Tom Wintringham: Revolutionary Patriot

Hugh Purcell tells the story of the man who inspired the Home Guard, taught it guerrilla warfare and paid a price for his political beliefs.

In the summer of 1940, after the Low Countries and France had surrendered in the face of the Nazi blitzkrieg and the British Army had been evacuated from Dunkirk, Britons awaited their fate, sure that Hitler would order an invasion across the Channel. Prime Minister Winston Churchill roused the nation with BBC broadcasts of stirring defiance that were listened to by two out of every three adults. He was followed on the airwaves by the writer J.B. Priestley, whose homely Yorkshire voice extolling the British way of life was listened to by one out of three adults. Then there was Tom Wintringham with his huge readership of several million from weekly articles in the Picture Post and Daily Mirror, his BBC talks, his columns in Tribune and the New Statesman and his popular books New Ways of War and Armies of Freemen that together sold well over 100,000 copies in a few months. If Churchill’s patriotic oratory called to mind an aged Henry V and Priestley was compared to that ‘honester and true-hearted man Falstaff’, then Wintringham’s persona was his hero, the Leveller John Lilburne. He called the nation to arms with his slogan in the Daily Mirror ‘An Aroused People, An Angry People, An Armed People’, and, in New Ways of War, he pledged an equal sacrifice for a better Britain:

Knowing that science and the riches of the earth make possible an abundance of material things for all, and trusting our fellows and ourselves to achieve that abundance after we have won, we are willing to throw everything we now possess into the common lot, to win this fight. We will allow no personal considerations of rights, privileges, property, income, family or friendship to stand in our way. Whatever the future may hold we will continue our war for liberty.

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