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Orde Wingate – VJ Day Remembrance

A sign and poster on a building that was Orde Wingate’s headquarters in Kibbutz Ein Harod in the 1940s

Most young Israelis would associate the name Wingate with Israel's most impressive facility for sport education spread over expansive grounds, hugging the coast and azure Mediterranean waters, just a short drive from the popular-with-Brits seaside resort of Netanya.

A high percentage of the younger generation today would not know that the full title of that amazing facility, commonly known just as "Wingate", is actually The Wingate National Institute for Sport Excellence - Israel's National Center for Physical Education and Sport - inaugurated in 1957 in honor of the legendary Major General Orde Charles Wingate, who was, and still is, known to an older population of Israelis as "the Friend" or hayedid in Ivrit.

Few youngsters would know how indebted the State of Israel, and the IDF in particular, is to Orde Wingate and the deeply religious Christian Zionist's outstanding contribution of training of Jewish fighters in the Haganah during the British Mandate.

Nor would most know of the tremendously important role he played in the defeat of the Japanese more than seven decades ago, remembered earlier this year in Britain with the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of VJ Day.

Some years ago, an exceptionally successful exhibition dedicated to Orde Wingate was held at the Beit Sturman Regional Museum situated in Kibbutz Ein Harod in the eastern portion of the Jezreel Valley in Lower Galilee. Among those who visited the exhibition were scores of young men and women serving in the IDF at that time, as well as lecturers, archivists, historians, university students and groups of veteran Israelis who came not only to pay homage to the great man but also to share stories they had heard from their parents who had served in the Haganah and been trained by Orde Wingate.

The IDF soldiers not only learned of Orde Wingate's heroic deeds training and leading the famous "Special Night Squads" against Arab gangs attacking both Jews and British servicemen, but also of the direct connection between the son of Plymouth Brethren-adhering parents and that of the pioneering members of the kibbutz.

Founded in 1921, Ein Harod is named after the nearby Maayan Harod, where in Biblical times Gideon gathered over 300 men to fight the Midianites, and it was here the eponymous Hebrew-speaking British Army officer - who passionately believed in Jewish redemption and return of Jews to the Promised Land – made his headquarters, training and leading on night skirmishes, the "Special Night Squads."

Moshe Dayan was once quoted as saying, "Wingate would not be regarded as normal, but his own standards were far from ordinary - he was a military genius and a wonderful man."

Beit Sturman is named after Ein Harod founder Haim Sturman, a legendary Haganah fighter and close friend of the British military genius. Sturman was killed when the car he was a passenger in hit a roadside mine just a short distance from the kibbutz. At his funeral, Orde Wingate stood at the foot of Sturman's open grave in the kibbutz cemetry, saluting his Zionist Socialist friend and fellow fighter, as he was lowered into the ground.

Admired by Jews and feared by Arabs, Wingate became far too controversal for the British and he was transferred to Britain for a period before being posted to Ethiopia where he fought against the Italians, and then to Burma where he operated behind Japanese lines. He was killed in an air crash in British India, close to where he was born, on the way back from the Burmese jungle in 1944.

It will never be too late to salute, again and again, Orde Wingate and to continue to honor and remember him at every given opportunity.

 

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Thursday, 09 December 2021

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