They say cats have nine lives. But one Belgian war hero has cheated death on many more levels when he survived three wars on three continents, multiple plane crashes, tunnelled out of a POW camp, had bitten off his own fingers when the doctors wouldn’t amputate them – cats pale in comparison! He has been wounded 11 times – that includes three shots to the face, head, legs, ankles, hip, ear, and graciously accepted a ton of shrapnel in the process. He has acquired the proverbial “friends in high places all over the world,” yet chosen to spend his life hunting ducks with only one good hand and an eye married to a woman young enough to be considered his daughter.
Welcome to the world of Adrian Paul Ghislain Carton de Wiart !!!
The Early Life of Adrian
If you believed the Terminator and Rambo were as badass as you can get on the celluloid, you’d be seriously disappointed when you delve into the life of Adrian Carton de Wiart, a nobleman that preferred to kick ass on the battle field to spending time attending dinner parties and performing other social obligations as was required by the nobility. In his memoirs Happy Odyssey, Winston Churchill was so enamoured by him, that he actually paid him tribute by writing his foreword and described him as a model of “chivalry and honour.“
In his childhood (born in 1880), Adrian was shipped off to a Catholic Boarding School by his parents with the hope that he might grow into a mature nobleman with the proper guidance. Eventually, Adrian ended up running away from the school and enrolling himself in the British Army without his father’s consent (as his mother died when he was six years old). In 1899, during the Second Boer war, he joined under the pseudonym “Trooper Carton” and claimed he was 25 years (though he was no more than 20) to get a taste for war. During the war, he sustained injuries to the stomach and groin, requiring him to return to England and lead an idyllic life for the next decade, engaging himself in physical fitness as he ran, jogged, walked, and played sports on a regular basis. According to Adrian:
At that moment, I knew once and for all that war was in my blood. If the British didn’t fancy me, I would offer myself to the Boers
Once fully recovered, Adrian joined the Imperial Light Horse and served for a while in South Africa and India. He was known for being the toughest, strongest and most foul-mouthed being anywhere he went.
The Badass Soldier
His favourite hobbies included polo and hunting wild boar with a knife. Upon the outbreak of WW1, Adrian’s fighting experience in Africa got him assigned to the Somaliland Camel Corps, along with some like-minded people. During the war (in 1914), he was shot in the arm and in the face, losing his left eye and part of his ear. When Adrian Carton received a glass eye, it caused him so much discomfort that he allegedly threw it from a taxi and acquired a black eye patch instead, reminiscent of pirates.
Not being satisfied with his heroics on the sands of Africa, Adrian was transferred to France in the Second Battle of Ypres (in 1915), where the war seemed to be far worse than in Africa. During an artillery barrage, his left hand was shattered. According to his autobiography, when the doctor refused to amputate his fingers, he tore off two fingers with his teeth. A year later, his hand was completely removed by a surgeon. He was later 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.In some inexplicable way, Adrian still somehow recovered from what would have killed any other mortal man, and went on to receive the Victoria Cross (In 1916). His citation read
For most conspicuous bravery, coolness and determination during severe operations of a prolonged nature. It was owing in a great measure to his dauntless courage and inspiring example that a serious reverse was averted. He displayed the utmost energy and courage in forcing our attack home. After three other battalion Commanders had become casualties, he controlled their commands, and ensured that the ground won was maintained at all costs. He frequently exposed himself in the organisation of positions and of supplies, passing unflinchingly through fire barrage of the most intense nature. His gallantry was inspiring to all.
And all Adrian had to say was:
Frankly, I enjoyed the war.
But that didn’t stop him from engaging in the sheer thrill of warfare. In the 1920s, Adrian was sent to help Poland deal with the simultaneous attacks that Eastern Europe had to offer. He survived being gunned down by the Ukrainian infantry, became aide-de-camp to the King of Poland, received a huge land grant on the Poland-USSR border for his services, and spent his tenure in Poland advising the British Crown and the Pope personally.
He had survived two plane crashes in two years, ran a gun-smuggling ring to bring supplies to Poland through Budapest, and even went on to fight a war against the Russians. In Warsaw (1920 -21), he apparently managed to shoot his way out, by hanging onto the railing of a moving express train and firing his revolver at a band of the Red Army cavalrymen who were trying to arrest and execute him.
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
– Adrian Paul Ghislain Carton de Wiart
When he finally retired from the army in 1923, with the honorary rank of major-general, he spent the next decade and a half shooting waterfowl on a friend’s 500,000-acre marshland estate in eastern Poland, trying to lead a peaceful life away from the war. He had converted the estate to a hunting lodge on an island, only a few miles from the Soviet border. But then fate intervened and in 1939, he got his Polish estate blown up by the Nazis which prompted him to enter yet another World War.
Here We go Again
When World War Two broke out, he led a campaign in Norway in 1940 to retake Trondheim from the Nazi’s and, along with his limited troops, fought off a counter attack by German Destroyer ships and ski troops. In 1941, when he was dispatched to form a British military mission in Yugoslavia, his aircraft was shot down (Near Libya). Swimming to shore, he was unfortunately captured by the Italians. Despite being in his 60s, he made numerous attempts to escape the PoW camp, which included 7 months of tunnelling. He even once managed to elude his captors for eight days, but considering his distinctive appearance (eye patch, age, empty sleeves, multiple scars), it was a dead giveaway and he was again captured. When he was eventually released in 1943, he was sent to be the Special Representative to China, where he helped fight the Japanese.
He finally retired from the military in 1947 and settled in County Cork (Ireland), spending his time fishing. Having proved indestructible on the battlefield, the “unkillable soldier” eventually succumbed to old age, and he died peacefully in 1963, aged 83.