World War I was sparked in 1914 when Archduke Franz Ferdinand was shot and killed by a young Serbian patriot. What came next were nations sending their men and rushing onto the Western Front and into the trenches of war to fight what was thought of as “the war to end all wars.” It was 1915 when the Western Front was graced with the existence of who would become one of London’s greatest eccentrics in the personality of Alfred Daniel Wintle.
Entry into World War I
Alfred Wintle was 16 when the war broke out. He wanted to be part of the military action and join the fighting on the Western Front. So, in the summer of 1915, he was able to convince his father to let him enter the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich. In less than four months, he was commissioned to be an officer. He just had to wait for a week before he was finally transported to the front. His arrival was welcomed with shell bursts. It wasn’t too long after he was introduced to his sergeant when a German shell exploded close by and showered the young lieutenant with his sergeant’s entrails. Petrified, he dealt with his fear by standing at attention and saluting over and over again. Later in his life, he 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.”
Running Out of Luck
The Englishman, who was proud that he was, saw action at Ypres, the Somme, La Bassée, and Festubert. Once, Alfred Wintle single-handedly captured the French village of Vesle before handing it over to the New Zealanders who were on their way to attack it in force. Everything was going well as far as Wintle’s war career was concerned, at least until the Third Battle of Ypres in 1917 when he assisted in manhandling an 18-pound field gun across a “crater-swamp,” and the carriage hit an unexploded shell. Safe to say that his luck had not completely run out because he found himself in the hospital after. It was then that he found out that at the age of 19, he lost his left eye, badly damaged his right, lost several fingers and a kneecap. From then on, he had to wear a monocle for the rest of his life.
Due to his situation, he was understandably sent back to England, where he was informed that the war was over. He tried to escape from the Southern General Hospital by dressing up in a nurse’s uniform. The plan could’ve been successful had not for his mustache and monocle that gave him away.
Once he was released from the hospital, he managed to convince one of his father’s contacts to warrant him back to the front. He did and spent his time in what he described as a “moderately successful year in action,” after earning the Military Cross for obtaining vital intelligence and 35 German soldiers that he single-handedly captured.
Windle was not convinced when the war ended. He was certain that the Germans would return after the Treaty of Versailles was signed in 1919. In his diary, he wrote,
Great War peace signed at last.
The following day he added,
I declare private war on Germany.
Into World War II
Before World War II, Alfred Wintle was sent to England and then India, where he was transferred from the Artillery to the First Royal Dragoons, the last of the British Army’s heavy cavalry units. One time, with the Dragoons, he fell from his horse and broke his leg. As he was recovering in a military hospital, he was informed that a sixteen-year-old Dragoon named Cedric Mays was also there and dying on his bed. Wintle was furious and went to Mays’ bed to tell him that Dragoons never died on the bed and that he should stop dying. As for Mays, he was too afraid to die after what Wintle did, and he made a full recovery. The two became friends for life.
When WWII broke out in 1939, he tried to convince his superiors to send him to France, but because he was forty at that time, half-blind, and without full use of his legs, he was assigned to military intelligence in London instead.
In 1940, he was arrested as a spy after a failed attempt to make contact with the French Resistance in France, as it turned out his contact was a traitor. He was sent to a Vichy prison, where he announced that it was his duty to escape as an English officer. Expectedly, no one took him seriously until he did escape but was later on caught after checking into a local hotel, badly wanting to take a shower.
He successfully escaped on his second attempt a year after by going on hunger strike until the prison commandant and his men allowed him to regularly inspect them, saying they were not fit to guard an English officer. After thirteen days of not eating, he was finally allowed to carry out his inspections and began eating again. In reality, he just wanted to scout and plan his escape. Using his bedspring, he sawed through the bars of his cell, jumped out of the window, landed on a cart that he saw during his “inspection,” and ran his way to Spain, which was a neutral country. From there, he went back to England.
After the war, he retired on a full disability pension and married his wife Dora in 1944, where they settled in Kent.