OUR call for you to nominate past and present champions of British liberty and culture who still need to be honoured with statues continues apace. This latest comes via the TCW Comments section from reader D A Christianson. He says his candidate is not precisely a civil hero, but someone who has been too quickly forgotten …
LIEUTENANT-GENERAL Sir Adrian Paul Ghislain Carton de Wiart VC, KBE, CB, CMG, DSO (May 5, 1880 – June 5, 1963), was a British Army officer of Belgian and Irish descent.
He fought in the Boer War and in the first and second world wars. He was shot in the face, head, stomach, ankle, leg, hip and ear, survived a plane crash, tunnelled out of a PoW camp, and bit off his own fingers when a doctor wouldn’t amputate them.
When the First World War broke out in 1914, Carton de Wiart was en route to join the Camel Corps in British Somaliland, where a low-level war was under way against the followers of Mohammed bin Abdullah, called the Mad Mullah by the British.
In an attack on an enemy fort, he was shot twice in the face, losing his eye and also a portion of his ear. He was awarded the DSO in May 1915.
In February 1915, Carton de Wiart – now wearing an eyepatch – went to France, commanding successively three infantry battalions and a brigade on the Western Front. He was wounded seven more times, losing his left hand in 1915, removing his fingers when a doctor declined to do so.
He won his Victoria Cross in July 1916 while commanding the 8th Battalion of the Gloucestershire Regiment during the fierce fighting at La Boiselle on the Somme.
The citation read: ‘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.’
Carton de Wiart was shot through the skull and ankle on the Somme, through the hip at Passchendaele, through the leg at Cambrai, and through the ear at Arras. He later said: ‘Frankly, I had enjoyed the war.’
During the Second World War, he served in Poland and Norway before being sent to head the British Military Mission in Yugoslavia. His plane came down en route, but he managed to parachute into the sea and swim ashore before being be taken prisoner by the Italians.
Carton de Wiart and several fellow captives tunnelled out of the castle where they were being held, but he was caught a week later. Then in 1943 the Italians released him and sent him to Lisbon to negotiate their surrender terms. From October 1943 until his retirement in 1946, he was Britain’s military representative with nationalist leader Chiang Kai-Shek in China.
Carton de Wiart was thought to be a model for the character of Brigadier Ben Ritchie-Hook in Evelyn Waugh’s trilogy Sword of Honour.
The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography described him thus: ‘With his black eyepatch and empty sleeve, Carton de Wiart looked like an elegant pirate, and became a figure of legend.’