory is simply that the General Staff wished to send him elsewhere to avoid dealing with him. His assistant was the novelist Gilbert Frankau, who had joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve.
Whilst competent and insightful - one story mentions Wintle noting on an agent's report simply that the contents were a "mathematical impossibility" - he and Frankau ran an informal office; R. V. Jones describes that at their first meeting, Wintle sent a messenger out to a Whitehall pub for sherry.
Wintle's tenure at the Air Ministry came to an abrupt end on 17 June 1940; frustrated at the collapse of the French army, he had impersonated a senior officer to organise a plane to fly him to France, where he intended to persuade parts of the French command to evacuate troops to the United Kingdom. The exact details of what followed are unclear, but his plan was discovered, the flight was cancelled, and Wintle was ordered to rejoin his regiment. He then confronted Archibald Boyle, the Director of Air Intelligence; Wintle interpreted some of Boyle's remarks about not wishing to return to the Royal Dragoons as an accusation of cowardice, at which point he produced a gun and - again, details vary - threatened to shoot either himself, Boyle, or both. He expanded on this theme, claiming that a number of members of the Cabinet, as well as most senior Army officers and all RAF officers above the rank of Group Captain, should also be shot.
Wintle was arrested on 21 June, and charged with assault; he was imprisoned in the Tower of London the following day pending a full investigation and a court-martial. The investigation produced two further charges, of feigning disability and of conduct prejudicial to military discipline.
In the event, the court-martial was postponed until August 26; when it finally arrived, Wintle played it for high drama, entering in full uniform and making a great show of treating the court as an impertinence. The first charge, of avoiding active service by pretending to have defective eyesight, was quickly dropped when he Wintle proved that he had in fact bluffed an Army optician into believing he had complete sight in both eyes; for good measure, he called Edmund Ironside, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, to testify as a witness to his injury. The third charge, of prejudicial conduct, was based around his suggestion that a large number of high-ranking officials "ought to be shot"; he claimed that this was in fact a patriotic action, and produced a list of the ministers in question. He proceeded to read it to the court; by the seventh name on the list, the prosecution interrupted him in order to drop the charges.
The remaining charge was one of assault, for drawing a gun on Air Commodore Boyle with the "intention to intimidate him", which Wintle denied. His defence was that, having worked with Boyle for a year, he felt he could not be intimidated; "he was the type of Officer that ... if you shouted at the top of your voice 'The Air Ministry's on fire!' all he would do would be to take up his pen and write a minute to someone about it". This line of argument was, perhaps unsurprisingly, not entirely convincing; the court found him guilty of assault, but gave him only a "severe reprimand". The relative leniency of the sentence may have been helped by the fact that he was being tried by an Army court-martial for offending a member of the Air Force.
The only detailed source for the remainder of the War is Wintle's autobiography. It describes his service with the Special Operations Executive, where he was captured in Vichy France and imprisoned in the prison at Toulon, from where he escaped to Spain (on the second attempt), made it back to Allied lines, served alongside Aly Khan in the Middle East, and finally trained as a spy in India. All these are individual plausible, though the overall truth of them is perhaps in doubt. However, it is known that he was mentioned in despatches for service in the Middle East in 1941-42, and served through the remainder of the war, being placed on the unemployed list at his own request in June 1945.
He had stood down from active duty in June in order to become a candidate in the United Kingdom general election, 1945; he contested the Norwood constituency as a Liberal Party candidate. Both Wintle and the sitting MP, Duncan Sandys, were comfortably defeated by the Labour challenger, Ronald Chamberlain. He finally retired from the Army in April 1946, with a disability pension and the honorary rank of lieutenant-colonel.
Wintle v. Nye
Wintle returned to the public eye in 1955, involved in a second high-profile charge of assault.
with a high-profile legal case - again, a charge for assault.
Wintle was a larger-than-life character, who R. V. Jones described on their first meeting as "almost a caricature of the popular idea of a cavalryman - cavaderous, with a large reddish nose and a monocle ... his moustache was neatly trimmed, and his uniform immaculate". An American journalist, reporting on the trial in 1955, saw "a small, furious, ramrod-straight man who ... believes in taking things into his own hands. Through his one good eye he views the world with the wary and defiant air of a man who suspects the worst, and expects to deal with it."
A wide range of stories about Wintle circulated both before and after his death, though it is unclear to what degree many of them were exaggerated. He himself was an unreliable narrator; as early as 1945 he was representing the 1940 court-martial as being brought for having flown to occupied France, and ending in acquittal and vindication. However, even taking the stories as indicative rather than absolutely true, they are
(Time stuff goes here; also http://www.archive.org/stream/ageofjackson030983mbp#page/n145/mode/2up)
He wrote an autobiography which was published posthumously in 1968, The Last Englishman.
- Park, pp. 10-11.
- The note of his injuries is in Jones, p. 112
- Park, p. 11; http://www.london-gazette.co.uk/issues/33770/pages/7246
- Jones, p. 79; http://www.london-gazette.co.uk/issues/34571/pages/7267
- Park, p.11
- Jones, p. 79; see also Frankau's entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
- Jones, pp. 79-80
- Details from Jones, pp. 111-12, and Park, p. 13
- Jones, p. 112
- Jones, pp. 112-113
- Park, pp. 12-13; see also caveat on p. 11
- Park, p. 13
- Jones, p. 79
- Park, p. 11
- Park, p. 13
- Park, p. 17
R. V. Jones (1978), The Wizard War: British Scientific Intelligence 1939-1495. New York: Coward. McCann & Geoghegan. ISBN 0698108965
Malcolm Park (1989), A layman's triumph. In: Victorian Bar News (Spring 1989), issue 70, pp. 10-17. http://www.scribd.com/doc/18171546/Col-Wintle-argues-wins-his-case-in-the-House-of-Lords