Wintringham was born in Grimsby in 1898. He abandoned his studies at Balliol College, Oxford to join the Royal Flying Corps during the First World War. He served on the Western Front and left the armed forces in 1919.
Becoming a journalist specializing in military affairs, he wrote for several newspapers and established the journal the Left Review. In 1923 Wintringham joined the Communist Party. Two years later he was jailed for sedition and inciting soldiers to mutiny.
In 1935 Wintringham published `The Coming World War’. The following year he went to Spain to cover the Civil War. He stayed on and eventually became the commander of the British Battalion of the International Brigade. Wintringham led his men at Jarama before being seriously wounded at Quinto in August 1937 and was forced to return to England. He later wrote English Captain (1941), a book about his experiences in the war.
Wintringham, crouching left, with the Tom Mann Centuria in Spain.
While in Spain, Wintringham fell in love with a woman, Kitty who became his second wife, who was accused of being a Trotskyite spy. His own credentials were called in to question and this laid the basis for his moving away from the Party.
Tom Wintringham with Kitty in London, 1938
When he returned to England, he worked for the Picture Post. His war record between 1939 and 1945 was impressive: unfit for active service he decided to lend his military expertise to the creation of the Home Guard. He saw the Guard as a bulwark against a Nazi invasion – or, more sinisterly, a fascist coup led by the British ruling classes who Wintringham did not trust. He believed they were capable of striking a deal with Hitler as they were more scared of Soviet Russia than the Third Reich.
Wintringham set up a school to teach the tricks of guerrilla warfare – he wanted to change the idea of the Home Guard of being an elderly milkman armed with a broomstick: he wanted an armed citizenry. This linked in with a career of writing articles in publications like Picture Post, The Daily Mirror, the New Statesman and Tribune on such topics as how to make bombs and plan ambushes. He also wrote several books about military matters and politics including New Ways of War (1940), Freedom is Our Weapon (1941), Politics of Victory (1941) and People’s War (1942).
Wintringham joined forces with those on the left who disapproved of the electoral truce between the main political parties during the Second World War and with members of the 1941 Committee, Richard Acland, Vernon Bartlett and J. B. Priestley, established the short-lived Common Wealth Party.
Tom Wintringham died on his sister’s farm in Lincolnshire in 1949.
Also see: `The Last English Revolutionary, Tom Wintringham 1898-1949′
by Hugh Purcell. Sutton Publishing