Adrian Carton de Wiart

From Kaiserreich

Lieutenant-General Sir Adrian Carton de Wiart VC, KBE, CB, CMG, DSO (5 May 1880 - ), was a British officer of Belgian and Irish descent.


Early Life

Adrian Carton de Wiart was born into an aristocratic family in Brussels, on 5 May 1880, eldest son of Leon Constant Ghislain Carton de Wiart (1854–1915). He spent his early days in Belgium and in England. The death of his Irish mother when he was six prompted his father to uproot the family and move to Cairo to practise international law. His father was a court magistrate, well connected in Egyptian governmental circles, and was a director of the Cairo Electric Railways. Carton de Wiart was a Roman Catholic. He enjoyed his time in Egypt and learned to speak Arabic.

Carton de Wiart was not particularly close to his father, who was a quiet, indoors sort of man. At an early opportunity his new stepmother sent him to a boarding school in England, the Roman Catholic Oratory School, founded by Cardinal John Henry Newman.

From there he went to Balliol College, Oxford, but left to join the British Army at the time of the Boer War around the turn of the 20th century.

No scholar, he was a truly ferocious warrior. He was shot through the lung in South Africa early on and invalided home. After another brief stint at Oxford, where Aubrey Herbert was among his friends, he was given a commission in the Second Imperial Light Horse. He saw some action in South Africa again and in 1901 was given a regular commission in the 4th Dragoon Guards. Adrian was transferred to India in 1902. This gave him full scope for his love of sports, especially shooting and pig sticking.

Character, interests and life in the Edwardian army=

Carton de Wiart's serious wound in the Boer War instilled in him a mania for physical fitness and he ran, walked and played sports at every opportunity, especially if the sport involved depleting the local fish, bird, rabbit and big game stocks. He was always up early each day. De Wiart was both quick tempered and modest. In male company he swore like a sailor.

A champagne, claret and port man, he detested whisky, liked popular music hall tunes and had no ear for classical music. Formidable and intimidating, Carton de Wiart could be charming, was popular with the ladies and managed to keep a wide circle of friends. A man's man, he was more drawn to the outdoors type of person. His admirers ranged from Winston Spencer-Churchill to Chiang Kai-shek. He spoke French, Arabic and Polish. He loved South Africa, Poland and Ireland and hated India. He liked the country more than the city, but of the cities, pre-Weltkrieg Vienna was his favourite.

The transfer of his regiment to a by-then peaceful South Africa brought him a pleasant interlude when he was appointed an aide-de-camp to the Commander-in-Chief, Sir Henry Hilyard, whom Carton de Wiart admired enormously. Hilyard was, perhaps, the father he wished he had. He describes this period lasting up to 1914 as his "heyday". His light duties as ADC gave him time for polo, another passion.

Carton de Wiart was well connected in European circles, his two closest cousins being Count Henri Carton de Wiart, Prime Minister of Belgium from 1920 to 1921, and Baron Edmond Carton de Wiart, political secretary to the King of Belgium and director of La Société Générale de Belgique. While on leave he travelled extensively throughout central Europe, using his catholic aristocratic connections to shoot at country estates in Bohemia, Austria, Hungary and Bavaria.

A transfer back to England gave scope for a new passion, fox hunting. He rode with the famous Duke of Beaufort's Hunt where he encountered, among others, the future field marshal, Sir Henry Maitland Wilson, and the future air marshal, Sir Edward Leonard Ellington.

De Wiart found the time in 1908 to marry Countess Frederica Fugger von Babenhausen, more fully Countess Friederike Maria Karoline Henriette Rosa Sabina Franziska Fugger von Babenhausen (1887 Klagenfurt - Vienna), eldest daughter of Karl Ludwig, 1st Fuerst or Prince Fugger von Babenhausen and Princess Eleonora Fugger von Babenhausen of Klagenfurt, Austria. They had two daughters, the elder of whom Anita (b. 1909, decd.)

Weltkrieg When the Great War broke out, Carton de Wiart was en route to British Somaliland where a low level war was underway against the followers of Mohammed bin Abdullah, called the "Mad Mullah" by the British. De Wiart had been seconded to the Somaliland Camel Corps. A staff officer with the corps was Hastings Ismay, later Lord Ismay.

In an attack upon an enemy fort at Shimber Berris, Carton de Wiart was shot in the face, and consequently had to wear a black patch over his left eye socket, which formed part of his appearance.

By February 1915, he was on a steamer for France and years of heavy fighting. De Wiart was in the thick of 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, biting off his fingers when a doctor declined to remove them. 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 spent a fair bit of time in hospitals recovering from wounds. He invariably went to the Sir Douglas Shield's Nursing Home, 17 Park Lane, to recuperate, and became a regular customer.

Carton de Wiart's appearance was by now as striking as his character. The eye patch, empty sleeve, bristling moustache, and tall, lean and fit figure turned heads. His dashing demeanor combined with his phenomenal bravery and remarkable exploits made him a figure of legend. And he was amazingly outspoken. During a visit to the Western Front by George V Carton de Wiart remarked that he must be the only Belgian in the British Army. The remark was not well received. He was a warrior, not a peacetime soldier.

Victoria Cross

During the Weltkrieg, Carton de Wiart received the Victoria Cross (VC), the highest award for gallantry in combat that can be awarded to British Empire forces. He was 36 years old, and a lieutenant-colonel in the 4th Dragoon Guards (Royal Irish), British Army, attached to the Gloucestershire Regiment, commanding the 8th Battalion, when the following events took place on 2/3 July July 1916, at La Boiselle, France:

   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.

Despite all his wounds in the war, de Wiart said at the end: "Frankly I had enjoyed the war...".

Post War

After the war he served in the British Military Mission in Arabia working alongside T.E. Lawrence and skirmishing with the Ottomans as the British sought to support the Hashemites, it was ultimitly decided that he was not diplomatic enough for the mission and so was in 1923 forced to return to England. He fought ferociously in the 1925 British Revolution and his exploits during those days are the stuff of legend in Canada and the other remnents of the British Empire. He continues to serve in the military and reportedly looks forward to a war to destory all traces of syndicalism.

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