Captain Wilson defends Observation Hill

The British Somaliland Camel Corps was led by 14 British officers. Although only lightly armed they inflicted significant casualties on the invading Italians.

In British Somaliland a fighting retreat was being conducted in the face of the superior forces of the invading Italians, who had crossed the border on 3rd August.

The gap in the hills at Tug Argan provided a natural defensive position.

A stand was made at the Tug Argan Gap on 11th August where the 27 year old acting Captain Wilson deployed his Somaliland Camel Corps machine gun sections. He was wounded by artillery fire that killed some of those around him but continued to lead resistance from the position. He never received orders that were issued to withdraw on the 13th. He was finally knocked unconscious by an assault on the position on the 15th August. His citation reads:

The KING has been pleased to approve of the award of The Victoria Cross to: – Lieutenant (acting Captain) Eric Charles Twelves Wilson, The East Surrey Regiment (attached Somaliland Camel Corps).

For most conspicuous gallantry on active service in Somaliland. Captain Wilson was in command of machine-gun posts manned by Somali soldiers in the key position of Observation Hill, a defended post in the defensive organisation of the Tug Argan Gap in British Somaliland. The enemy attacked Observation Hill on August 11th, 1940. Captain 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 to within seven hundred yards, and scored two direct hits through the loopholes of his defences, which, bursting within the post, wounded Captain 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, whilst his Somali sergeant was killed beside him.

On August 12th and 14th the enemy again concentrated field artillery fire on Captain Wilson’s guns, but he continued, with his wounds attended, to man them. On August 15th two of his machine-gun posts were blown to pieces, yet Captain Wilson, now suffering from malaria in addition to wounds, still kept his own post in action. The enemy finally over-ran the post at 5 p.m. on the 15th August when Captain Wilson, fighting to the last, was killed.

The London Gazette: 14 OCTOBER, 1940

In fact Captain Wilson had survived, coming round amidst a pile of bodies he emerged to be taken prisoner. The British authorities were not made aware of his survival until he was liberated from a POW camp in 1941 and he did not receive his Victoria Cross from the King at Buckingham Palace until 1942. The publicity surrounding the award of the ‘posthumous VC’ convinced many people that he was dead and he was subsequently accused of being an imposter on at least one occasion.

Wilson went on to serve with the Long Range Desert Group and retired from the Army as a Lieutenant Colonel. He died in 2008, aged 96, following a career with the Colonial Service.

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