Adrian Carton de Wiart
Lieutenant-General Sir Adrian Carton de Wiart VC
Victoria Cross
The Victoria Cross is the highest military decoration awarded for valour "in the face of the enemy" to members of the armed forces of various Commonwealth countries, and previous British Empire territories....

Order of the British Empire
The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire is an order of chivalry established on 4 June 1917 by George V of the United Kingdom. The Order comprises five classes in civil and military divisions...

, CB
Order of the Bath
The Most Honourable Order of the Bath is a British order of chivalry founded by George I on 18 May 1725. The name derives from the elaborate mediæval ceremony for creating a knight, which involved bathing as one of its elements. The knights so created were known as Knights of the Bath...

Order of St Michael and St George
The Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George is an order of chivalry founded on 28 April 1818 by George, Prince Regent, later George IV of the United Kingdom, while he was acting as Prince Regent for his father, George III....

Distinguished Service Order
The Distinguished Service Order is a military decoration of the United Kingdom, and formerly of other parts of the British Commonwealth and Empire, awarded for meritorious or distinguished service by officers of the armed forces during wartime, typically in actual combat.Instituted on 6 September...

 (5 May 1880 - 5 June 1963), was a British officer of Belgian and Irish
Irish people
The Irish people are an ethnic group who originate in Ireland, an island in northwestern Europe. Ireland has been populated for around 9,000 years , with the Irish people's earliest ancestors recorded having legends of being descended from groups such as the Nemedians, Fomorians, Fir Bolg, Tuatha...

 descent. He is thought to be a model for the character of Brigadier Ben Ritchie Hook in Evelyn Waugh
Evelyn Waugh
Arthur Evelyn St. John Waugh , known as Evelyn Waugh, was an English writer of novels, travel books and biographies. He was also a prolific journalist and reviewer...

's trilogy Sword of Honour
Sword of Honour
The Sword of Honour trilogy by Evelyn Waugh is his look at the Second World War. It consists of three novels, Men at Arms , Officers and Gentlemen and Unconditional Surrender , which loosely parallel his wartime experiences...


The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography described him so, "With his black eyepatch and empty sleeve, Carton de Wiart looked like an elegant pirate, and became a figure of legend."

Early life

De Wiart was born into an aristocratic family in Brussels
Brussels , officially the Brussels Region or Brussels-Capital Region , is the capital of Belgium and the de facto capital of the European Union...

, on 5 May 1880, eldest son of Leon Constant Ghislain Carton de Wiart (1854–1915). By his contemporaries, he was widely believed to be an illegitimate son of the King of the Belgians, Leopold II
Leopold II of Belgium
Leopold II was the second king of the Belgians. Born in Brussels the second son of Leopold I and Louise-Marie of Orléans, he succeeded his father to the throne on 17 December 1865 and remained king until his death.Leopold is chiefly remembered as the founder and sole owner of the Congo Free...

. He spent his early days in Belgium and in England. The death of his Irish mother when he was six prompted his father to move the family to Cairo
Cairo , is the capital of Egypt and the largest city in the Arab world and Africa, and the 16th largest metropolitan area in the world. Nicknamed "The City of a Thousand Minarets" for its preponderance of Islamic architecture, Cairo has long been a centre of the region's political and cultural life...

 so he could practise international law. His father was a court magistrate, well connected in Egyptian governmental circles, and was a director
Board of directors
A board of directors is a body of elected or appointed members who jointly oversee the activities of a company or organization. Other names include board of governors, board of managers, board of regents, board of trustees, and board of visitors...

 of the Cairo
Cairo , is the capital of Egypt and the largest city in the Arab world and Africa, and the 16th largest metropolitan area in the world. Nicknamed "The City of a Thousand Minarets" for its preponderance of Islamic architecture, Cairo has long been a centre of the region's political and cultural life...

 Electric Railways
. De Wiart was a Roman Catholic. He learned to speak Arabic
Arabic language
Arabic is a name applied to the descendants of the Classical Arabic language of the 6th century AD, used most prominently in the Quran, the Islamic Holy Book...


In 1891 his English stepmother sent him to a boarding school
Boarding school
A boarding school is a school where some or all pupils study and live during the school year with their fellow students and possibly teachers and/or administrators. The word 'boarding' is used in the sense of "bed and board," i.e., lodging and meals...

 in England, the Roman Catholic Oratory School
The Oratory School
The Oratory School is a Roman Catholic, independent school for boys in Woodcote, Berkshire. It is the last Catholic all-boys boarding school remaining in Great Britain. It has approximately 420 pupils...

, founded by Cardinal
Cardinal (Catholicism)
A cardinal is a senior ecclesiastical official, usually an ordained bishop, and ecclesiastical prince of the Catholic Church. They are collectively known as the College of Cardinals, which as a body elects a new pope. The duties of the cardinals include attending the meetings of the College and...

 John Henry Newman.

From there he went to Balliol College, Oxford
Balliol College, Oxford
Balliol College , founded in 1263, is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in England but founded by a family with strong Scottish connections....

, but left to join the British Army at the time of the Boer War
Second Boer War
The Second Boer War was fought from 11 October 1899 until 31 May 1902 between the British Empire and the Afrikaans-speaking Dutch settlers of two independent Boer republics, the South African Republic and the Orange Free State...

 around 1900, giving a false name and age.

He was wounded in the stomach and groin in South Africa early on in the War and invalided home. After another brief period at Oxford, where Aubrey Herbert
Aubrey Herbert
Aubrey Nigel Henry Molyneux Herbert was a British diplomat, traveller and intelligence officer associated with Albanian independence. Twice he was offered the throne of Albania...

 was among his friends, he was given a commission in the Second Imperial Light Horse. He saw action in South Africa again and in 1901 was given a regular commission in the 4th Dragoon Guards. De Wiart was transferred to India in 1902. He enjoyed sports, especially shooting and pig sticking
Boar hunting
Boar hunting is generally the practice of hunting wild boars, but can also extend to feral pigs and peccaries. A full-sized boar is a large animal armed with sharp tusks which it uses to defend itself. Boar hunting has often been a test of bravery....


Character, interests and life in the Edwardian army

De Wiart's serious wound in the Boer War instilled in him a strong desire for physical fitness and he ran, walked and played sports on a regular basis. In male company he was 'a delightful character and must hold the world record for bad language.'

After his regiment was transferred to South Africa
South Africa
The Republic of South Africa is a country in southern Africa. Located at the southern tip of Africa, it is divided into nine provinces, with of coastline on the Atlantic and Indian oceans...

 he was appointed an aide-de-camp
An aide-de-camp is a personal assistant, secretary, or adjutant to a person of high rank, usually a senior military officer or a head of state...

 to the Commander-in-Chief
A commander-in-chief is the commander of a nation's military forces or significant element of those forces. In the latter case, the force element may be defined as those forces within a particular region or those forces which are associated by function. As a practical term it refers to the military...

, Sir Henry Hildyard
Henry Hildyard
General Sir Henry John Thoroton Hildyard GCB was a British Army general who saw active service in the Anglo-Egyptian War of 1882 and the Second Boer War.He was General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, South Africa, from 1905 to 1908....

. He describes this period lasting up to 1914 as his "heyday". His light duties as ADC gave him time for polo
Polo is a team sport played on horseback in which the objective is to score goals against an opposing team. Sometimes called, "The Sport of Kings", it was highly popularized by the British. Players score by driving a small white plastic or wooden ball into the opposing team's goal using a...

, another of his interests.

De Wiart was well connected in European circles, his two closest cousins being Count Henri Carton de Wiart
Henri Carton de Wiart
Henri Victor Marie Ghislain, Count Carton de Wiart was the 23rd Prime Minister of Belgium from 20 November 1920 to 6 May 1921. He was from an aristocratic family....

, 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
Société Générale de Belgique
The Société Générale de Belgique was one of the largest companies that ever existed in Belgium. It was founded in 1822 by William I, and existed until 2003, when its then sole shareholder, Suez Lyonnaise des Eaux, merged it with Tractebel to form Suez-Tractebel.-History:As part of the terms of the...

. While on leave he travelled extensively throughout central Europe, using his catholic aristocratic connections to shoot at country estates in Bohemia
Bohemia is a historical region in central Europe, occupying the western two-thirds of the traditional Czech Lands. It is located in the contemporary Czech Republic with its capital in Prague...

, Austria, Hungary and Bavaria
Bavaria, formally the Free State of Bavaria is a state of Germany, located in the southeast of Germany. With an area of , it is the largest state by area, forming almost 20% of the total land area of Germany...


Following his return to England, he rode with the famous Duke of Beaufort's Hunt
Duke of Beaufort's Hunt
The Duke of Beaufort's Hunt is one of the oldest and largest of the fox hunting packs in England. It was founded by the 1st Duke of Beaufort in 1682 and under the auspices of this family...

 where he met, among others, the future field marshal, Sir Henry Maitland Wilson, and the future air marshal
Air Marshal
Air marshal is a three-star air-officer rank which originated in and continues to be used by the Royal Air Force...

, Sir Edward Leonard Ellington
Edward Leonard Ellington
Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir Edward Leonard Ellington GCB, CMG, CBE was a senior officer in the Royal Air Force...


In 1908 he married Countess Friederike Maria Karoline Henriette Rosa Sabina Franziska Fugger von Babenhausen (1887 Klagenfurt - 1949 Vienna), eldest daughter of Karl Ludwig, 1st Fuerst or Prince Fugger von Babenhausen and Princess Eleonora Fugger von Babenhausen
Princess Eleonora Fugger von Babenhausen
HSH Princess Eleonora Fugger von Babenhausen was an Austrian socialite and chronicler of the Fugger family...

 of Klagenfurt, Austria. They had two daughters, the elder of whom Anita (b. 1909, decd.) was the maternal grandmother of the war correspondent Anthony Loyd
Anthony Loyd
Anthony William Vivian Loyd is an English journalist, noted war correspondent, and former British Army officer who saw active service in the First Gulf War.-Biography:...

 (b. 1966).

In his memoirs, Happy Odyssey, De Wiart makes no reference to his wife or daughters.

World War I

When the First World War broke out, De Wiart was en route to British Somaliland
British Somaliland
British Somaliland was a British protectorate in the northern part of present-day Somalia. For much of its existence, British Somaliland was bordered by French Somaliland, Ethiopia, and Italian Somaliland. From 1940 to 1941, it was occupied by the Italians and was part of Italian East Africa...

 where a low level war was underway against the followers of Mohammed bin Abdullah
Mohammed Abdullah Hassan
Sayyīd Muhammad `Abd Allāh al-Hasan was a Somali religious and patriotic leader...

, called the "Mad Mullah" by the British. De Wiart had been seconded to the Somaliland Camel Corps
Somaliland Camel Corps
The Somaliland Camel Corps was a unit of the British Army based in British Somaliland from the early 20th century until the 1960s.Camels are a necessity in East Africa, being as important as ponies are in Mongolia...

. A staff officer with the corps was Hastings Ismay, later Lord Ismay, Churchill's military advisor.

In an attack upon an enemy fort at Shimber Berris, De Wiart was shot in the face, and consequently had to wear a black patch over his left eye socket.

In February 1915, he embarked on a steamer for France. De Wiart took part in the fighting on the Western Front
Western Front (World War I)
Following the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the German Army opened the Western Front by first invading Luxembourg and Belgium, then gaining military control of important industrial regions in France. The tide of the advance was dramatically turned with the Battle of the Marne...

, commanding successively three infantry battalions and a brigade. He was wounded seven more times in the war, losing his left hand in 1915 and biting off his fingers when a doctor declined to remove 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
Cambrai is a commune in the Nord department in northern France. It is a sub-prefecture of the department.Cambrai is the seat of an archdiocese whose jurisdiction was immense during the Middle Ages. The territory of the Bishopric of Cambrai, roughly coinciding with the shire of Brabant, included...

, and through the ear at Arras. He went to the Sir Douglas Shield's Nursing Home, 17 Park Lane, to recover from his injuries.

Victoria Cross

During World War I, De Wiart received the Victoria Cross
Victoria Cross
The Victoria Cross is the highest military decoration awarded for valour "in the face of the enemy" to members of the armed forces of various Commonwealth countries, and previous British Empire territories....

. (VC), the highest award for gallantry in combat that can be awarded to British Empire
British Empire
The British Empire comprised the dominions, colonies, protectorates, mandates and other territories ruled or administered by the United Kingdom. It originated with the overseas colonies and trading posts established by England in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. At its height, it was the...

 forces. He was 36 years old, and a lieutenant-colonel in the 4th Dragoon Guards (Royal Irish)
4th Royal Irish Dragoon Guards
The 4th Royal Irish Dragoon Guards was a cavalry regiment in the British Army, first raised in 1685. It saw service for three centuries, before being amalgamated into the 4th/7th Dragoon Guards in 1922....

, British Army
British Army
The British Army is the land warfare branch of Her Majesty's Armed Forces in the United Kingdom. It came into being with the unification of the Kingdom of England and Scotland into the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707. The new British Army incorporated Regiments that had already existed in England...

, 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:
His Victoria Cross is displayed at the National Army Museum
National Army Museum
The National Army Museum is the British Army's central museum. It is located in the Chelsea district of central London, England adjacent to the Royal Hospital Chelsea, the home of the "Chelsea Pensioners". The National Army Museum is open to the public every day of the year from 10.00am to 5.30pm,...

, Chelsea.

In his autobiography, Happy Odyssey, there is no mention of his VC and it fell to the publishers to add a special section covering the award. This section does not appear in the Fifth Impression (London: Jonathan Cape 1951.)

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

The Polish mission

At the end of the war De Wiart was sent to Second Republic of Poland as second in command of the British Military Mission
British Military Mission to Poland
The British Military Mission to Poland was an effort by Britain to aid the nascent Second Polish Republic after it achieved its independence in November, 1918, at the end of the First World War....

 under General Louis Botha
Louis Botha
Louis Botha was an Afrikaner and first Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa—the forerunner of the modern South African state...

. After a brief period, he replaced General Botha. Poland desperately needed support, as it was engaged with the Bolshevik Russia (Polish-Soviet War
Polish-Soviet War
The Polish–Soviet War was an armed conflict between Soviet Russia and Soviet Ukraine and the Second Polish Republic and the Ukrainian People's Republic—four states in post–World War I Europe...

), the Ukrainians
Ukraine is a country in Eastern Europe. It has an area of 603,628 km², making it the second largest contiguous country on the European continent, after Russia...

 (Polish-Ukrainian War
Polish-Ukrainian War
The Polish–Ukrainian War of 1918 and 1919 was a conflict between the forces of the Second Polish Republic and West Ukrainian People's Republic for the control over Eastern Galicia after the dissolution of Austria-Hungary.-Background:...

), the Lithuania
Lithuania , officially the Republic of Lithuania is a country in Northern Europe, the biggest of the three Baltic states. It is situated along the southeastern shore of the Baltic Sea, whereby to the west lie Sweden and Denmark...

ns (Polish-Lithuanian War
Polish-Lithuanian War
The Polish–Lithuanian War was an armed conflict between newly independent Lithuania and Poland in the aftermath of World War I. The conflict primarily concerned territorial control of the Vilnius Region, including Vilnius , and the Suwałki Region, including the towns of Suwałki, Augustów, and Sejny...

) and the Czechs
Czechoslovakia or Czecho-Slovakia was a sovereign state in Central Europe which existed from October 1918, when it declared its independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, until 1992...

 (Czech-Polish border conflicts
Border conflicts between Poland and Czechoslovakia
Border conflicts between Poland and Czechoslovakia began in 1918 between the Second Polish Republic and First Czechoslovak Republic, both freshly created states. The conflicts centered on the disputed areas of Cieszyn Silesia, Orava Territory and Spiš...

). There he met Ignacy Jan Paderewski
Ignacy Jan Paderewski
Ignacy Jan Paderewski GBE was a Polish pianist, composer, diplomat, politician, and the second Prime Minister of the Republic of Poland.-Biography:...

, the pianist and premier, Marshal Józef Piłsudski, the Chief of State and military commander, and General Maxime Weygand
Maxime Weygand
Maxime Weygand was a French military commander in World War I and World War II.Weygand initially fought against the Germans during the invasion of France in 1940, but then surrendered to and collaborated with the Germans as part of the Vichy France regime.-Early years:Weygand was born in Brussels...

, head of the French military mission
French Military Mission to Poland
The French Military Mission to Poland was an effort by France to aid the nascent Second Polish Republic after it achieved its independence in November, 1918, at the end of the First World War. The aim was to provide aid during the Polish-Soviet War , and to create a strong Polish military to serve...

 in mid-1920. Charles de Gaulle
Charles de Gaulle
Charles André Joseph Marie de Gaulle was a French general and statesman who led the Free French Forces during World War II. He later founded the French Fifth Republic in 1958 and served as its first President from 1959 to 1969....

 was attached to the French military mission.

One of his tasks soon after his arrival was to attempt to make peace between the Poles and the Ukrainian nationalists under Simon Petlyura. The Ukrainians were besieging the city of Lwów . He was unsuccessful and formed a negative view of Petlyura, especially after Ukrainian forces machine gunned his train, killing two Polish officers aboard.

From there he went on to Paris to report on Polish conditions to the British prime minister, David Lloyd George
David Lloyd George
David Lloyd George, 1st Earl Lloyd-George of Dwyfor OM, PC was a British Liberal politician and statesman...

 and to General Sir Henry Hughes Wilson. Lloyd George was not sympathetic to Poland and, much to De Wiart's annoyance, Britain sent next to no military supplies. Then he went back to Poland and many more front line adventures, this time in the Bolshevik zone, where the situation was grave with Warsaw threatened. During this time he had significant interaction with the nuntius (dean of the diplomatic corps) Cardinal Achille Ratti, later Pius XI, who wanted De Wiart's advice as to whether to evacuate the diplomatic corps from Warsaw. The diplomats moved to Poznań
Poznań is a city on the Warta river in west-central Poland, with a population of 556,022 in June 2009. It is among the oldest cities in Poland, and was one of the most important centres in the early Polish state, whose first rulers were buried at Poznań's cathedral. It is sometimes claimed to be...

, but the Italians remained in Warsaw along with Ratti.

From all these affairs, De Wiart developed a sympathy with the Poles and supported their claims to the eastern Galicia. This caused disagreement with Lloyd George at their next meeting, but was appreciated by the Poles. At one time during his Warsaw stay he was a second in a duel between Polish members of the Mysliwski Club, the other second being Baron Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim
Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim
Baron Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim was the military leader of the Whites in the Finnish Civil War, Commander-in-Chief of Finland's Defence Forces during World War II, Marshal of Finland, and a Finnish statesman. He was Regent of Finland and the sixth President of Finland...

, later commander-in-chief of Finnish armies in World War II and President of Finland. Norman Davies
Norman Davies
Professor Ivor Norman Richard Davies FBA, FRHistS is a leading English historian of Welsh descent, noted for his publications on the history of Europe, Poland, and the United Kingdom.- Academic career :...

 reports that he was "...compromised in a gun-running operation from Budapest
Budapest is the capital of Hungary. As the largest city of Hungary, it is the country's principal political, cultural, commercial, industrial, and transportation centre. In 2011, Budapest had 1,733,685 inhabitants, down from its 1989 peak of 2,113,645 due to suburbanization. The Budapest Commuter...

 using stolen wagon-lits".

He became rather close to the Polish leader, Marshal Piłsudski. After an aircraft crash occasioning a brief period in Lithuanian captivity, he went back to England to report, this time to the Secretary of State for War
Secretary of State for War
The position of Secretary of State for War, commonly called War Secretary, was a British cabinet-level position, first held by Henry Dundas . In 1801 the post became that of Secretary of State for War and the Colonies. The position was re-instated in 1854...

, Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill
Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, was a predominantly Conservative British politician and statesman known for his leadership of the United Kingdom during the Second World War. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest wartime leaders of the century and served as Prime Minister twice...

. He passed on to Churchill, Piłsudski's prediction that the White Russian
White movement
The White movement and its military arm the White Army - known as the White Guard or the Whites - was a loose confederation of Anti-Communist forces.The movement comprised one of the politico-military Russian forces who fought...

 offensive under General Anton Denikin directed at Moscow would fail. It did shortly thereafter. Churchill was more sympathetic to Polish needs than Lloyd George and succeeded, over Lloyd George's objections, in sending some materiel
Materiel is a term used in English to refer to the equipment and supplies in military and commercial supply chain management....

 to Poland.

De Wiart was active in August 1920, when the Red Army
Red Army
The Workers' and Peasants' Red Army started out as the Soviet Union's revolutionary communist combat groups during the Russian Civil War of 1918-1922. It grew into the national army of the Soviet Union. By the 1930s the Red Army was among the largest armies in history.The "Red Army" name refers to...

 was at the gates of Warsaw. While out on his observation train, he was attacked by a group of Red cavalry, and fought them off with his revolver from the running board of his train, at one point falling on the track and reboarding quickly.

When the Poles had won the war by 1921, the British Military Mission was wound up and De Wiart resigned his commission.

Polish gentleman

His last Polish aide de camp was Prince Karol Radziwiłł, who inherited a large 500,000 acre (2,000 km²) estate in eastern Poland when the Communists killed his uncle. They became friends and De Wiart was given the use of a large estate called Prostyń, in the Pripet Marshes, a large wetland area larger than Ireland and well known for waterfowl. Since borders have changed, it is now at the border between Belarus
Belarus , officially the Republic of Belarus, is a landlocked country in Eastern Europe, bordered clockwise by Russia to the northeast, Ukraine to the south, Poland to the west, and Lithuania and Latvia to the northwest. Its capital is Minsk; other major cities include Brest, Grodno , Gomel ,...

 and Ukraine
Ukraine is a country in Eastern Europe. It has an area of 603,628 km², making it the second largest contiguous country on the European continent, after Russia...

. De Wiart's home was a converted hunting lodge on an island, only a few miles from the Soviet border.

In this location De Wiart spent the rest of the interwar years. In his memoirs he said "I think I shot every day of those fifteen years I spent in the marshes and the pleasure never palled". He returned to England for three months each year during the winter, returning in time for the breaking up of the ice on the frozen lakes and rivers.

De Wiart's Polish peaceful life was interrupted by the oncoming war in July 1939 when he was recalled and appointed to his old job, as head of the British Military Mission to Poland
British Military Mission to Poland
The British Military Mission to Poland was an effort by Britain to aid the nascent Second Polish Republic after it achieved its independence in November, 1918, at the end of the First World War....

. Poland was attacked
Invasion of Poland (1939)
The Invasion of Poland, also known as the September Campaign or 1939 Defensive War in Poland and the Poland Campaign in Germany, was an invasion of Poland by Germany, the Soviet Union, and a small Slovak contingent that marked the start of World War II in Europe...

 by Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany , also known as the Third Reich , but officially called German Reich from 1933 to 1943 and Greater German Reich from 26 June 1943 onward, is the name commonly used to refer to the state of Germany from 1933 to 1945, when it was a totalitarian dictatorship ruled by...

 on 1 September and on 17 September the Soviets
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

 allied with Germany attacked Poland from the east. Soon Soviet forces overran Prostyń and de Wiart lost all his guns, rods, clothes, and furniture. They were packed up by the Soviets and stored in the Minsk
- Ecological situation :The ecological situation is monitored by Republican Center of Radioactive and Environmental Control .During 2003–2008 the overall weight of contaminants increased from 186,000 to 247,400 tons. The change of gas as industrial fuel to mazut for financial reasons has worsened...

 Museum, but destroyed by the Germans in later fighting. He never saw the area again, but as he said "...they could not take my memories".

The Polish campaign

De Wiart met with the Polish commander-in-chief
A commander-in-chief is the commander of a nation's military forces or significant element of those forces. In the latter case, the force element may be defined as those forces within a particular region or those forces which are associated by function. As a practical term it refers to the military...

, Marshal of Poland
Marshal of Poland
Marshal of Poland is the highest rank in the Polish Army. It has been granted to only six officers. At present, this rank is equivalent to a Field Marshal or General of the Army in other NATO armies.-History:...

 Edward Rydz-Śmigły in late August 1939 and formed a rather low opinion of his capabilities. He strongly urged Rydz-Śmigły to pull Polish forces back beyond the Vistula River, but was unsuccessful. The other advice he offered, to have the seagoing units of the Polish fleet leave the Baltic Sea
Baltic Sea
The Baltic Sea is a brackish mediterranean sea located in Northern Europe, from 53°N to 66°N latitude and from 20°E to 26°E longitude. It is bounded by the Scandinavian Peninsula, the mainland of Europe, and the Danish islands. It drains into the Kattegat by way of the Øresund, the Great Belt and...

, was, after much argument, finally adopted. This fleet made a significant contribution to the Allied cause
Polish contribution to World War II
The European theater of World War II opened with the German invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939. The Polish Army was defeated after over a month of fighting. After Poland had been overrun, a government-in-exile , armed forces, and an intelligence service were established outside of Poland....

, especially the several modern destroyers and submarines.

As Polish resistance weakened, de Wiart evacuated his mission from Warsaw along with the Polish government. Together with the Polish commander Rydz-Śmigły, de Wiart made his way with the rest of the British Mission to the Romanian border with both the Germans and the Soviets in pursuit. His car convoy was attacked by the Luftwaffe
Luftwaffe is a generic German term for an air force. It is also the official name for two of the four historic German air forces, the Wehrmacht air arm founded in 1935 and disbanded in 1946; and the current Bundeswehr air arm founded in 1956....

 on the road, and the wife of one of his aide
Aide may refer to:* A person who assists another; an assistant. In military contexts; an officer who acts as assistant to a more senior one; an aide-de-camp.* Aide , a purported Basque deity....

s was killed. He was in danger of arrest in Romania and got out by aircraft on 21 September with a false passport, just in time as the pro Allied Romanian prime minister, Armand Calinescu
Armand Calinescu
Armand Călinescu was a Romanian economist and politician, who served as Prime Minister between March 1939 and the time of his death.-Early life:...

, was assassinated that day.

The Norwegian campaign

After a brief stint in command of the 61st Division in the Midlands of England, De Wiart was summoned in April 1940 to take charge of a hastily drawn together Anglo-French force to occupy a small town in western Norway, Namsos
is a town and municipality in Nord-Trøndelag county, Norway. It is part of the Namdalen region. The administrative centre of the municipality is the town of Namsos. Other villages in the municipality include Bangsund, Klinga, Ramsvika, Skomsvoll, and Spillum....

. His orders were to take the city of Trondheim
Trondheim , historically, Nidaros and Trondhjem, is a city and municipality in Sør-Trøndelag county, Norway. With a population of 173,486, it is the third most populous municipality and city in the country, although the fourth largest metropolitan area. It is the administrative centre of...

, some distance to the south, in conjunction with a naval attack and an advance from the south by troops landed at Åndalsnes
is a town in the municipality of Rauma in Møre og Romsdal county, Norway. Åndalsnes is the administrative center of Rauma. The town has a population of 2,207...


He flew to Namsos to review the location before the troops arrived. When his Short Sunderland
Short Sunderland
The Short S.25 Sunderland was a British flying boat patrol bomber developed for the Royal Air Force by Short Brothers. It took its service name from the town and port of Sunderland in northeast England....

 flying boat came in for a landing, it was attacked by a German fighter and his aide was wounded and had to be evacuated. After the French Alpine troops landed (without their transport mules and missing straps for their skis), the Luftwaffe bombed and destroyed the town of Namsos. The British landed without transport, skis or artillery. There was no air cover. The French stayed put in Namsos for the remainder of the short campaign.

Despite these handicaps, de Wiart managed to move his forces over the mountains and down to Trondheim Fjord, where they were shelled by German destroyers. They had no artillery to challenge the German ships. It soon became apparent that the whole Norwegian campaign was fast becoming a failure. The naval attack on Trondheim, which was the reason for the Namsos landing, did not happen and his troops were exposed without guns, transport, air cover or skis in a foot and a half of snow. They were being attacked by German ski troops, machine gunned and bombed from the air and the German Navy was landing troops to his rear. He recommended withdrawal but was asked to hold his position for political reasons which he did.

After orders and counterorders from London, the decision to evacuate was made. However, on the date set to evacuate the troops, the ships did not arrive. The next night a naval force arrived, led through the fog by Lord Louis Mountbatten. The transports got the whole force away, although they were bombed very severely on the way out, with a French destroyer and a British destroyer, , sunk.

De Wiart arrived back at the British naval base of Scapa Flow
Scapa Flow
right|thumb|Scapa Flow viewed from its eastern endScapa Flow is a body of water in the Orkney Islands, Scotland, United Kingdom, sheltered by the islands of Mainland, Graemsay, Burray, South Ronaldsay and Hoy. It is about...

 in the Orkney Islands
Orkney Islands
Orkney also known as the Orkney Islands , is an archipelago in northern Scotland, situated north of the coast of Caithness...

 on 5 May 1940.

For more particulars about these events see Namsos in April 1940
Namsos campaign
In April and early May, 1940 Namsos and its surrounding area were the scene of heavy fighting between Anglo-French, Polish and Norwegian naval and military forces on the one hand, and German military, naval and air forces on the other...


Ireland and the Mediterranean

De Wiart was posted back to the command of the 61st Division, which was soon transferred to Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland is one of the four countries of the United Kingdom. Situated in the north-east of the island of Ireland, it shares a border with the Republic of Ireland to the south and west...

 as a defence against invasion. De Wiart brought the 61st up to a high standard of efficiency. However following the arrival of Lieutenant-General Sir Henry Royds Pownall
Henry Royds Pownall
Lieutenant General Sir Henry Royds Pownall KCB, KBE, DSO was a British general, who held several important command and Staff appointments during World War II. In particular, he was Chief of Staff to the British Expeditionary Force in France and Belgium until the fall of France in May 1940...

 as Commander-in-Chief in Northern Ireland, De Wiart was told that he was too old to command a division on active duty.

He remained inactive very briefly, as he was appointed as head of the British Military Mission to Yugoslavia on 5 April 1941. Hitler was preparing to invade the country and the Yugoslavs asked for British help. De Wiart traveled to Belgrade in a Wellington Bomber.

After refuelling in Malta the aircraft left for Cairo with enemy territory to the north and south. Both engines failed off the coast of Italian-controlled Libya, and the plane crash landed in the sea about a mile from land. De Wiart was knocked unconscious, but the cold water brought him to. When the plane broke up and sank, he and the rest aboard were forced to swim a mile to shore. They were captured by the Italian authorities.

Prisoner of war

De Wiart was a high profile prisoner. After four months at the Villa Orsini at Sulmona
thumb|150px|Celestine V's hermitage and the remains of the Shrine of Hercules Curinus.thumb|150px|Palazzo SS. Annunziata and Museo Civicothumb|150px|Church of SS...

 he was transferred to a special prison for senior officers at Castello di Vincigliata
Vincigliata Castle is a medieval castle which stands on a rocky hill to the east of Fiesole in the Italian region of Tuscany. In the mid-nineteenth century the building, which had fallen into a ruinous state, was acquired by the Englishman John Temple-Leader and entirely reconstructed in the...

. There were a number of senior officer prisoners here because of the successes made by Rommel in North Africa early in 1941. De Wiart made friends, especially with General Sir Richard O'Connor
Richard O'Connor
General Sir Richard Nugent O'Connor KT, GCB, DSO & Bar, MC, ADC was a British Army general who commanded the Western Desert Force in the early years of World War II...

, Thomas Daniel Knox, 6th Earl of Ranfurly
Thomas Daniel Knox, 6th Earl of Ranfurly
Thomas Daniel Knox, 6th Earl of Ranfurly KCMG , known as Dan Ranfurly, was a British soldier and farmer, and served as governor of the Bahamas....

 and Lieutenant-General Philip Neame
Philip Neame
Lieutenant General Sir Philip Neame VC, KBE, CB, DSO, KStJ was a British Army officer and recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces...

 VC. The four were committed to escaping. He made five attempts including seven months tunneling. Once de Wiart evaded capture for eight days disguised as an Italian peasant, which is surprising considering that he was in northern Italy, did not speak Italian, and was 61 years old, with an eye patch, one empty sleeve and multiple injuries. Ironically, de Wiart had been approved for repatriation due to his disablement but notification arrived after his escape. As the repatriation would have required that he promise not to take any further part in the war it is probable that he would have declined anyway.

In letters to his wife, Hermione, Countess of Ranfurly
Hermione, Countess of Ranfurly
Hermione, Countess of Ranfurly, OBE, , was the British author of To War With Whitaker: The Wartime Diaries of the Countess of Ranfurly, 1939–1945...

, Ranfurly described De Wiart in captivity as "... a delightful character" and said he "...must hold the record for bad language." Ranfurly was "...endlessly amused by him. He really is a nice person - superbly outspoken."

Then, in a surprising development, de Wiart was taken from his prison in August 1943, and driven to Rome. Italy was trying to get out of the war, and backdoor negotiations were going slowly. De Wiart was to accompany an Italian negotiator, General Giacomo Zanussi, to Lisbon to meet Allied contacts to facilitate the surrender.

But to keep the cover, de Wiart was told he needed civilian clothes. Distrusting Italian tailors, he emphasized that they must be properly made. He was not going to wear one of their "bloody gigolo suits". In Happy Odyssey, he described the resultant suit as being the best he had in his life.

When they reached Lisbon, de Wiart was released and made his way to England, reaching there on 28 August 1943.

China mission

Within a month of his arrival back in England, de Wiart was summoned to spend a night at the Prime Minister's country home at Chequers
Chequers, or Chequers Court, is a country house near Ellesborough, to the south of Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire, England, at the foot of the Chiltern Hills...

. Churchill informed him that he was to be sent to China as his personal representative. He left by air for India on 18 October 1943.

As his accommodation in China was not ready de Wiart spent time in India getting an understanding of the situation in China, especially being briefed by a genuine tai-pan
The term tai-pan was originally used to describe a foreign businessman in China or Hong Kong in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Cantonese colloquialism is now used in a more general sense for business executives of any origin...

, John Keswick
Keswick family
The Keswick family are a business dynasty of Scottish origin associated with the Far East since 1855 and in particular the conglomerate Jardine Matheson....

, head of the great China trading empire, Jardine Matheson. He met the Viceroy, Lord Archibald Wavell and Sir Claude Auchinleck
Claude Auchinleck
Field Marshal Sir Claude John Eyre Auchinleck, GCB, GCIE, CSI, DSO, OBE , nicknamed "The Auk", was a British army commander during World War II. He was a career soldier who spent much of his military career in India, where he developed a love of the country and a lasting affinity for the soldiers...

, the Commander-in-Chief in India. He also met Orde Wingate.

Before arriving in China, De Wiart attended the Cairo Conference
Cairo Conference
The Cairo Conference of November 22–26, 1943, held in Cairo, Egypt, addressed the Allied position against Japan during World War II and made decisions about postwar Asia...

 attended by Churchill, President Roosevelt and Generalissimo Chiang Kai Shek. There is a famous picture of these leaders gathered in a Cairo garden, with De Wiart standing behind them.

When in Cairo, he took the opportunity to renew his acquaintance with Hermione, Countess of Ranfurly the wife of his friend from prisoner of war days, Dan Ranfurly. De Wiart was one of the few to be able to work with the notoriously difficult commander of US forces in the China-Burma-India Theatre, General Joseph Stilwell
Joseph Stilwell
General Joseph Warren Stilwell was a United States Army four-star General known for service in the China Burma India Theater. His caustic personality was reflected in the nickname "Vinegar Joe"...


He arrived in the headquarters of the Nationalist Chinese Government
The Kuomintang of China , sometimes romanized as Guomindang via the Pinyin transcription system or GMD for short, and translated as the Chinese Nationalist Party is a founding and ruling political party of the Republic of China . Its guiding ideology is the Three Principles of the People, espoused...

, Chungking (Chongqing), in early December 1943. For the next three years he was to be involved in a host of reporting, diplomatic and administrative duties in the remote war time capital. He worked with Chiang kai-Shek and when he finally retired he was offered a job by Chiang. He regularly flew out to India to liaise with British officials. His old friend, Richard O'Connor, had escaped from the Italian prisoner of war camp and was now in command of British troops in eastern India. The Governor of Bengal
Governor of Bengal
From 1690, a governor represented the British East India Company in Bengal, which had been granted the right to establish a trading post by the local rulers, the nawabs of Murshidabad, who were nominal vassals of the Mughal emperor in Delhi....

, the Australian Richard Casey
Richard Casey, Baron Casey
Richard Gardiner Casey, Baron Casey KG GCMG CH DSO MC KStJ PC was an Australian politician, diplomat and the 16th Governor-General of Australia.-Early life:...

, became a good friend, his wife having nursed de Wiart on one of his many hospital visits in World War I.

On 1 November 1944, de Wiart was promoted to lieutenant-general.

De Wiart returned home in December 1944 to report to the War Cabinet
War Cabinet
A War Cabinet is a committee formed by a government in a time of war. It is usually a subset of the full executive cabinet of ministers. It is also quite common for a War Cabinet to have senior military officers and opposition politicians as members....

 on the Chinese situation. Clement Attlee
Clement Attlee
Clement Richard Attlee, 1st Earl Attlee, KG, OM, CH, PC, FRS was a British Labour politician who served as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1945 to 1951, and as the Leader of the Labour Party from 1935 to 1955...

, when he became head of the Labour Government in June 1945, asked de Wiart to stay on in China.

De Wiart was assigned to a tour of the Burma Front, and after meeting Admiral Sir James Somerville, Commander-in-Chief of the British Eastern Fleet
British Eastern Fleet
The British Eastern Fleet was a fleet of the Royal Navy which existed from 1941 to 1971...

, he was given a front seat on the bridge of the battleship for the bombardment of Sabang in the Netherlands East Indies in 1945, including air battles between Japanese fighters and British carrier aircraft. It was the first time the Queen Elizabeth had fired its guns in anger since the Dardanelles
The Dardanelles , formerly known as the Hellespont, is a narrow strait in northwestern Turkey connecting the Aegean Sea to the Sea of Marmara. It is one of the Turkish Straits, along with its counterpart the Bosphorus. It is located at approximately...

 in 1915.

A good part of de Wiart's reporting had to do with the increasing power of the Chinese Communists. The historian Max Hastings
Max Hastings
Sir Max Hugh Macdonald Hastings, FRSL is a British journalist, editor, historian and author. He is the son of Macdonald Hastings, the noted British journalist and war correspondent and Anne Scott-James, sometime editor of Harper's Bazaar.-Life and career:Hastings was educated at Charterhouse...

 writes: "De Wiart despised all Communists on principle, denounced Mao
Mao Zedong
Mao Zedong, also transliterated as Mao Tse-tung , and commonly referred to as Chairman Mao , was a Chinese Communist revolutionary, guerrilla warfare strategist, Marxist political philosopher, and leader of the Chinese Revolution...

 as 'a fanatic', and added: 'I cannot believe he means business'. He told the British cabinet
Cabinet (government)
A Cabinet is a body of high ranking government officials, typically representing the executive branch. It can also sometimes be referred to as the Council of Ministers, an Executive Council, or an Executive Committee.- Overview :...

 that there was no conceivable alternative to Chiang as ruler of China." He met Mao Zedong
Mao Zedong
Mao Zedong, also transliterated as Mao Tse-tung , and commonly referred to as Chairman Mao , was a Chinese Communist revolutionary, guerrilla warfare strategist, Marxist political philosopher, and leader of the Chinese Revolution...

 at dinner and had a memorable exchange with him, interrupting his propaganda speech to criticise him for holding back from fighting the Japanese for domestic political reasons. Mao was briefly stunned, and then laughed.

After the Japanese surrender in August 1945, de Wiart flew to Singapore to participate in the formal surrender. After a visit to Peking, he moved to Nanking, the now liberated Nationalist capital, accompanied by Julian Amery, the British Prime Minister's Personal Representative to Generalissimo Chiang Kai Shek.

A visit to Tokyo to meet General Douglas MacArthur
Douglas MacArthur
General of the Army Douglas MacArthur was an American general and field marshal of the Philippine Army. He was a Chief of Staff of the United States Army during the 1930s and played a prominent role in the Pacific theater during World War II. He received the Medal of Honor for his service in the...

 came at the end of his tenure. He was now 66 and ready to retire, despite the offer of a job by Chiang.


En route home via French Indochina
French Indochina
French Indochina was part of the French colonial empire in southeast Asia. A federation of the three Vietnamese regions, Tonkin , Annam , and Cochinchina , as well as Cambodia, was formed in 1887....

, de Wiart stopped in Rangoon as a guest of the army commander. Coming down stairs, he slipped on coconut matting, fell down, broke his back and several vertebrae, and knocked himself unconscious. He eventually made it to England and into a hospital where he slowly recovered. The doctors succeeded in extracting a remarkable amount of shrapnel from his old wounds. He recovered and then went to Belgium to visit relatives.

His wife died in 1949 and in 1951, at the age of 71, he married Ruth Myrtle Muriel Joan McKechnie, a divorcee known as Joan Sutherland (she died 13 January 2006, aged 102 (born late 1903)), and settled at Aghinagh house
Aghinagh house
Aghinagh House is a building in County Cork, Ireland which was probably constructed sometime between 1799 and 1815. The building is an example of Irish Georgian architecture....

, Killinardish , County Cork
County Cork
County Cork is a county in Ireland. It is located in the South-West Region and is also part of the province of Munster. It is named after the city of Cork . Cork County Council is the local authority for the county...

, Ireland, taking up a life pursuing salmon
Salmon is the common name for several species of fish in the family Salmonidae. Several other fish in the same family are called trout; the difference is often said to be that salmon migrate and trout are resident, but this distinction does not strictly hold true...

 and the snipe
A snipe is any of about 25 wading bird species in three genera in the family Scolopacidae. They are characterized by a very long, slender bill and crypsis plumage. The Gallinago snipes have a nearly worldwide distribution, the Lymnocryptes Jack Snipe is restricted to Asia and Europe and the...

. His wife was 25 years his junior.

De Wiart died at the age of 83 on 5 June 1963.

He and his wife, Joan, are buried in Caum Churchyard just off the main Macroom road. The grave site is just outside the actual graveyard wall on the grounds of his own home Aghinagh House.

De Wiart's will was probated in Ireland at 4,158 pounds sterling and in England at 3,496 pounds sterling.


In his memoirs he wrote, "Governments may think and say as they like, but force cannot be eliminated, and it is the only real and unanswerable power. We are told that the pen is mightier than the sword, but I know which of these weapons I would choose."

External links

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