Thursday, 23 April 2009

Happy odyssey

When feeling down-in-the-mouth about the state of the world I often go back to Happy Odyssey, the autobiography of Adrian Carton de Wiart. It tends to put lead in one's pencil.

Here's an extract from the chapter 'Fighting the Mad Mullah' where he's storming a blockhouse occupied by some Dervishes at the head of a troop of Somali 'fuzzy-wuzzies':

'I was in my shirtsleeves and the first shot fired at me passed through my rolled-up sleeve and did no damage, but as the muzzle of the Dervish's rifle could not have been more than a yard away from me the blast blew me backwards and I wondered what to do next. Some of our men were being hit and the wounds were bad, as the bullets were heavy and soft, but luckily the Dervish, for economy's sake, used a small charge of powder.

By this time I was seething with excitement. I got a glancing blow in my eye, but I was too wound up to stop - I had to go on trying to get in.

The next hit was in my elbow, and I plucked a large but not too damaging splinter from it. But the following shot split my ear, and as the doctor was standing conveniently near he stitched it up there and then, looking meanwhile at my eye which was feeling pretty painful. It seemed to be beyond immediate repair.

While I was being sown up Lieutenant Simmons made an attempt on the threshold, but he had the back of his head blown off by one of these soft bullets and was killed instantly.

Patched up, and still wound up, I tried again to storm this blockhouse, but a ricochet from a bullet went through the same damaged eye. We were so near the Dervishes that I could touch their rifles with my stick which was only a couple of feet long.

Our Somalis were having heavy casualties, and Tom Cubitt decided to let the Indian contingent have their try. But they fared no better and, as the light was beginning to fail, we withdrew to camp not far away to take stock of the situation and lick our wounds. Rather magnanimously, we offered the Dervishes their lives if they would surrender, but our generous gesture brought forth a still brighter volley of rudery as to our parentage.

It had all been most exhilarating fun and the pace too hot for anyone to have any other sensation but thrill, primitive and devouring. But by the time I got back to camp I was in bad shape, my eye very painful, and I was practically blind.'


Gadjo Dilo said...

Good lord! "I got a glancing blow in my eye..." - beautiful understatement, seeing as how it must have blinded the fellow. You must visit the blog of Gyppo Byard who has (or had) a regular Colonel of the Month feature which chronicles similar exploits.

gaw said...

He ended up half-blind and wore a pirate-style eye patch.

This book is just full of this sort of hilarious understatement. His life covered such a great amount of time and space but his devil-may- care approach always remained in place. That's what I find heartening.

Despite being something of a psychopath he was an historical figure of some minor importance. He was also the model for Brigadier Ritchie Hook in Waugh's Sword of Honour trilogy.

I'll try to put some more excerpts up in time and will check out Gyppo's place.