Lieutenant-General Sir Adrian Carton de Wiart, VC, KBE, CB, CMG, DSO

Carton de Wiart was wounded a grand total of 11 times; twice in the Boer War, once in Somaliland and eight times on the Western Front. Two of these injuries resulted in serious impairments: the loss of his left eye, and the loss of his left hand. He was shot in the face, head, stomach, ankle, leg, hip, and ear. He tore off his own wounded fingers when a doctor refused to amputate them. For many years after he had been wounded in the First World War, pieces of shrapnel were being taken from his body.
He summed up his experience in the First World War: “Frankly I had enjoyed the war.”
Carton de Wiart started his service as a Trooper in the Middlesex Yeomanry during the Boer War. He was gazetted into the 4th Royal Irish Dragoon Guards in India in 1902 and was later seconded to the Somaliland Camel Corps with whom he won the DSO in 1916, losing his eye in the process. After returning to the 4th Dragoon Guards in Flanders, he was severely wounded and lost his left hand whilst in action near Ypres. On recovery, he returned to France, was given command of the 8th Battalion of the Gloucestershire Regiment and whilst commanding them during the fierce fighting at La Boiselle on the 2nd/3rd July 1916, he was awarded the VC. His citation reads:
“He displayed conspicuous bravery, coolness and determination in forcing home the attack, thereby averting a serious reverse. After the other Battalion Commanders had become casualties, he controlled their commands as well, frequently exposing himself to the intense barrage of enemy fire. His energy and courage was an inspiration to us all.”
After recovering from further wounds he was given command of 12th Brigade.
During the Second World War, Carton de Wiart served first as Head of the British Military Mission to Poland until its collapse, this was followed by command of the Central Norwegian Expeditionary Forces in its hopeless attempt to hold Trondheim. A year later, he was sent to head the Military Mission in Yugoslavia but on the way, his plane crashed into the sea and after swimming ashore he was made a prisoner of the Italians. In August 1943, the Italians released him and sent him to Lisbon to negotiate their surrender terms. From October 1943 until retirement in 1946, he was the Government’s Military Representative with General Chiang Kai-Shek in China.
Carton de Wiart is the basis for the character Brigadier Ben Ritchie-Hook in Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honor trilogy.
His eyepatch and missing hand caused him to be known as “Nelson” to his troops.
Carton de Wiart’s memoir Happy Odyssey – The Memoirs of Lieutenant-General Sir Adrian Carton de Wiart (1950) is very good.
“Governments may think and say as they like, but force cannot be eliminated, and it is the only real and unanswerable power. We are told that the pen is mightier than the sword, but I know which of these weapons I would choose.”
Carton de Wiart’s medals:
Top Row, L to R: Star badge, Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire; Badge, Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire; Companion of the Order of the Bath; Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George; Knight of the Legion d’Honneur.
Bottom row: Victoria Cross; Distinguished Service Order; Queen’sSouth Africa Medal, with clasps: South Africa 1901, Transvaal, Orange Free State, Cape Colony; Africa General Service Medal, with clasp Shimber Berris, 1914-15; 1914 Star; British War Medal, 1914-20; Allied Victory Medal, with oak leaf for Mention in Dispatches, 1914-19; France and Germany star; Africa Star; Burma Star; Italy Star; British War Medal, 1939-45; Coronation Medal, 1937; Coronation Medal, 1953; Officer of the Belgian Order of the Crown; silver Cross of the Polish Order of Military Virtue; Belgian Croix de Guerre (WWI); Polish Cross of Valour (WWI); Polish Cross of Valour (WWII); French Croix de Guerre (WWII), with oak leaf for Mention in Dispatches.

22 thoughts on “Lieutenant-General Sir Adrian Carton de Wiart, VC, KBE, CB, CMG, DSO”

  1. They still make some very good ones.

    But not having to fight the Germans means not having to go back again and again as parts of your body are whittled away.

  2. “He summed up his experience in the First World War: “Frankly I had enjoyed the war.”

    This makes me think of Ernst Junger’s Storm of Steel

    We jumped over several snipers’ nests and hurriedly excavated trenches. In mid-jump over a slightly better-made trench, I felt a piercing jolt in the chest – as though I had been hit like a game-bird. With a sharp cry that seemed to cost me all the air I had, I spun on my axis and crashed to the ground. It had got me at last. At the same time as feeling I had been hit, I felt the bullet taking away my life. I had felt Death’s hand once before, on the road at Mory – but this time his grip was firmer and more determined. As I came down heavily on the bottom of the trench, I was convinced it was all over. Strangely, that moment is one of very few in my life of which I am able to say they were utterly happy. I understood, as in a flash of
    lightning, the true inner purpose and form of my life. I felt surprise and disbelief that it was to end there and then, but this surprise had something untroubled and almost merry about it.

  3. What are the odds of getting merely wounded and maimed so many times without the bullet finding the fatal mark?

    So many others bought the farm the first and only time they were hit. Part of it is tenacity of course, the refusal to give in to death.

    Still, an earned gaggle of gongs worthy of a Crown Prince.

  4. I’m struck by a feature of his Wiki entry, namely the number of times he was given temporary promotion, or local promotion, after which he would revert to a lower rank. I can see that the point was to save the taxpayer money when the fun was over, but Sir Adrian did seem to get the treatment rather often. There are some people the taxpayer shouldn’t grudge getting a higher half-pay or pension.

  5. What are the odds of getting merely wounded and maimed so many times without the bullet finding the fatal mark?

    So many others bought the farm the first and only time they were hit. Part of it is tenacity of course, the refusal to give in to death.

    The odds are low. The odds that post-war memoirs will be written by people who survived such wounds, as opposed to those who didn’t, are much higher.

  6. I’m reading Hornfischer’s book on the naval war in the Pacific.

    It is terrific as were his other books. I’ve been reading about the Saipan invasion. The battles were horrific, worse than Iwo Jima. I finally understand the battle that got Ben Salomon his Medal of Honor. It was posthumous, of course and there were no family left alive so it sits in the USC Dental School.

    When the Japanese started overrunning his hospital, he stood a rear-guard action in which he had no hope of personal survival, allowing the safe evacuation of the wounded, killing at least 98 enemy troops before being killed himself during the Battle of Saipan. In 2002, Salomon posthumously received the Medal of Honor.

    The Japanese decided the battle was lost and several thousand staged a final suicide attack that got through American lines. They all died but they did kill lots of Americans.

    I have wondered if it is the model for the attack in Anton Myrer’s book, “Once an Eagle.”

    He was a Marine and I think he was wounded at Saipan. No Guam but same campaign.

    In 1942, he enlisted and was accepted by the United States Marine Corps. Myrer participated in the Battle of Guam and the occupation of the remaining Mariana Islands afterwards. He was wounded in Guam and was promoted to the rank of corporal before being discharged in 1946.

    He must have known about that event. It sounds like the same battle except his book was about the Army and the battle was set in the Philippines.

  7. The Ben Salomon Wikipedia entry is interesting. An experienced dentist was drafted into the army in 1940 as an infantry private. Policies sure changed as the war progressed. My father received his MD in 1944 from UCSF and was promptly drafted into the army as a lieutenant. Worked at a hospital in Livermore, CA (I believe, have tried to determine what army facility it might have been, but got nowhere). Two years later he was discharged as a captain.

    Salomon was born in 9/1914, my father in 12/1915. Maybe dentists and doctors were treated differently. My father also was at university a lot longer, he got an MS and
    a PhD in physiology before medical school.

    I remember a couple of dinner parties my folks hosted for my dad’s medical colleagues in the mid to late 60s. One fellow, who was among my father’s closest friends, had served in Korea in a field hospital during the early fighting. I don’t recall much of what he said, but he brought along to the party a portable, foot pedal pipe organ, and he and my father (a talented piano player) played some great music on it. A very cool army souvenir.

  8. “An experienced dentist was drafted into the army in 1940”: I’m surprised to learn that you had conscription before the war started (for you).

  9. “I understood, as in a flash of
    lightning, the true inner purpose and form of my life. I felt surprise and disbelief that it was to end there and then, but this surprise had something untroubled and almost merry about it.”

    Enlightenment. The goal of the Buddhist religion. You might notice, he had no need to involve a god.

  10. “You might notice, he had no need to involve a god.”

    There’s an old Jewish saying from the Talmud, “this too is for the good”
    [or something like that, somebody correct if I’m wrong, I’m out typing on my phone].

    Augustine had written something similar, “wherever truth may be found it belongs to God”

    We don’t have any clue what God’s real plan is, but we can be assured that the universal default is that God’s love – the Good – is emanating and permeating everywhere through everyone at all times. Evil only occurs when we shut it out.
    Enlightenment, simply when we feel the Good.

  11. Thanks, Sarge. Raymondshaw’s point about drafting a dentist as an infantry private is good: surely he should have been put to work looking after the teeth of aircrew.

  12. “Enlightenment, simply when we feel the Good.”

    No. It’s the heart of religion. It’s where the starters of all religion got their reason to do what they did. It was so astounding, for them, that they could not relate to it’s reality and had to fall back on what they knew, gods and supernatural force.

    A pity, it makes the whole thing much more difficult. A god creates a separation, that does not exist, and really, is the root of the problem. It is the unity of existence that matters. The fact there is no difference in kind between your being and the event that created the universe is what’s important. Realizing that directly, making that connection, which is supremely real, leads to what he described.

    Unusual but it happens to all kinds of people. The Buddha created a path anyone can follow. It took me 50 years but I’m slow.

  13. Dearie,
    My point was less about whether a particular draftee received a safe or hazardous assignment, but whether the military did a competent job in matching talents with tasks. In the case of Ben Salomon, he demonstrated great talent as a healer and a killer. Both are needed in an effective army.

    Given the attrition rates in the USAAF Eighth Air Force during WW2, those guys deserved steak and champagne 3 times a day, a personal nymph to tuck them in at night plus a dentist to cast them a solid gold grill.

    I will also note that I am a firm advocate of self ownership. I consider conscription an abomination incompatible with a nation of free people. If a just government needs the aid of its citizens during a time of war, the people will be there for them. If the government is not just, the people can let it fall. At least here, there really is a rifle behind every blade of grass. As far as I am concerned, the enemy will do the people a favor if they grind our governing class into dust. Then the people will make the enemy leave.

  14. “Events do not create a universe, a Creator does that. You still have more time.”

    The singularity about 14 billion years ago is what produced this universe. It’s alive!

    It is one mind, the entire universe, involved as far as I can tell in a work of art. We are tiny reflections of that consciousness and part of it. Understanding that truth, is enlightenment.

  15. “If a just government needs the aid of its citizens during a time of war, the people will be there for them.”

    The Marines, until 1944 I believe, were all volunteers. The reason was that Marines were known to take great effort to retrieve all wounded where the Army did not have that reputation.

    In 1944, as best I have been able to tell, even the Marines began to use conscription because of the numbers needed.

    As to the Army and the wounded, a surgeon I know was a Navy surgeon in Korea (all medical people with Marines are Navy). One morning they awakened to find the Army had pulled out during the night and nobody told them. They were now the front line with the Chinese a short distance away. The field hospital was caring for Army wounded. They were not with Marines.

    A ditty from Korea went “The pitter patter of little feet. It’s the old First Cav in full retreat.”

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