21 August 2003

A ceremony organised by the Royal Highland Fusiliers took place on the 21st August 2003 in Piershill Cemetery, Edinburgh, to place a memorial stone over the previously unmarked grave of Private George Wilson VC.

Wilson was born in Edinburgh on the 29th April 1886, survived his VC action and the War, but succumbed to tuberculosis in Craigleigh Hospital, Edinburgh, on the 22nd April 1926 aged only 39.

( Two further memorial stones were placed either side of Wilson's, commemorating Lieutenant John Grieve, 2nd Dragoon Guards, who won his Victoria Cross at Balaclava during the Crimean War, and Private James Davis, 42nd Regiment ( The Black Watch ) who was awarded the VC during the Indian Mutiny. These two turfstones will be taken to their respective cemeteries at a later date - Inveresk Old Cemetery, Lothian, and North Merchiston Cemetery, Edinburgh. )

On the 14th September 1914, during the main Battle of the Aisne, the King's Royal Rifle Corps was reinforced by the 2nd Worcestershires and 2nd Highland Light Infantry to stem the advance of the Germans until the Royal Artillery began to operate. Later in the day, these three battalions were able to advance up the eastern slopes of the Beaulne Spur, where they managed to hold on. During this period of fighting, a remarkable deed of heroism took place.

At Verneuill the 2nd HLI came into action for the first time since Mons, and had been involved for only an hour when Private George Wilson spied a couple of Germans and informed his officer. The officer was incredulous and took up his glasses to take a closer look but he was immediately shot dead. Wilson quickly avenged his killing by taking aim and shooting the two Germans.

He then advanced about a hundred yards and saw eight more Germans. He charged them at once making noises as though he was accompanied by a strong group. The Germans immediately surrendered and in doing so gave up two prisoners from the Middlesex Regiment. It was then when he was going forward that he came across the scores of wounded and dead who had previously been part of the attacking force who had been caught by German machine-gun fire.

George Wilson was so incensed by the terrible massacre that he virtually went berserk and together with a volunteer from the KRRC set out to destroy the German machine-gun position. After only a hundred yards Wilson's colleague was shot dead by the machine-gun. Wilson took steady aim and killed the machine gunner, and then wiped out the whole of the enemy position, eventually getting to within ten yards of the gun.

At this point the German officer in charge of the Maxim emptied his revolver in the direction of Wilson, but missed and Wilson immediately bayoneted him. But even then Wilson was not satisfied, turning the machine-gun round he fired 750 rounds at the enemy. Throughout this time he was a victim of heavy shellfire which eventually forced him back to his own lines where he promptly fainted.

When he came round he discovered that no one had thought of retrieving the Maxim so he set off again to bring back the gun. It took two more trips to carry back the remaining two and a half cases of ammunition as well. He still had one more task to carry out and this was to fetch the body of his colleague from the KRRC who had been shot seventeen times.

For the award of the Victoria Cross.

[ London Gazette, 5 December 1914 ]. Verneuill, France, 14 September 1914, Private George Wilson, 2nd Bn, The Highland Light Infantry.

Private Wilson went with a rifleman to try to locate a machine-gun which was holding up the advance of the 2nd Battalion, Highland Light Infantry. When the rifleman was killed, Private Wilson went on alone and, when he reached his target shot six of the enemy, bayoneted the officer and then captured the gun.

George Wilson's action must rank as one of the most effective and courageous in the early months of the First World War. His Victoria Cross was gazetted on the 5th December 1914, but Wilson had already received it from King George V who had visited the HLI on the 3rd December 1914.

Medal entitlement of Private George Wilson - 2nd Bn, The Highland Light Infantry

  • Victoria Cross
  • 1914 Star - clasp "5th Aug - 22nd Nov 1914"
  • British War Medal - ( 1914-19 )
  • Victory Medal - ( 1914-20 )


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Iain Stewart, 4 September 2003