b. 05/05/1880 Brussels, Belgium. d. 05/06/1963 Cork, Ireland.
Adrian Paul Ghislain Carton De Wiart (1880-1963) was born in Brussels, Belgium on 5th May 1880. His father was Leon Constant Ghislain Carton de Wiart, who was a Knight of the Belgian Order and Grand Cross of the Egyptian Orders of Osmandiah and Medjidieh. He qualified as a Doctor of Law in Brussels in 1877. Adrian’s mother was Ernestine-Zephirine-Emilie nee Wenzig, and she married Leon in Brussels on 15th October 1879. When Adrian was three, the family moved to Alexandria, Egypt where his father was a leading barrister. Later he was called to the English Bar and became a naturalised British subject on 9th October 1900. Adrian’s parents divorced when he was six, and his father re-married to Mary James in 1888. Adrian had four siblings, though sadly two of his three sisters died very young.
Adrian was educated by private tutor at first and spoke English, French and Arabic. When his father hired an Italian governess in Egypt, she tried to teach him Italian, which was not a success. He then attended a day school in Cairo run by French priests. He was frequently ill in Egypt and returned to having a tutor. On arrival in England, he attended the Oratory School, Edgbaston, Birmingham from 1891, where he became a keen sportsman. He then passed the entrance examination for Balliol College, Oxford at the second attempt and studied law there from January 1899. He failed the first year examination, but was allowed to return. However, his days at Oxford were numbered on the outbreak of the Boer War.
He enlisted with the Middlesex Yeomanry on 25th January 1900 under the name Carton because he was underage, not a British citizen and his father did not know. He served in South Africa with Paget’s Horse and was hospitalised with fever while serving in Orange River Colony. He then joined a local corps and was wounded in the stomach and groin while trying to cross a river in full view of the Boers. Having been evacuated to hospital, his identity was discovered. His parents were notified and he was sent back to England to be invalided out of the Army on 22nd October.
Back at Balliol, he could not settle, and in December he went to Egypt and persuaded his father to let him leave. He returned to South Africa, enlisted in 2nd Imperial Light Horse and was commissioned on 22nd February 1901. On 14th September he received a Regular Army commission in 4th Dragoon Guards and joined the Regiment at Rawalpindi, India in March 1902. Adrian moved with the regiment to Middelburg, Cape Colony in 1904 and was promoted to Lieutenant. He was appointed ADC to Brigadier General Thomas Hickman, GOC Middelburg District from July to October 1905. Adrian became a naturalised British citizen on 25th April 1907 and returned to England with the Regiment in 1908.
Adrian married Countess Freiderike Maria Karoline Henriette Rosa Sabina Franziska Pauline, nee Fugger von Babenhausen on 27th October 1908 in Vienna, Austria. She was the daughter of the chamberlain to Emperor Franz Joseph I. Adrian and Freiderike had two daughters: Anita born in 1909 in Bavaria, Germany, and Maria-Eleanora born in 1911. He was promoted to Captain and the Major by 1911. He was appointed Adjutant of the Gloucester Yeomanry from 1912-1914.
In July 1914, he served with the Somaliland Camel Corps on operations against Sayyad Mohammed Abdullah Hassan, the “Mad Mullah”. He was awarded the DSO for his actions on 19th November against Dervish forces at Shimber Berris. He stormed the fort, during which he lost an eye, and was also wounded in the elbow and ear. He was evacuated to Berbera and then Aden to a hospital. He was moved to Egypt where it was recommended he have the eye removed. He refused and was returned to England for treatment at King Edward’s Hospital in London. The eye was removed in 3rd January 1915.
As a result of his injuries, he was declared unfit for service, but within two weeks demanded to be seen by the Medical Board. The Board decided that if he wore a glass eye, his case would be reviewed. He obtained one, went before the Board, was declared fit, left the building and hailed a taxi. As he got in, he removed the glass eye and threw it out of the window, and donned a black patch, which he wore for the rest of his life.
He joined the 1st Dragoon Guards in Flanders in March 1915, but it was not for long. He was evacuated to England as a result of wounds received at Zonnebeke on 22nd April. A doctor in Belgium refused to remove some fingers on his left hand, so Adrian pulled them off himself. The hand was amputated in London. He received his DSO from King George V while recuperating on 29th June. Now without an eye and hand, he managed to persuade the Medical Board he was fit for service. He was appointed Temporary Major and 2nd in command of Loyal North Lancashire between March and July 1915. He was then given command of 8th Gloucestershire with rank of Temporary Lieutenant Colonel.
On the 2nd-3rd July 1916, at La Boisselle, France, he showed 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.
He was wounded in the action and later in the head at High Wood. He was taken to a dressing station at Corbie before being evacuated to England. When he returned to France a few weeks later, he was wounded again at Grandcourt in September and evacuated again.
He received his VC from King George V at Buckingham Palace on 29th November 1916. He was then appointed Brevey Major on 1st January 1917. He returned to France and commanded 8th North Staffordshire for a short time at Hebuterne. He was then GOC 12th Brigade from January to November 1917. He commanded 12th Brigade during the Battle of Arras and Third Battle of Ypres, until wounded in the hip by shrapnel on 23rd November and evacuated. He was promoted again, and was wounded in the leg at Martinsart on 20th April 1918. He was then awarded the CMG on 3rd June 1918. He returned to France in October and was appointed GOC, 113th Brigade from November 1918 to February 1919 as a Temporary Brigadier. He was wounded nine times during the war but, despite this, he wrote “Frankly, I had enjoyed the war.” He was also awarded the Belgian Croix de Guerre, Belgian Croix d’Officier de l’Ordre de Couronne and the Companion of Bath.
Following the war, he became ADC to the King from 1920-1924. He was promoted to Colonel in 1922. He transferred to the Regular Army Reserve of Officers and was granted the honorary rank of Major General on 19th December 1923. He then lived in retirement in Poland, until in July 1939, he was summoned back to Britain to be appointed to head the Military Mission to Poland. He managed to escape through Romania and reached Britain. He commanded the Norwegian Expeditionary Force from April-May 1940 and managed to extract his force with great skill. He returned to command 61st Division from 14th May and took it to Northern Ireland. On 6th April 1941, he was appointed to the Military Mission to Yugoslavia, but the Wellington bomber carrying him crashed and he had to swim ashore and was captured by the Italians. He was held for four months at Villa Orsini, Sulmona and then at the Castello di Vincigliati, near Florence, where a fellow prisoner was Philip Neame VC.
He attempted escape several times until released by the Italians in August 1943 and sent to Lisbon to help negotiate the Italian surrender. He returned to England on 28th August and was appointed Head of the Special Military Mission to Nationalist Chinese leader Chiang Kai-Shek and promoted War Substantive Major General. He then left Britain for India, but broke his back in an accident in Rangoon in 1946 and spent seven months in hospital.
In 1947, he became an Honorary MA at Oxford University and a Fellow of Balliol College. His wife died in Vienna on 4th July 1949. He published his autobiography “Happy Odyssey” in 1950, and he was described by Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond books as “one arm, one eye, and rather more surprisingly only one Victoria Cross.” Adrian married Ruth Myrtle Muriel Joan Sutherland on 18th July 1951 in Tiverton, Devon. Adrian and Joan moved to Aghinagh House, Killinardrish, County Cork, Ireland, where Adrian died on 5th June 1963. He was buried in Killinardrish Churchyard in the grounds of Aghinagh House.
In addition to his VC, he was awarded the KBE, CB, CMG, DSO, Queen’s South Africa Medal with four clasps, Africa General Service Medal 1902-1956 with clasp “Shimber Berris 1914-15”, 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19 with Mentioned in Despatches oak leaf, 1939-45 Star, Africa Star, Italy Star, Burma Star, War Medal 1939-45 with Mentioned in Despatches oak leaf, George VI Coronation Medal 1937, Elizabeth II Coronation Medal, Belgian Order of the Crown, Polish Order of Military Virtue, Polish Cross of Valour, Belgian Croix de Guerre, Nationalist Chinese Order of Cloud and Banner, French Commander Legion of Honour, and French Croix de Guerre with Bronze Palme.
During World War II his house in London was destroyed by bombing and his medals were thought to be lost. Official replacements were issued. After his death, his original medals were found and Lady Carton de Wiart placed them in the custody of the Ogilby Trust before they were transferred to the National Army Museum, Chelsea, where they are currently not on display. The replacement medals were handed over to the 4th/7th Dragoon Guards and were stolen from its museum in Halifax.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: NATIONAL ARMY MUSEUM, CHELSEA, LONDON.
BURIAL PLACE: KILLINARDISH CHURCHYARD, COUNTY CORK, IRELAND. FAMILY PLOT
Sir Adrian Carton de Wiart's vast medal group including his VC, DSO and KBE on display at the Royal Dragoon Guards Museum, Winchester (Aug 2012). These are the replacement set of medals. Originals are at National Army Museum, Chelsea.
De Wiart's autobiography (left), a silver platter presented to him by the Regiment (middle), and two images of him, one a photograph and one a portrait
(Soldiers of Gloucestershire Museum, May 2015).
National Memorial Arboretum
War Illustrated 23rd September 1916
War Illustrated 6th October 1917
De Wiart's medal goup at the Army Museum, York.