ESRAmagazine

Vindicating "The Friend"

A sign and poster on a building that was Orde Wingate’s headquarters in Kibbutz Ein Harod in the 1940s
In the December 2020 ESRA Magazine, Lydia Aisenberg claims that most young Israelis know little of the history and legacy of Major General Orde Charles Wingate (see Orde Wingate – VJ Day Remembrance). I would like to add some details to the story of this remarkable man, who helped in the founding of the State of Israel.
Unfortunately, not everyone appreciated the deeds of Orde Wingate. The official publication The History of the War against Japan [1961], includes many slanderous and untruthful statements about the contribution he and the Chindits made to the defeat of the Japanese. Many attempts have been made to have these records revised but to no avail.
In 1987, Brigadier Peter Mead made an abortive attempt to change these records, suggesting that the only way to exonerate Wingate from these callous accusations was for the Historical Branch of the Cabinet Office to make a clear statement that the official history represented the views of the authors alone. The HBCO declined to do so.
My late father, Dr Bernard A. Fisher, an educator and well-known lecturer, took it upon himself nearly twenty years later to attempt to rectify the situation. He worked tirelessly in the role of Public Relations Officer for the Wingate Institute from 1984 until 2007 when, at the age of 92, he retired, due less to his age than to the fact that modern technology had overtaken his ability to be of service to the college. It was in his role in PR that he was called upon yearly to give the annual address at the memorial service in honor of Orde Wingate.
The unfair description of Wingate, written by Major General Kirby and a General Pownall in the mid-1940s, became the official history. This greatly disturbed my father and he decided that the history books should be changed to reflect the true character of Orde Wingate.
Thus, in his 2006 address at the annual memorial service, Dr Fisher began his quest to vindicate Wingate ("The Friend"). The main subject of that address was a description of the totally unacceptable way in which Wingate and his family had been treated after his death and the damning report in the official history. During his address, Dr Fisher distributed copies of a document he had written, entitled "The Case for Revision", and appealed to those present to assist him in this challenge. His request was ignored.
Undeterred, my father decided on a different course, writing letters making similar requests to various authorities in England. Again, his efforts produced little or no response, let alone a willingness to help.
He persevered with his correspondence and, in desperation, wrote to the then British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, in August 2006, and was subsequently informed that these matters were the responsibility of the Ministry of Defense and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and, as such, it would be better to write to them directly. 
A reply in December 2006, eventually referred him back to the Cabinet Office. Finally, a reply stated, "I am afraid that we are unable to rewrite this particular history as the authors alone were responsible for any views expressed. All the source material which was used in the writing of the official history is now available …… so that people are able to read the material and form their own views or indeed write another book on the subject."
In his address the following year at Wingate my father said, "It now remains for us to publicize…the contents of the Ministry's reply, and thereby give the lie to those who had carried out a hatchet job… little men who could not have competed with him [Wingate], either in military argument or in battle."
This reply from the Ministry, while completely correcting the history books, has openly refuted the aspersions cast upon Orde Wingate and, in so doing, gave my father a great deal of satisfaction.
The above struggle for exoneration formed the basis of a booklet now in the Wingate Institute library.
 

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Tuesday, 20 April 2021

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