How many times can a person come close to death, without actually succumbing to that ill fate? In the case of one British soldier, the number grew until it was almost unbelievably impressive. Adrian Carton de Wiart, lieutenant-general in the Royal Army was uncommonly lucky.
He fought in both World Wars, as well as the second Boer War, survived being shot no less than seven times, lived through two plane crashes, escaped when captured as a prisoner of war and amputated his own fingers when a doctor refused to help the ailing soldier.
And that’s not even all of it -- seriously, why is this guy not the star of a movie and a household name?!
Take a deeper look at all that Carton de Wiart went through and how he came to make it to old age, with plenty of stories to tell.
“The unkillable soldier”
Carton de Wiart’s tales were so prolific that he earned the nickname of the “unkillable soldier” in his native Britain. Here is an outline of his most noteworthy -- and often unbelievable -- accomplishments.
- Over six decades, he fought in three major international conflicts, the Boer War (between Britain and South Africa), World War I and World War II.
- Carton de Wiart made it to the Boer war in 1899, having left school and using a fake name. Because he was not yet of age, and did not have his father’s consent to fight, he created an alter ego. During this war, he was shot on two occasions -- in the stomach and groin -- sending him back to Britain.
- In WWI alone, he was send on six assignments and wounded eight times. He was shot in the arm and face, which took his left eye and most of the ear. The wound earned him a Distinguished Service Order (DSO).
- After the shooting, Carton de Wiart was sent to recover in Park Lane. The infirmary was so used to seeing him that it became a running joke where they kept a personal pair of his pajamas at the ready.
- He was also fitted for a glass eye, but citing extreme discomfort, he threw it from a moving taxi and opted to sport an eye patch instead.
- Also during WWI, Carton de Wiart’s hand was shattered by German artillery. Supossedly, the doctor refused to amputate his fingers, causing Carton de Wiart himself to tear off two of them. Later that year, his entire hand was taken by a surgeon.
From there, he had to convince a board that he was still fit to fight. Undeterred by his injuries, Carton de Wiart led men into battle during WWII with intensity. He soon became famous for his signature look (black eye patch, thick mustache, empty uniform sleeve) and incredible courage -- almost to the point of being reckless. He is said to have calmed the fear of young soldiers, rushing and yelling as he led the pack.
In fact, he was frequently seen pulling grenade pins with his teeth, then tossing the bomb with his remaining arm. These efforts were said to provide him with the Victoria Cross. Not that he took credit for it, he was stated as saying, “every man has done as much as I have.”
- During WWII, he flew in a plane that was shot down in the Mediterranean. He swam to shore, where he was taken as a prisoner by Italians. By now, Carton de Wiart was in his 60s and hell-bent on escaping. He attempted many times, even tunneling out of the POW camp and traveling for eight days, before he was recaptured.
- Two years later he was released and sent to work in China as a representative, a post that was personally assigned by Winston Churchill.
Throughout his military career Carton de Wiart was also involved in a second plane crash and shot four more times. Carton de Wiart can say his life was anything but boring. He finally passed in 1963 when he was 83 years old. Read more about his tales in his autobiography, "Happy Odyssey."