It was during “the Arab Revolt” in 1936 and, thereafter, that he encountered his true “calling” as it were, which he always knew he had — to lead a Jewish Army into battle; and, while there, many consider that he laid the foundations for the Israeli Army to come — if not totally ‘the Army,’ certainly many of its future officers like Moshe Dayan and Yigal Allon and its fighting methods. He even said as much at one of the “Training Sessions” he organized (with future Field Marshall Archibald Wavell’s blessing) in 1938, i.e., “we have come here to lay the foundations for the Jewish Army.” Of course, for most run-of-the-mill English officers, who were largely pro-Arab anyhow and against more Jewish immigration to Palestine at this crucial time, such language was blasphemous bordering on “treason” and just increased the number of enemies he always seemed to accumulate at GHQ’s.
Not for Wingate. He taught Jewish settlers and Haganah enlistees to go out from their previous closed-in and defensive-like stockade enclosures, fearlessly at night like their enemies, to often blindly track the land with nothing but a compass, a flashlight, and a topographical map to hunt and ambush marauders and terrorists. He felt that Jewish soldiers could be as good or better than any British and, reporting the same to “Cousin Rex,” he founded the combined units known as “Special Night Squads” (SNS) composed of mixed Jewish and British personnel.
Always hated at GHQ too for his sloppy dress, his lack of respect for authority, his eccentricity (often he would sit in his tent naked with nothing but a pith helmet or stand in front of his recruits reading passages from the Bible — usually about his favorite character Gideon, who only wanted to fight with ‘picked men’ and in whose environs, Daburiyyah, he did much of his fighting — and actually called his force in Ethiopia, when he arrived there, “Gideon Force”), and seemed to revel in either shocking or affronting his superiors; he was so successful in protecting the pipelines and stopping cross-border raids that he was finally expelled from Palestine at the instigation of the Mufti and his confreres and most of the other anti-Semitic and anti-Jewish-settlement Headquarters rank and file officers in 1939, just at the time it was most needed, with the proviso — never to return to Palestine.
He never did, but before he left, he even urged his Jewish friends and associates, by whom he was called “the Yedid” — “the Friend” (he was very close to Chaim Weizmann) — to start the Uprising against the British right then and there by themselves raiding the oil refinery at Haifa — again virtual “treason”; but in the face of Hitler’s pronouncements and depredations, he felt this was the only way they would be able to “save” their European Jewish brethren. In this, he turned out to be, sadly, almost completely correct — even prophetic. He even volunteered to lead them — he felt that strongly about the situation.
Who knows, perhaps if he had known or made contact with the Jabotinsky Revisionist faction at the time, he might have been more successful. Even the later Altalena tragedy or fiasco between Labor and Revisionist Zionists (recently written about in the Jerusalem Post) might have been avoided — again, who knows? But he did not. He left the country in disgrace, never to return (except on one airplane-refueling stop on his way to India and Burma later); but he never gave up the idea of returning to found a Jewish Army, which he thought would be the best in the world since he considered the Jewish fighting man, when properly trained, to be the best; and perhaps under his leadership it would have. Wingate never lost a battle in his life.