Carton de Wiart was born in Brussels, on 5 May 1880 to an aristocratic family. After spending his early days in Belgium and in England, he was 20 when he left Balliol College, Oxford joining the British Army under, the false name of “Trooper Carton” to see action in the Second Boer War.He was wounded in the stomach and groin and was invalided home, after another brief period at Oxford, he was given a commission in the Second Imperial Light Horse. After seeing action in South Africa again, on 14 September 1901 was given a regular commission as a second lieutenant in the 4thDragoon Guards.
When the First World War broke out, he was en-route to British Somaliland to join an action against the followers of Mohammed bin Abdullah, called the “Mad Mullah”. In an attack on an enemy fort at Shimber Berris, he was shot twice in the face, losing his eye and a portion of his ear. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order on 15 May 1915.
After recovering he took part in the fighting on the Western Front, commanding successively three infantry battalions and a brigade. He was wounded seven more times, losing his left hand in 1915 and pulling off his fingers when a doctor refused to amputate 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. One story is that he was such a frequent visitor that they kept his pyjamas there for him.
He received the Victoria Cross (VC), in 1916. He was 36 years old when the following events took place on 2/3 July 1916 at La Boiselle, France, the official citation reads:
Capt. (temp. Lt.-Col.) Adrian Carton de Wiart, D.S.O., Dn. Gds.
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.
— London Gazette, 9 September 1916.
After spending a few years representing the UK Government in Poland, he retired to a large estate, enjoying the life of a country gentleman.
The German invasion of Poland ended this lifestyle and he spent a while advising the Polish forces before being recalled to the British Army when he was given command of an Anglo-French force to occupy a small town in mid-Norway which he held until ordered to withdraw. He arrived back in the UK on his 60th birthday.
He was posted back to the command of the 61st Division, which was soon transferred to Northern Ireland, however he was soon told that he was too old to command a division on active duty.
Being appointed as head of the British-Yugoslavian Military Mission, on 5 April 1941 he was being flown to negotiate with the Yugoslavian government when both engines failed, the plane crashed in the sea about a mile off the coast of Italian-controlled Libya, on swimming to shore he was captured by the Italians.
As a POW he made five escape attempts including seven months tunneling. Once Carton de Wiart evaded capture for eight days disguised as an Italian peasant.
When, in 1943 the Italian Government was considering changing side he accompanied a senior Italian officer to a meeting in Lisbon from where he returned to the UK during August, 1943.
Within a month of his return he was appointed Churchill’s personal rappresentative to China, for the next three years he was to be involved in a host of reporting, diplomatic and administrative duties. He worked with Chiang Kai-shek and remained in Asia until he retired in 1947 aged. 66 with the honorary rank of lieutenant-general.
Returning home he stopped in Rangoon where he fell down knocking himself unconscious and breaking several vertebrae, While recovering In hospital in England the doctors also removed a large amount of shrapnel from his old wounds.
He died at the age of 83 on 5 June 1963. His awards were:
- Victoria Cross (VC)
- Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE) (Military Division)
- Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB) (Military Division)
- Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG)
- Companion of the Distinguished Service Order (DSO)
- Queen’s South Africa Medal
- Africa General Service Medal
- 1914 Star
- British War Medal
- Victory Medal (United Kingdom)
- 1939-45 Star
- Africa Star
- Burma Star
- Italy Star
- War Medal 1939-1945
- King George VI Coronation Medal
- Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal
- Officer of the Order of the Crown (Belgium)
- Croix de Guerre 1914-1918 (Belgium)
- Silver Cross (Knight) of the Order of Military Virtue of Poland
- Cross of Valour (Poland)
- Commander of the Legion of Honour of France
- Croix de Guerre 1939–1945 (France)