29 December 2009

War Heroes: Eric Wilson

How would you like to wake up in a POW camp one morning an learn that you'd been awarded the Victoria Cross, posthumously...

Wilson, then a captain, commanded the Camel Corps machinegun company. His task was to provide fire support for the Northern Rhodesia Regiment manning the central sector of the front across the enemy’s path. So far as the terrain allowed, he positioned his water-cooled Vickers medium machineguns where they could strike the enemy in the flanks when they moved forward. But, because of the width of the front, several had to be sited frontally with wide arcs of fire. Having briefed all his gun crews, he joined the most forward pillbox on Observation Hill overlooking the enemy’s main approach.

The Italian attack opened on the morning of August 11 with an artillery bombardment of Wilson’s positions. A shell of the first salvo exploded immediately outside the embrasure of his pillbox, blowing the Vickers off its tripod and wounding one of the crew. To Wilson’s surprise the weapon was undamaged and he had it in action again within minutes, but the next salvo killed the corporal in charge of the gun, wounded Wilson in the right shoulder and left eye and smashed his spectacles.

During the afternoon he detected an Italian mountain artillery battery working its way up from the road to the pass. He had its range and opened fire, only to receive an immediate retaliation from the enemy’s fixed-charge high-explosive shells. Counter-battery fire from his own artillery and a tropical downpour brought action to a halt for the day.

Next morning the Italians began to push forward small groups of infantry and artillery that worked their way along the sides of the Tur Argan gap to attack the British positions at close quarters. Then, on August 13, the enemy launched a large-scale assault, overran the British artillery position and renewed their fire on Wilson’s machinegun posts. On the 15th two of his guns were blown to pieces but he continued to man his own gun until the position was overrun. The citation for his VC, gazetted on October 11, 1940, opened with the words, “For most conspicuous gallantry on active service in Somaliland” and ended with, “The enemy finally overran the post at 5pm when Captain Wilson, fighting to the last, was killed.”

He had been taken prisoner, however, not just wounded but suffering from malaria. This only became known in April 1941 when the 5th Indian Division captured the prisoner-of-war camp at Adi Ugri in Eritrea, where Wilson was being held. Together with other prisoners, he had almost completed a tunnel for a mass escape attempt when they awoke one morning to find all their guards had gone. By then he had learnt of his award from an RA

(Image from TimesOnline)

Eric Charles Twelves Wilson at Wikipedia

By: Brant

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