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Adrian Carton De Wiart: The Unkillable Soldier

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http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-30685433

Sir Adrian Carton de Wiart was a one-eyed, one-handed war hero who fought in three major conflicts across six decades, surviving plane crashes and PoW camps. His story is like something out of a Boy's Own comic.

Carton de Wiart served in the Boer War, World War One and World War Two. In the process he was shot in the face, losing his left eye, and was also shot through the skull, hip, leg, ankle and ear.

In WW1 he was severely wounded on eight occasions and mentioned in despatches six times.

Having previously lost an eye and a hand in battle, Carton de Wiart, as commanding officer, was seen by his men pulling the pins of grenades out with his teeth and hurling them with his one good arm during the Battle of the Somme, winning the Victoria Cross.

WW1 historian Dr Timothy Bowman believes Carton de Wiart's example helps debunk some myths.

"His story serves to remind us that not all British generals of WW1 were 'Chateau Generals' as portrayed in Blackadder. He exhibited heroism of the highest order.

"Evelyn Waugh supposedly used Carton de Wiart as the model for his fire-eating fictional creation, Brigadier Ritchie Hook, but Waugh's fictional creation experienced considerably fewer adventures than his real life counterpart."

It says much for Carton de Wiart's character that despite being one of the most battle-scarred soldiers in the history of the British Army, he wrote in his autobiography: "Frankly, I had enjoyed the war."

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Lord Ismay also gave an insight into Carton de Wiart's innate love of fighting:

"I honestly believe that he regarded the loss of an eye as a blessing as it allowed him to get out of Somaliland to Europe where he thought the real action was."

He returned to England to recover in a nursing home in Park Lane. He was to return to this same place on each subsequent occasion he was injured. This became such a regular occurrence that they kept his own pyjamas ready for his next visit.

While recuperating from these injuries, Carton de Wiart received a glass eye. It caused him such discomfort that he allegedly threw it from a taxi and instead acquired a black eye patch.

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During the Second Battle of Ypres, the Germans launched an artillery barrage in which Carton de Wiart's left hand was shattered. According to his autobiography, Happy Odyssey, he tore off two fingers when the doctor refused to amputate them. His hand was removed by a surgeon later that year.

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In April 1941 he was dispatched to form a British military mission in Yugoslavia, but his aircraft was shot down over the Mediterranean. After swimming to shore, he was captured by the Italians. Despite being in his 60s, he made numerous attempts to escape the PoW camp, on one occasion eluding recapture for eight days - quite a feat given his distinctive appearance and lack of Italian.

Certainly an impressive battle list and even more incredible he didn't die in one of these incidents.

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