War In The Blood

By Logan Metesh

Upon learning that a soldier had been shot in the face, head, stomach, groin, ankle, leg, hip, or ear, was blinded in one eye, survived two plane crashes, tunneled out of a POW camp, fought in three wars, or tore off their own fingers when a doctor declined to amputate them, you’d no doubt call that soldier lucky to be alive. To discover that all of the above happened to one specific soldier and that soldier lived, you’d call that man a badass.

Aside from calling him a badass, I’d suggest using his name: Lieutenant General Sir Adrian Paul Ghislain Carton de Wiart.

Born in Brussels in 1880, he skipped out of boarding school, lied about his age, and joined the British in the Second Boer War in 1899. Looking back later in life, he opined, “At that moment, I knew once and for all that war was in my blood.” It was the idea of war, and not service to the country, that he sought. In his memoirs, he remarked, “If the British didn’t fancy me, I would offer myself to the Boers.”

Adrian received his first injuries in South Africa during the Second Boer War. He was shot twice: once in the stomach and once in the groin.

In 1914, Carton de Wiart was en-route to Somaliland to serve with their Camel Corps. Attacked at Shimber Berris, he was shot twice in the face and lost his left eye and part of his ear. A witness later recalled how cool, calm, and collected Adrian was: “He didn’t check his stride but I think the bullet stung him up as his language was awful.” Carton de Wiart received the Distinguished Service Order for this experience.

He wore a glass eye to prove that he was fit to return to service, but it was incredibly uncomfortable. He threw it out a taxi window and opted for an eye patch for the rest of his life.

During a German artillery barrage in the Second Battle of Ypres in World War I, Adrian was injured when his watch was hit and sent shrapnel into his hand and wrist. A doctor refused to amputate two of the fingers on his left hand, so he ripped them off himself. Adrian argued that removing the fingers himself was less painful than keeping them, but he lost his entire hand later that year to amputation—this time by a doctor.

Undeterred, fellow soldiers saw him pulling grenade pins with his teeth and hurling them toward the enemy.

He sustained further injuries at some of the most well-known battles of the First World War. At the Somme: shot through the skull and ankle. At Passchendaele: shot through the hip. At Cambrai: shot through the leg. At Arras: shot through the ear.

As a result, he received appointments as an Officer of the Order of the Crown in Belgium and as a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George; he was awarded the Belgian Croix de Guerre and the Victoria Cross.

Despite everything he endured during World War I, Carton de Wiart had an overall positive experience. In his memoirs, he wrote, “Frankly, I enjoyed the war.”

Assigned to Poland after the war, his role was that of a fighting diplomatic ambassador in the Polish struggle against the Soviets, Ukranians, Lithuanians, and Czechs. He became acquainted with many members of Poland’s aristocracy and even acted as a second in a duel. The other second was the future president of Finland.

During this period, Adrian survived a plane crash, which resulted in a brief stint as a captive in Lithuania.

When the Red Army attacked Warsaw in August 1920, his observation train was attacked by cavalry and he fell off, hopped back up, remounted the moving train, and fought with his revolver.

Poland prevailed and Carton de Wiart received a number of promotions before retiring in 1923 with the honorary rank of major general.

For 15 years, Anton spent his time enjoying the leisures afforded to a Polish gentleman. He had access to a large estate and noted that, “I did not waste one day without hunting.”

The invasion of Poland in 1939 interrupted his retirement when the Soviets overran his estate and he lost all of his possessions—most notably, all of his guns—and he was recalled to military service.

Ordered to defend Nasmos, Norway, in 1940, Carton de Wiart’s seaplane was attacked after landing. Instead of abandoning the plane for an escape dinghy, he waited on the wreck until the Germans ran out of ammo and flew away. Only then did he head to shore.

Shortly after his 60th birthday in 1940, Carton de Wiart was put in command of the 61st Division in Northern Ireland, but when he arrived he was told that he was too old to be an active duty division commander.

Undeterred, he went to Serbia to negotiate with Yugoslavia at the personal request of Prime Minister Winston Churchill. On his flight, the plane suffered total engine failure and crashed off the Libyan coast. He survived the crash and swam a mile to shore, but was taken with others as prisoners of war by the Italians.

Adrian made numerous escape attempts, including one where he evaded recapture for eight days. Ever the colorful character, one of his fellow prisoners recalled that Adrian must “hold the record for bad language.”

Freed in 1943, he then served as Churchill’s special representative to Chinese leader Chiang Kai-Shek. He held this position until retirement in 1947 at the age of 67. On a stopover in Rangoon while heading home, he slipped coming down the plane’s steps and broke several vertebrae. He made a full recovery and went home.

His wife died in 1949 and he remarried in 1951. At 71, his second wife was just 48. They moved to County Cork, Ireland, and he lived out the remainder of his years in actual retirement.

Sir Adrian Paul Ghislain Carton de Wiart passed away in 1963 at the age of 83.

When a truly unique individual dies, it’s often said that they “broke the mold with that one.” In Carton de Wiart’s case, that’s most definitely true, and it’s probably a good thing, too. I’m not sure the 21st century could handle someone like him.

From the FE Films Archive

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