Sunday, April 06, 2014

GURKHA: Major Desmond Wilson (Jan. 2, 1922 - Jan. 3, 2014)

Major Desmond Wilson OBE, MC, DSC
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WHO:  Major Desmond Wilson
WHAT:  Shown complete disregard for his own safety and had been an inspiration to his men
WHERE:  Italy
WHEN:  Sep. 12, 1944 - Oct. 1944

Major Desmond Wilson was an inspirational officer who won an MC in northern Italy and later excelled as a career diplomat

7:20PM GMT 20 Jan 2014

Major Desmond Wilson, who has died aged 92, was awarded an MC in Italy in 1944 in the forcing of the Gothic Line; he subsequently had a distinguished career in the Diplomatic Service.

On September 12, Wilson was serving with 2nd Battalion 10th Princess Mary’s Own Gurkha Rifles (2/10 GR) in an attack on Passano Ridge, near Rimini. He was up with the forward elements of his company when he led his platoon in a charge on a tank and a fortified house from which the enemy was putting up fierce resistance.

He got the Germans out of their tank and killed or wounded the entire crew as they tried to get away. He then took the tank intact and the captured the house, dealing with eight of the enemy, and consolidated the position.

Wilson was awarded an MC. The citation stated that he had shown complete disregard for his own safety and had been an inspiration to his men.

William Desmond Wilson was born in Belfast on January 2 1922 and educated at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution. Aged 19, he left his home and family and embarked on a troop ship to Bombay. After completing his officer training in Bangalore, he joined 2/10 GR.

In Italy, near Santarcángelo, on September 22, he went forward to deal with two snipers who were concealed in a tree and had been giving considerable trouble. After a cunning but hazardous stalk, he killed them both.

The following month he led two platoons in an attack on a hill near Montecodruzzo. There were 150 Germans, well dug in, but he captured the position before beating off six counter-attacks. Artillery support could not be provided because, given the nature of the terrain, the risk of casualties to his own men was too great.

By the end of the war, Wilson had also been awarded the United States Distinguished Service Cross, the highest gallantry award that can be given to a non-citizen. He then joined the Colonial Service where he served for 17 years in Northern Nigeria, initially as an assistant district officer.

He often spent more than 20 days a month on horseback touring the remote districts in his charge – an area the size of Northern Ireland.

On one occasion he was confronted by an armed mob of some 3,000 people, some of whom had already taken part in the murder of government tax collectors. Wilson’s force of local police was quickly overwhelmed and his groom made off on his horse.

Completely alone, he charged into the crowd, physically attacking the ring leaders. By sheer force of personality he made the mob give up their spears and swords. For this, he was awarded an immediate MBE for gallantry.

After Nigerian independence, he remained in the country for two more years in order to establish the infrastructure for a ministry of information which included a fledgling television broadcasting agency.

Wilson subsequently joined the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, in which he served for five years in Turkey. He was advanced to OBE in 1964 at the end of his tour. Thereafter, he served with the United Nations in New York for a spell before moving to Nepal for five years. There he was reunited with wartime comrades whom he had feared he would never see again.

He returned to Northern Nigeria as the Deputy High Commissioner in Kaduna, from where, due to his excellent contacts, he was able to give London several months’ warning about an impending coup.

Desmond Wilson retired in 1981 and settled in Kent. He married, in 1949, Lucy Bride, a member of the Royal Colonial Nursing Corps, and the eldest daughter of Harold Bride, the only wireless operator to survive the sinking of Titanic. She survives him with their two sons.

Desmond Wilson, born January 2 1922, died January 3 2014

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