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UK vet dies 68 years after "posthumous" honor

UK vet dies 68 years after "posthumous" honor

A British World War II hero who fought valiantly in North Africa despite severe wounds has died 68 years after he was "posthumously" awarded the nation's highest combat honor by officials who thought he had been killed.
Eric Wilson, who had been the oldest living holder of the Victoria Cross, died at age 96, according to obituaries published Tuesday in The Times and The Daily Telegraph. Jenny Hunt, a warden of St. Mary Magdelene church in Stowell, where Wilson lived, said he died Dec. 23.
Wilson had been reported killed in North Africa in 1940, but was later found alive and trying to tunnel his way out of a prison camp. He went on to further service in Africa and Burma.
His family was notified in August 1940 that he was killed while staying with his machine gun, though wounded and ill, in a futile effort to repel a larger Italian force. The Victoria Cross was awarded two months later.
Wilson was commanding a company of the Somaliland Camel Corps when Italian forces attacked their position in what was then British Somaliland. Italy had declared war only the day before.
"The enemy attacked Observation Hill on 11th August 1940," the citation read. "Capt. 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 (artillery) to within 700 yards, and scored two direct hits through the loopholes of his defenses which, bursting within the post, wounded Capt. Wilson severely in the right shoulder and in the left eye, several of his team also being wounded. His guns were blown off their stands but he repaired and replaced them and, regardless of his wounds, carried on, while his Somali sergeant was killed beside him.
"On 12th and 14th August, the enemy again concentrated field artillery fire on Capt. Wilson's guns, but he continued, with his wounds untended, to man them. On 15th August two of his machine-gun posts were blown to pieces, yet Capt. Wilson, now suffering from malaria in addition to his wounds, still kept his own post in action. The enemy finally overran the post at 5 p.m. on the 15th August when Capt. Wilson, fighting to the last, was killed."
In April 1941, however, he was found alive in a prisoner of war camp in Eritrea. Wilson and his fellow prisoners had nearly finished digging an escape tunnel when the Italian soldiers fled the camp ahead of the arrival of British troops.
Wilson later served in North Africa as adjutant of the Long Range Desert Group, a motorized force that harassed Italian positions; he later served in Burma as second-in-command of the 11th King's African Rifles.
Two years ago, Wilson commented: "'What is bravery? I don't know. You just did what you had to do."
Retiring from the army in 1949 with the rank of lieutenant colonel, Wilson became a colonial officer in Tanganyika (now part of Tanzania), which became independent in 1961.
On returning to London, he was deputy warden and then warden of London House, a residence for foreign students. He was honorary secretary of the Anglo-Somali Society from 1972 to 1977 and helped organize relief for Somalia when it was hit by famine in 1975.
He is survived by his wife and three sons.


Updated : 2021-07-31 11:59 GMT+08:00