- Created: Monday, 07 May 2012 00:00
- Written by Joe
Featured on S01E50 of the ChefDiddy.com podcast.
Adrian Carton de Wiart
May 5, 1880 – June 5, 1963
World War I
In an attack upon an enemy fort at Shimber Berris, De Wiart was shot in the face, and consequently had to wear a black patch over his left eye socket.
In February 1915, he embarked on a steamer for France. De Wiart took part in the fighting on the Western Front, commanding successively three infantry battalions and a brigade. He was wounded seven more times in the war, losing his left hand in 1915 and biting off his fingers when a doctor declined to remove them. He was shot through the skull and ankle at the Battle of the Somme, through the hip at the Battle of Passchendaele, through the leg at Cambrai, and through the ear at Arras. He went to the Sir Douglas Shield's Nursing Home to recover from his injuries.
During World War I, De Wiart received the Victoria Cross. (VC), the highest award for gallantry in combat that can be awarded to British Empire forces.
After WW I, he went off to do some stuff in Poland...
De Wiart was active in August 1920, when the Red Army was at the gates of Warsaw. While out on his observation train, he was attacked by a group of Red cavalry, and fought them off with his revolver from the running board of his train, at one point falling on the track and reboarding quickly.
During WW II, he was clearly not the strapping young man that he once was, so he didn't lead entire squadrons. He simply couldn't. He did however lead a bunch of small units, mainly around Poland, Ireland, and the Mediterranean.
It was in Ireland that De Wiart was told that hew as too old to command a division on active duty.
He remained inactive very briefly, as he was appointed as head of the British Military Mission to Yugoslavia on 5 April 1941. Hitler was preparing to invade the country and the Yugoslavs asked for British help. De Wiart travelled to Belgrade in a Wellington Bomber.
After refuelling in Malta the aircraft left for Cairo with enemy territory to the north and south. Both engines failed off the coast of Italian-controlled Libya, and the plane crash landed in the sea about a mile from land. De Wiart was knocked unconscious, but the cold water brought him to. When the plane broke up and sank, he and the rest aboard were forced to swim a mile to shore. They were captured by the Italian authorities.
De Wiart quickly became good friends with 3 other people who were also captured. The four were committed to escaping. He made five attempts including seven months tunnelling. Once de Wiart evaded capture for eight days disguised as an Italian peasant, which is surprising considering that he was in northern Italy, did not speak Italian, and was 61 years old, with an eye patch, one empty sleeve and multiple injuries. Ironically, de Wiart had been approved for repatriation due to his disablement but notification arrived after his escape. As the repatriation would have required that he promise not to take any further part in the war it is probable that he would have declined anyway.
But to keep the cover, de Wiart was told he needed civilian clothes. Distrusting Italian tailors, he emphasised that they must be properly made. He was not going to wear one of their "bloody gigolo suits". In Happy Odyssey, he described the resultant suit as being the best he had in his life.
At one point he was summoned by Winston Churchill who informed him that he was going to be sent to China as his personal representitive. Before they got to china, they swung by Cairo to attend the Cairo Conference which was also attened by Teddy Roosevelt and a bunch of other famous leaders. During this meeting is where the best photo of De Wiart was taken. All of the famous leaders are gathered together, Winston churchill is smoking a cigar, is seated next to teddy roosevelt, and in the back row, with his eye patch and handless left arm is De Wiart.
He eventually retired at the age of 66
In letters to his wife, Hermione, Countess of Ranfurly, Ranfurly described De Wiart in captivity as "... a delightful character" and said he "...must hold the record for bad language." Ranfurly was "...endlessly amused by him. He really is a nice person – superbly outspoken."
In his memoirs he wrote, "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."
Listen to the podcast segment here: Coming Soon