Captain William Wilson MA LLB (1879-1918) 6th Battalion

Quote; “This war is going to be a big thing and a hard thing, and I feel I must be in it.”

Letter from Bill Wilson, August 7 1914.

William “Bill” Wilson was a well-known Lanarkshire solicitor who gave up the profession to volunteer for the Army at the start of the First World War 1914. William Scott Branks Wilson was born in 1879, the elder son of ex-Provost Wilson. He was educated at Hamilton Academy where he won the Dux gold medal and studied law at Glasgow University, gaining entry as an outstanding applicant. He achieved many prizes during his distinguished undergraduate career and set up a law practice in Motherwell before graduating. In his legal work he showed “shrewdness and kindliness” and was a “successful and clever pleader.” While on active service Bill wrote humorous letters home to his wife, Agnes and 179 of these were published privately around 1919 in a book called On Active Service.* Nearly every day he sent home letters from Palestine and northern France. From the front line in Palestine on 1st December 1917 he wrote: “…it sounds very peaceful; except for the occasional rapid sharp bark of the machine guns and the whine and hiss of Turkish bullets going well over our heads, we might just be lying peacefully on the slopes at Biggar, round behind Hartree. You remember how we stood and watched the moonlight on a hill-side there. I can’t say what it is just a trifle pleasant when the sun is up after the bitter cold of night; stand-to in the morning is no joke, though. It’s then in the grey light of morning you feel perfectly and completely miserable, and a cup of tea and ham and eggs loom large. Yet it is a wonderful institution, the army, for every night up comes your grub and water – and a request to know the number of trained plumbers in your company.”

In 1918, Capt Wilson’s unit moved to the front: “Last night our fellows gave Jerry [the Germans] an hour or two of gas bombardment, and he took it very badly. SOS’s and green, red, yellow, and all kinds of flares were flying all over his line, and he seemed quite distressed. Pretty good reason too, as our gas isn’t quite attar of roses! He retaliated by biffing our lines with shrapnel, but no damage done.”

A fellow officer wrote about Captain Wilson’s last moments: “On the night of the 19th [September 1918] one of our Brigades made an attack on a German position near Moeuvres. … [Wilson’s] HQ were [sic] in a sunken road which hitherto had escaped. …A number of shells landed right in the road, and one of them at the entrance of the dugout where Captain Wilson was standing. He was struck in several parts of the body and must have died instantaneously” He had just finished a letter home that evening: “…The letters came up, and I got two, and my birthday parcel. The chocolates were delightful. Thank Lesley for his bar and tell him I ate it first…” His grave is at the Commonwealth War Graves Queant Communal Cemetery British Extension, Pas de Calais in France. He was 39 years old. * One of Capt. Wilson’s letters was published in Laurance Housman (editor) War Letters of Fallen Englishmen, London 1930.

william wilson photo magnify
Captain William Wilson

Captain William Wilson.