On futzing around, looking for something else, I came across a letter to the editor of The Times, written by the redoubtable Lt. Colonel Alfred Daniel Wintle in 1946. Wintle, a fabulously eccentric yet quintessentially English gentleman (and yes, I recognize that those two things are not necessarily mutually exclusive) had a colourful life. Among his exploits were “enlisting” at the age of 16 and fighting in the First World War (although it is unclear whether he actually officially signed on or not), resulting in the award of the Military Cross. He spent a stint in the Secret Service, serving in occupied France in the Second World War. On being captured, he promptly escaped, apparently convincing the entire Vichy French garrison to join the resistance in the process.
But by far his most famous episode was being thrown in the Tower of London (then a military prison), for threatening an RAF officer with his revolver, ostensibly to try and secure an airplane with which to join the French Air Force in attacking German troops occupying France. The ensuing story, in which he wrote and signed his own arrest warrant, apparently lived like a king in the Tower, and ultimately was acquitted of (almost) all charges, in part through producing a list of people he felt should be shot for the betterment of Britain (including some senior politicians), is fabulous. Some of Wintle’s escapades are documented in the excellent Most Secret War, and in the TV movie “The Last Englishman”.
All this, though, pales by comparison with this absolute gem of a letter, which falls squarely in the “I wish I’d written that” category. It’s practically Oscar Wilde in its brevity. It reads:
I have just written you a long letter.
On reading it over, I have thrown it into the waste paper basket.
Hoping this will meet with your approval,
Your obedient Servant
Sheer brilliance. And it’s so much like something I might have written that it’s scary. I’m very hazy on the relationship of Lt. Col. Wintle to myself, but if behaviour has anything to do with genetics, I’d say that the phenotype is very, very familiar.
[The original document, should you wish to see it, has been photographed and is online at Letters of Note.]