Today is the birthday of Alfred Daniel Wintle, who was born Mariopoul, South Russia in 1897. He was the son of an English diplomat and a soldier during the First and Second World Wars. Normally that wouldn’t be the sort of thing that interested me but Wintle was an eccentric. I couldn’t find a picture of him that I can use, so here are some massive guns instead.
In 1915 he spent four months training at the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich, came out as a commissioned officer and a week later found himself at the front. On his first night, a shell burst near him, blowing up his sergeant. They’d only just been introduced. Wintle overcame his fear as the bombardment continued by standing to attention and saluting. He must have found this helped because he later wrote: “Within thirty seconds I was able to become again an Englishman of action and to carry out calmly the duties I had been trained to perform”.
After many other lucky escapes and a lot of being an Englishman, he was wounded in 1917. He was helping to pull a massive gun-carriage through the mud and ran over a shell which exploded. He lost his left eye, a kneecap and several fingers. The sight in his right eye was also damaged and he wore a monocle for the rest of his life. He was sent back to England to convalesce by doctors who he referred to as ‘infernal quacks’. He wasn’t happy. He began to plan an escape from the hospital. Wintle managed to attended a dance disguised as a nurse and from there he made good his escape. Though apparently the monocle had been a bit of a giveaway. He returned to France with a warrant signed by a friend of his father’s. There in 1918, he took 35 prisoners all by himself and wound up winning the Military Cross.
Between the wars, he was pretty bored. Wintle said that his work was mostly: “remaining seated for long periods in the presence of writing materials.” his diary for June 19th 1919 reads: “Great War peace signed at last.” and for June 20th 1919: “I declare private war on Germany.”
At the outbreak of World War II he asked his superiors to send him to France. When they refused, he planned to resign his commission and gather his own private army to: “take the war to the Hun”. After France surrendered, he demanded an aircraft which he planned to use to rally the French Air Force and persuade them all to fly to Britain and carry on fighting from there. When he was refused he pulled a gun on an RAF officer and threatened to shoot him. For this he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. He was escorted there by train by a young soldier who lost his arrest warrant. Wintle declared the soldier incompetent and went to get a new arrest warrant. But there was no officer to sign it, so Wintle signed it himself.
He had a splendid time at the Tower, was visited by friends and one of the guardsmen was assigned as his servant. At his trial he not only admitted threatening to shoot the RAF officer, but also produced a list of other people he thought ought to be shot. One of them was the Secretary of State for War. You’d think that would have made things worse for him, but it didn’t. Someone must have approved of his list because he was let off with a formal reprimand.
Wintle was eventually sent to France where he was captured whilst disguised as a French schoolteacher. He was imprisoned for thirteen months. There, he informed his guards that it was his duty to attempt to escape. He almost made it when he lifted his cell door of it’s hinges and hid in a sentry box but he was recaptured within a week. After that he went on a two week hunger strike as a protest against the: “slovenly appearance of the guards who are not fit to guard an English officer!” They persuaded him to end his strike after thirteen days, but it was 7.30 in the evening and he told them he always dined at 7.00, so it was too late and they must wait until tomorrow. He eventually sawed through his prison bars, jumped into a passing dustcart and returned to Britain via Spain.
After the war he became famous for being one of the very few non-lawyers to win a court case in the House of Lords. It was over his Cousin’s will. She had died unexpectedly and suspiciously left a substantial part of her fortune a solicitor named Nye who wrote her will. His cousin, Kitty, was another unusual individual. She owned two houses and, whichever one she was staying in, she sent a letter every day to the other house, addressed to herself and containing tram tickets or passages copied from books. She then kept all the letters in bags under her bed. Kitty had never been certified insane but she was clearly a vulnerable individual who needed looking after. She was looked after pretty well by Wintle’s sister, and it was to her that Kitty had first left the bulk of her estate. Wintle suspected Nye of taking advantage of his cousin and pursued the case through several courts but kept losing. Eventually he tricked Nye into meeting him, forced him to remove his trousers, took two photographs of him, threw him out into the street and then called the police to tell them that there was a man in the street with no trousers on. Wintle received a six month sentence in Wormwood Scrubs, but it drew attention to the case and he was eventually able to take it to the House of Lords where he won his case, making one of the most famous amateur lawyers in all legal history. Nye was removed from the role of solicitors.