b. 29/04/1886 Edinburgh, Scotland. d. 22/04/1926 Edinburgh, Scotland.
George Wilson (1886-1926) was born at Milne’s Court, Lawnmarket, Edinburgh, Scotland on 29th April 1886. His father James was a Merchant Navy seaman and later a dock labourer. His mother was Mary nee Hunter. His parents married on 30th April 1872 at 5 Cockburn Street, Edinburgh. George had two brothers and five sisters. He was educated at Castlehill Board School and became a newspaper seller for the Evening Dispatch at Leith Walk and on the corner of Edinburgh High Street and George IV Bridge.
George enlisted in the Royal Field Artillery at Piershill Barracks, Edinburgh before enlisting in the Highland Light Infantry on 28th September 1904. He reported to the Depot on 1st October and joined the 2nd Battalion on 7th January 1905. For refusing to obey an order he was put in detention from 6th to 16th June 1905. On transferring to the Reserve on 27th September 1907 he worked in the pits at Niddrie before returning to selling newspapers.
The day after being recalled from the Reserve when war broke out, he stopped a runaway horse outside his house. When he was told by his sister, Mrs Mary Devlin, that he deserved the VC, he is believed to have replied “Just bide til I get back for frae the front an’ I’ll hae it right here”, slapping his chest. He arrived in France on 10th August 1914.
On 14th September 1914 near Verneuil, France, a platoon led by Lieutenant Sir Archibald Gibson-Craig charged the German positions and captured it, but Gibson-Craig was killed in the assault. Another machine gun then opened fire causing heavy casualties, but couldn’t be located. The troops took cover where they could. Seeing some figures moving in a small wood nearby, Private Wilson believed he knew where the machine gun was. Wilson saw some more movement and opened fire bringing down two Germans. He then sprang out from cover before the enemy could recover and charged the position. He reached a small hollow where there were 8 Germans and 2 British prisoners. Wilson had fooled them into believing he was not on his own. The Germans surrendered. Having called for help to take the prisoners away, he turned to the machine gun. He persuaded a rifleman from the 1st KRRC to join him and stalk the gun position. The rifleman was killed by a shell, but Wilson moved on alone and managed to spot the gun in a heap of hay. Taking careful aim, he shot the gunner, and then his replacement. He then shot four more of the team and charged the position. The officer commanding the gun sprang out firing a pistol which missed, and Wilson bayoneted him. Wilson then used the gun against the Germans. He was wounded and staggered back to his own lines where he fainted.
He was gazetted for the VC on 5th December 1914, and the medal was presented to him by King George V at the Quartermaster General’s office at the HQ in St Omer, France on 4th December 1914. He was the first man from Edinburgh to receive the VC in the Great War, and became known as the “Newsboy VC”. He remained in hospital in France until 16th January 1915 and was evacuated to Britain on the 29th.
Back in Britain, George struggled with authority and his disciplinary record was not good, being confined to barracks three times during May and June 1915 for offences such as smoking under escort and being absent from the Tattoo. He was also fined 28 days pay for overstaying his pass, using obscene language and resisting his escort.
He returned to France on 5th July 1915, but returned to England on 18th March 1916 and was discharged as unfit for service on 3rd July 1916. He then worked for the Polton Farm Colony from September 1916, then with Edinburgh Corporation for a while; both jobs were secured by the Lord Provost of Edinburgh. Eventually he returned to selling newspapers. He re-enlisted for garrison duties on 29th July 1919 and went to France on 17th August. On 26th August, he was admitted to No 14 Surgical Hospital at Wimereux suffering with pleurisy, and evacuated back to Britain. He arrived back in Edinburgh on 8th September. He did return to France but was discharged, unfit for service on 7th January 1920.
George did not marry or have children. He became increasingly dependent sadly on alcohol, sold his Victoria Cross for £5 and lived with his sister Mary Devlin and her husband at 20 Bank Street, Edinburgh. He died in Craigleith Hospital, Edinburgh in 22nd April 1926. He was buried in an unmarked grave in Piershill Cemetery, Portobello, Edinburgh. The grave was marked by a turfstone by the Royal Highland Fusiliers on 21st August 2003.
In addition to his VC, he was awarded the 1914 Star with Mons clasp, British War Medal 1914-20 and Victory Medal 1914-19 with Mentioned in Despatches oak leaf. His medals are now held by the Royal Highland Fusiliers Museum, Glasgow, Scotland.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: ROYAL HIGHLAND FUSILIERS, GLASGOW, SCOTLAND.
BURIAL PLACE: PIERSHILL CEMETERY, EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND. SECTION E, LAIR 652.
George Wilson's medals at the Royal Highland Fusiliers Museum, Glasgow, Scotland. (Picture - Thomas Stewart).
Wilson's memorial stone in Edinburgh (Picture - Thomas Stewart).
War Illustrated, 13th October 1917