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.

Photographed in 1914. Interior view of physics block of the University of Birmingham, then used as a barracks in the hospital. (Library of Birmingham via

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,