Licensed to Kill

My father, Tom Wintringham, took me to see the private school
for Guerrilla fighters that he was running in Twickenham, Middlesex.
There they taught martial arts, but not in the modern sense:

  • How to stop a tank
  • How and where to stab an enemy sentry in the back
  • Camouflage, Assassination
  • How to advance from house to house, using explosives
  • How to decapitate an enemy motor-cyclist with a wire ...

... As a normal bloodthirsty eleven-year-old, I thought it was all marvellous!

--- Oliver Wintringham

I had better explain why this school was permitted to exist!

At the start of the second World War, the Germans appeared to be winning.   The British Army (over a third of a million men) retreated to Dunkirk, and thence to England, leaving their tanks, vehicles, guns and equipment behind in France.   Churchill praised the bravery of all three armed forces, and of the many civilian sailors involved, but he went on to say:

"Wars are not won by evacuations.   The retreat from Flanders ... is a colossal military disaster ... and we must expect another blow to be struck almost immediately ..."
   --- speech to Parliament, June 4, 1940.

So, in 1940, the government and the people expected Britain to be invaded at any moment, by sea and by air.   The Germans had conquered Belgium and France with shocking ease.   Winston Churchill's now-famous speech continued bravely:

"We shall defend our island whatever the cost may be; we shall fight on beaches, landing grounds, in fields, in streets and on the hills.   We shall never surrender ..."

Two new armed services urgently needed training: the Home Guard, to resist invasion, and a more secret force to form the nucleus of the Resistance under a Nazi occupation.   These partisans would need the skills of an irregular army.   Unfortunately, very few people in Britain (in or out of the army) had those skills.   Even more unfortunately, many of the top people in the government, in the War Office, and even in the British Army, were still thinking in terms of the First World War, with trenches and even cavalry charges.   The Home Guard, they claimed, would have no guerrilla function, and required no weapons beyond wooden pikes.

Within a month, impatient of these official channels, Tom Wintringham and his wife Kitty had set up an unofficial school "The Picture Post Training School for Guerrilla Warfare" in Osterley Park, Twickenham, teaching lethal skills.   Most of the instructors at the school, like Tom himself, had recently been fighting against Franco in Spain.   The magazine Picture Post published Tom's articles about it, and Tom Wintringham became a household name.

The school was a huge success and trained thousands of members of the Home Guard (who were not all the hilarious clowns that you see in Dad's Army).   And Regular Army Officers came begging to be allowed to bring their troops to Osterley Park for "some real training".

The threatened Nazi invasion of Britain never arrived.
The War Office took over the school and closed it down.
Tom had hoped for a commission in the Army, but was rejected.
But, as Hugh Purcell's book describes, Tom was already moving on to his next adventure.

© April 2004   OJ Wintringham

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