23 December 2008

The death has been announced of Lieutenant Colonel Eric Wilson VC, aged 96, who was awarded the Victoria Cross for heroic action against a large Italian force during the East Africa campaign in August 1940. Eric Wilson, of the East Surrey Regiment, was attached to the Somaliland Camel Corps during his VC action.

Eric Wilson was buried on the 29th December 2008 at St Peter & St Paul Churchyard, Stowell, Near Sherbourne, Somerset.

When the Italians, with 350,000 troops in Abyssinia and Eritrea, invaded British Somaliland, which was defended by 1,500 men, they threatened control of the entrance to the Red Sea and British positions from Aden to Suez.

As the Italians headed for Berbera on the coast, a small Allied force decided to set up a defensive position on the Golis hills, which contained an 8,000 foot pass. Captain Eric Wilson was given the task of siting the Somaliland Camel Corps' machine-guns on four small hills of the Tug Argan Pass, though they were too widely seperated to cover their entire vista. Therefore, Wilson placed himself on Observation, which commanded the widest arc of fire, but was perilously exposed and well known to Italian truck drivers who had driven past it daily before the declaration of war.

For the award of the Victoria Cross

[ London Gazette, 14 October 1940 ], Tug Argan Gap, Somaliland, 11 - 15 August 1940, Lieutenant ( A / Captain ) Eric Charles Twelves Wilson, The East Surrey Regiment, attached Somaliland Camel Corps.

For most conspicuous gallantry on active service in Somaliland. Captain Wilson was in command of machine-gun posts manned by Somali soldiers in the key position of Observation Hill, a defended post in the defensive organisation of the Tug Argan Gap in British Somaliland.

The enemy attacked Observation Hill on 11th August 1940. Captain Wilson and Somali gunners under his command beat off the attack and opened fire on the enemy troops attacking Mill Hill, another post within his range. He inflicted such heavy casualties that the enemy, determined to put his guns out of action, brought up a pack battery to within seven hundred yards, and scored two direct hits through the loopholes of his defences, which, bursting within the post, wounded Captain Wilson severely in the right shoulder and in the left eye, several of his team being also wounded. His guns were blown off their stands but he repaired and replaced them and, regardless of his wounds, carried on, whilst his Somali sergeant was killed beside him.

On 12th and 14th August the enemy again concentrated field artillery fire on Captain Wilson's guns, but he continued, with his wounds untended, to man them. On August 15th two of his machine-gun posts were blown to pieces, yet Captain Wilson, now suffering from malaria in addition to wounds, still kept his own post in action. The enemy finally over-ran the post at 5 p.m. on the 15th August when Captain Wilson, fighting to the last, was killed.

Eric Wilson was invested with his Victoria Cross by King George VI at Buckingham Palace on the 28th July 1942.

The citation killed off Eric Wilson prematurely. He survived not only his wounds but the acute maleria from which he was suffering at the time. The Italians took him prisoner but he was freed later when British forces captured Eritrea from them.

On his release from the Italians, Wilson served for a year in North Africa with the Long Range Desert Group as the unit's adjutant. After a period in Britain, he served as second in command of the 11th King's Africa Rifles in the Kabaw Valley to the River Chindwin in Burma.

Down-graded for medical reasons he commanded as a lieutenant-colonel, the Infantry Training Centre at Jinja, Uganda, where he was serving when the war ended.

Medal entitlement of Lieutenant Colonel Eric Wilson - East Surrey Regiment, att'd Somaliland Camel Corps

  • Victoria Cross
  • 1939 - 45 Star
  • Africa Star
  • Burma Star
  • Defence Medal ( 1939-45 )
  • War Medal ( 1939-45 )
  • Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal ( 1953 )
  • Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal ( 1977 )
  • Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal ( 2002 )

VC Deaths

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Iain Stewart, 30 December 2008