Does watching movies, where the heroes single-handedly kill several enemies, make you cringe at the unrealistic plots? Think again.
History is full of stories of extreme bravery of people showed during harsh times that are hard to comprehend. However, it is a sad realization that there are many incidents of bravery that go unnoticed, especially during wars. Yes, we never hear most of those stories. Therefore, in this post, we brought for you the stories of 7 such soldiers who showed extraordinary bravery during wars which continue to inspire millions of people every day. Take a read.
1. Adrian Carton de Wiart: The man who defeated death multiple times.
Born in Brussels, Belgium, in 1880; Lieutenant General Adrian Carton de Wiart’s life story sounds no less than a folklore. He was just 20 years old when he left Oxford College to join the army without his father’s permission. Shortly after enlisting himself, he was sent to South Africa to participate in the Second Boer War in which he was shot in the stomach and groin and had to return England for treatment. That was just the beginning of his incredible career marred with grave injuries.
When the World War I dawned in 1914 and Adrian was representing British army in Somalia, he was shot in the left eye and ear. He then moved to England and continued fighting in the war. Fighting in the western front, he was again shot in head, ankle, hip, ribs and ear. His one hand was severely destroyed and when a surgeon refused to amputate his fingers, he tore off his fingers on his own.
In the Second World War on a mission to Yugoslavia his plane stopped working in the middle of the flight over a sea a mile away from land. He swam to shore where he was captured and taken as prisoner of war by the Italians.
Two days after he was captured, he managed to escape only to be recaptured after eight days. The Italian army later released him in 1943 as a compromise with the British army.
Despite all those years of struggles and injuries, in his autobiography ‘Happy Odyssey’ Adrian wrote,” Frankly, I enjoyed the war.”
2. Leo Major: The lone liberator of an entire city.
French Canadian soldier Leo Major, born in 1921 in Canada, joined the Canadian army just before the Second World War merely to show his father that he could do something on his own, unaware of the massive impact he was going to make in the war.
In 1941, on the war field a grenade exploded near him, causing partial blindness to his left eye. Commanders tried to send him home but he refused saying he could easily shoot rifles with the help of his good eye alone.
In April 1945, Leo Major’s regiment was near the city of Zwolle, Netherlands occupied by German troops. The commanding officer asked if anyone wanted to volunteer to check on the number of German soldiers with whom they had to fight next morning. Leo Major along with his friend Corporal Willie Arseneault came forward to volunteer. Unfortunately, his friend was killed by the enemies when their position became known in the midnight, and an enraged Leo Major went on to kill two of the enemy soldiers, witnessing which, the rest of the soldiers fled.
Major continued the mission alone and found a vehicle with a German soldier. He took hostage of the vehicle and made the drive take him to a bar where an armed German officer was drinking. He took hostage of him but then decided to let him go warning that the Canadian army would attack in the morning and cause serious causalities, taking a calculated risk.
Then he proceeded to move about the city throwing grenade and firing his sub-machine gun alone making as much noise as possible capturing groups of German soldiers for about ten times, escorting them out of the city and handing them over to French-Canadian soldiers. He located the Gestapo HQ and set it on fire. He also found the SS HQ in which were eight German soldiers. In a quick fight, he killed four of them and the other four fled.
The German soldiers were terrified by the Canadian troop, while in fact it was only Leo Major. They ran away by 4.30 am vacating the city of Zwolle. His heroism saved the lives of thousands of civilians and liberated the city single-handedly.
Leo Major went on to live a long life of 87 years and died in 2008.
3. Jack Churchill: The man who led the army while holding bows and arrows and bagpipe.
Jack Churchill didn’t earn the nickname ‘Mad Jack’ because he was mentally unstable but rather because he was insanely brave and, well, dangerously old-school for the Second World War. He lived by the motto: “Any officer who goes into action without his sword is improperly dressed.”
He famously once captured 42 German soldiers alone and that too only with a sword and bow-arrow. He just went from sentry post to sentry post taking one German soldier as a human shield and ordering them to surrender. He later said that if something was told to the German soldiers in a loud enough voice and if the speaker was senior, they would enthusiastically do whatever was told to them.
Captain Jack Churchill was born in Surrey in 1906. He joined the Manchester battalion in 1926. He was famous for carrying his sword, arrows and bagpipes in the war and for playing bagpipe to motivate his troops before the war.
He is the last recorded soldier in a war to kill another soldier using a bow and arrow. He along with his troop was in a tower in France’s l’Epinette village in 1940 when he saw the German soldiers approaching. Churchill told his troop that he would kill the first German soldier with an arrow and he did the same. Later his troops finished all other soldiers with their machine guns.
In 1944, he and his troop was captured in Yugoslavia by the Germans and sent to concentration camp. He was playing his bagpipe at that time, knowing there was no escape. Churchill but managed to escape but was recaptured and sent to another camp in Austria. He again escaped and travelled around 150 miles on foot to Italy. There he met an American officer who helped him to reach England.
Jack Churchill was awarded several times for his bravery and other civilian efforts. He died in 1996 at the age of 89 years. In a book published by Norwegian Royal Explorers Club in 2014, he was ranked as one of the world’s greatest adventurers.
4. Witold Pilecki: The incredible spy who exposed the atrocities of Nazi concentration camps.
Witold Pilecki, unlike many in the list, isn’t known for the number of kills but rather for his fearlessness to walk into clear dangers for the greater benefit of others and his country.
A devout Roman Catholic Pilecki, widely regarded as one of the greatest wartime heroes, is best known for voluntarily getting himself arrested during the Second World War in September 1940, to find out what actually was happening in Auschwitz. Auschwitz was the largest concentration camp of the Nazi Germany where, like any other concentration camps ran by Nazis, people were tortured, gassed, butchered and carried experiments on besides other numerous atrocities. It was because of him that the outside world came to know about the terrifying and inhumane treatments that PoWs, Jews, homosexuals received at the hands of the Nazis. For more than two years, he stayed in the camp and smuggled information to the allies which proved to be vital for the future strategies.
He managed to escape after staying there for more than two years overpowering a guard one night when he was assigned night’s duty along with other two.
After Poland was liberated from Germany with the end of the Second World War, a soviet-backed communist regime set in, which led to conflicts with the Polish government-in-exile in London and Pilecki was again assigned to work underground in the communist Poland and report on the soviet atrocities and to pave way for a revolution. He readily agreed and worked under different identities until he was arrested on May 1947. Soon after, he was shot dead. His final words were: ‘Long live free Poland.’
For such an important figure and a hero, it’s a shame that his grave was never found. The 2006 film ‘The Death of Captain Pilecki’ was based on his life.
5. Yogendra Singh Yadav: The hero of Kargil and the youngest Param Vir Chakra recipient.
Bravery doesn’t care for age. This sentiment perfectly sums up the life of grenadier Yogendra Singh Yadav who was just 19 years old when he participated in the famous Kargil War between India and Pakistan.
In the year 1999, Yadav was part of the ‘Ghatak’ commando platoon when the platoon was assigned the task of capturing three strategic bunkers on the top of Tiger Hills which could be reached by only climbing more than 1,500 feet vertical face of the cliff. He was given the task to fix ropes for others to climb while others remained close by. But midway, they were found by the Pakistani soldiers and rained bullets on them. The attack killed the platoon commander among other. Yadav himself was shot multiple times in the groin and shoulder, but he kept advancing, attacked the first bunker with a grenade and killed all the Pakistani soldiers.
He then proceeded to the second bunker; got many more bullets into his flesh, engaged in hand-to-hand combat and took down the enemies, liberating the bunker but was severely injured with a broken limb and 12 bullets. One bullet missed his heart because of a Rs. 5 coin in his pocket.
He later said that he pretended at one point to be dead while the soldiers shoot him a few more times to check he indeed was dead till he found an appropriate time to attack an enemy soldier with a grenade. He killed him, took his rifle, and killed the others with it.
Though he couldn’t fight in taking the third bunker, his impossible bravery was motivating enough for others to take over the third bunker themselves.
Yogendra Singh Yadav, for his heroism, became the youngest recipient of the highest gallantry award of India, Param Vir Chakra.
6. Simo Hayha: The farmer who turned out to be the deadliest sniper in the world.
Famously known as ‘The White Death’, Simo Hayha was one of the deadliest snipers the world has ever known. He shot more than 500 Soviets to death alone during Second World War for his country Finland when it was vastly outnumbered by the Soviets.
Hayha was born in Finland and worked hard in the farms of his hometown until he was 25 years old. He then went on to spend one mandatory year in the Finnish army.
Later in 1939 when Soviet Union attacked Finland, Hayha was called in. Finnish army was tiny comparing to USSR at that time and by the time the 105 days war between the countries ended, about 26,000 Finnish soldiers were dead and 1, 27,000 Soviets lost their lives.
Simo Hayha alone eliminated 505 ‘confirmed’ enemy soldiers with his fatal accuracy but the number could be well over 700, causing so much fear among the Soviets that they started calling him ‘White Death’. He used to hide in snow in the freezing temperature without any movement for hours and whenever any soviet soldier would come into his shooting range, Hayha killed him with his rifle. But it is easier said than done. The enemies were constantly looking for snipers, which means he couldn’t even breathe properly as the fumes from his mouth would give away his location. He used to hold snow in his mouth to hide himself as he waited for his next target.
For 98 days of the war, he was unseen and unheard of but the deaths were certain indication of his impactful presence. A week before the end of the war, he was spotted and a bullet hit his left cheek, sending him into coma. By the time he came out of coma, the war had been already won.
Hayha was awarded several times for his bravery and service and also got promoted to second lieutenant from the post of just a corporal.
7. Desmond Doss: The man who fought war with Bible and prayers instead of guns and bullets.
War can be the most traumatic event that a person can ever face in his/her lifetime, imagine being in the frontline during the war and then imagine being in the frontline without a gun. Sounds unimaginable? Well, Desmond Doss did exactly this.
After the Pearl Harbour attack, Doss enlisted in the frontline of the US military because he wanted to contribute to his country, but unlike everyone else, he had a different idea of contributing. Doss was a devout Christian (a Seventh-day Adventist) who took the Ten Commandments of the Bible very seriously and because one of the commandments is ‘You shall not kill’, he refused to carry a gun considering it a sin. He wanted to be a medic and help the injured soldiers in the battle.
His way of thinking brought him marvelous harassment at the hands of his colleagues. He was physically attacked, called a coward, embarrassed, threatened and even attempt was made to transfer him out of the battalion, but he endured all.
During the battle of Okinawa against Japan in 1945, the US soldiers had to climb a 350 feet steep ridge dubbed as ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ because of how dangerous it was. When along with other soldiers Doss climbed the ridge without a weapon to defend him against the Japanese who knew the ins and outs of Okinawa, they were eventually attacked and the US army had no option than to retreat down the ridge. But Doss refused to obey the order of his superior to retreat and stayed there, praying constantly to God and collecting the wounded soldiers left to die there silently and secretly. He would drag them on the edge of the ridge and lowered the soldiers with the help of a rope one by one. The soldiers at the foot of the ridge were astonished as they continued to see wounded soldiers being lowered. He even sent one wounded Japanese soldier down.
He stayed on the top, in the middle of enemies for several days, saving between 50 to 100 soldiers who would have died without him until he was found and attacked by the Japanese, but fortunately he survived.
His amazing bravery and faith changed the perspective of his fellow soldiers and won him the highest gallantry award of the United States.
The 2016 Hollywood movie ‘Hacksaw Ridge‘ was based on his life.
We salute them for their bravery and service to their countrymen.