Military Messiah

Orde Wingate (1903-44), the most eccentric and innovative commander in World War II, was remarkably like his distant cousin Lawrence of Arabia. Both came from a guilt-ridden fundamentalist (Scots Presbyterian and Plymouth Brethren) background and grew up in an atmosphere of religious gloom and repression. Both were short and slight (5'6" and only 130 pounds), and had fair skin, blond hair, and piercing blue eyes. They compensated for their unimpressive physique by testing themselves and toughening their bodies through extreme physical hardship—but also luxuriated in hot baths. Lawrence was an expert rider of camels, Wingate of horses.

Deliberately unkempt, both flouted military regulations and were hostile to mindless custom and blimpish authority. Brilliantly learned, they paraded their knowledge (especially about the history of warfare) and had unorthodox opinions on everything. Combining outrageous egoism with a sly sense of humor, they had an obsessive need to provoke and irritate, to indulge in exhibitionism and showmanship. Lawrence dressed in Arab robes; Wingate wore an antiquated pith helmet, carried an alarm clock with a bell instead of a wristwatch, conducted meetings and wandered around hotels while naked. A comrade commented on Wingate's Jekyll-and-Hyde personality: "One is charming, kind, almost deprecating. The other is nothing short of tyrannical, overweening and despotic. His energy and forcefulness...

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