Sir Adrian Carton de Wiart was a tough guy. He wasn't the kind of guy who would tell you he was tough, but he walked the walk. Son of a Belgian aristocrat and an Irish mother, he ended up in an English boarding school, and after that began to attend Oxford. The Boer War started and Wiart realized what he was going to do. He lied his way into the British Army and never looked back. He had suffered many wounds from 2 different wars and rose to the rank of Second Lieutenant before he even became a British citizen.
Lieutenant Colonel Adrian Carton de Wiart
He was wounded grieviously in the chest and groin in his first trip to the Boer War. As it wasn't finished, neither was he, and he finished the war in the 4th Royal Irish Dragoon Guards. After shipping off to India, war beckoned again with the Dervish revolt in British Somaliland. Joining the Camel Corps, Wiart sustained more wounds in a battle at Shimber Berris, storming a Dervish stronghold. The wizzing of bullets sounded like a storm of bees, and De Wiart's clothes and eye were punctured. His blood was up, and as he surged towards the fort Wiart was hit again in the same eye from close range, with the surgeon sewing him up as the battle raged around them.
While convalescing in England, he realized a bigger war was going on in Europe, one he was not to be left out of. It took some talking, with Britain not really interested in sending one eyed officers to war, and in 1915 headed to the Western Front. He commanded 3 infantry battalians and a brigade during WW1, but was not one to fight behind a desk. He participated in the battles of the Somme, Passchendaele, Cambrai and Arras, among others. He was wounded continuously, in every part of his body from his skull to his foot. In later years, after falling down a flight of stairs, the doctor found numerous splinters from the first world war. Legend has it that when a doctor wouldn't amputate his hand that he bit his own fingers off. Tough guy.
He had been assigned to a mission in Poland when WW2 broke out. He had helped organize resistance, but was soon on the run as the Nazi's gained the upper hand. Finally getting airlifted out, he was next sent to Norway to build up a force there, and his plane was shot up while landing by German fighters. He organized the defense as best he could, but the Germans forced him out, and his men were rescued by Lord Mountbatten (another tough guy).
In 1941, Wiart was sent to Yugoslavia to the British Mission, but his plane's engines quit over enemy territory and he ditched in the waters off Libya and he was captured by the Italians. He wasn't one to sit in a POW camp and escaped five times, the last time gaining his freedom. This escapee had one eye, one hand and was 61 years old in 1943. What a guy!
He had lots more adventures than I can address here. Carton De Wiart didn't have to do any of this. He was a Belgian citizen of aristocratic heritage. He knew everyone who was anybody. His decorations include the Victoria Cross, The Order of the British Empire and lots more. After living a quite full life, he finally succumbed to our eternal foe in 1963.
When you have read "The Last Enfield" by Steve Raw, there won't be anything you didn't know about the British Army's current service rifle. It is a somewhat sad story, much like the early M-16's travails when bean counters redesigned it, only much worse. The M-16 survived to be possibly the best rifle in the world, but for the final version of the SA80? In the end it seems you don't hear many complaints about it from Afghanistan any longer, and if it is finally straightened out, it is almost a shame it is about to be replaced, but with what?
Weapon design was changing the world over at the time, and Britain was breaking new ground with a bullpup style stamped steel rifle. It is hard to believe they had so much trouble with it, Kalishnakov's were stamped and they were very reliable. The Steyr Aug was a bullpup, although not stamped, and their gun was successful. Steve follows every turn in the development, and his views as to why this happened seem to hit the mark. The rifle didn't fail because of lack of money, although in the beginning, this is what may have stumped it's development.
The story is a mixed one for the British. On the one hand, many engineers went out on a limb trying to come up with the best compromise in weight, length, and power. Then on the other, it seems that accountants and bureaucrats conspired to build the worst possible rifle. Add to that some intrigue with design theft from Armalite, terrible reliability in battle, and a rebuilding of the entire small arms inventory of the British Armed Forces by a German company and the result is something that you couldn't have made up.
Steve Raw is uniqely qualified to tell this story. Not only did he spend half his life in the Royal Marines, but became an armorer, and more than that, in 1989 became head of the Armorers' Branch of the Royal Marines. He has tapped the knowledge of many experts in the field to complete this volumn and has left no stone unturned.
But the best feature of the book would satisfy any machinery geek. There are detailed pictures of every variant and prototype with in depth explanations of all features and modifications. (And there were lots of those!) Included are detailed field stripping and armorer repair procedures with even the measurements for making the tooling. Notwithstanding it's problems, this is an interesting rifle, and even though it took an incredible long time to mature, it appears to be close to what it was meant to be back in the '70's. The rifle does seem to be incredibly vulnerable to sand and/or any other kind of environmental debris, the only advice being "Throw a bucket of oil at it every chance you get!"
In the end, Steve bemoans the loss of Enfield's manufacturing and engineering talent, expertise and facilities, despite their mistakes with the SA80. Enfield was an entity dedicated to keeping the country in weapons, something that is now lost to fewer and larger international corporations whose interests are global in scope. If the world goes to hell, and it has a number of times in the last 100 years, a country's weapons manufacturing and expertise need to be inside it's national borders, and answerable to the country's political leaders, or you are playing a dangerous game in a changing world. For England it may already be too late.
Published by Collector Grade Publications