Rare is the obituary that can match that of Sir Adrian Carton de Wiart (1880-1963) who died as the most decorated soldier in the British Army. He was born to a Belgian father and Irish mother, though reputed to be an illegitimate son of Leopold II, King of the Belgians. His mother died when he was six, and his English stepmother sent him to the Birmingham Oratory School in England, founded by Cardinal Newman. He entered the University of Oxford, but dropped out to join the British Army and fight in the Second Boer War. He married Countess Friederike Maria Karoline Henriette Rosa Sabina Franziska Fugger von Babenhausen, the eldest daughter of an Austrian prince. Soon he went to British Somaliland with the Camel Corps to fight Mohammed bin Abdullah, the “Mad Mullah.” There he lost an eye and part of his ear.
Carton de Wiart returned to fight in the First World War in France, was wounded seven times, shot through the skull and ankle, hip and leg, and lost his left hand. After the war he resided on the estate of his Polish aide de camp, Prince Karol Radziwill, in a wetland larger than the Republic of Ireland, until the Nazis invaded. Dispatched to Serbia, his aircraft crashed in the sea off the coast of Italian-controlled Libya, and he began three years as a prisoner of war in Italy. Upon his release, Churchill sent him to China; en route he attended the 1943 Cairo Conference with Churchill, Roosevelt, and Chiang Kai-shek.
A fervent anti-Communist, Sir Adrian later criticized Mao Zedong to his face. He retired in 1947 to County Cork in Ireland, laurelled as a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire, Companion of the Order of the Bath, Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George, and recipient of the Croix de Guerre of France and Belgium, but first of all, of the Victoria Cross, and above even that, he was renowned as a vigorous Catholic.
Wandering down a country lane one day, lame and partially blind, he asked a very young colleen where it led. Un-phased by his scars, she gently said, “Oh sir, this road will take you wherever you wish to go.” This is not without application to these Easter days, for the two grieving men on the Emmaus road were wounded by disappointment in Jesus whom they expected to be their Messianic hero. It was when he took them to a wayside inn that they recognized him. He told them that their road was not only the way to Emmaus, but “wherever they wished to go.”
The road depends on whether one follows Christ, or one’s confused ego. At the Last Supper when Saint Thomas asked the Risen Lord where he was going, the answer was: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”