Reported KIA in 1940, VC winner's obituary printed today

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The oddest moment in the remarkable life of Lieutenant-Colonel Eric Wilson came when he discovered that he was officially dead, and thus joined the distinguished band of people prematurely consigned to the hereafter.

Colonel Wilson died last week at the age of 97, but his first “death” took place 68 years earlier, in the desert sands of East Africa.

On August 11, 1940, Colonel Wilson, then a captain commanding the Somaliland Camel Corps machinegun company, was involved in a ferocious firefight with Italian troops near Tug Argan Gap. On the first day he was wounded in the shoulder and eye and his spectacles smashed. Within four days, two of his frontline guns had been destroyed and his Somali sergeant killed, but he manned his machinegun as the enemy closed in.

He was formally listed among the war dead, his family was informed of his passing and he was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross “for most conspicuous gallantry”.

Captain Wilson, however, was very much alive, held in an Italian prison-er-of-war camp in Eritrea. Badly wounded and suffering from malaria, he had stumbled from the battlefield into an Italian unit who forgot to inform the Red Cross of his capture.

While a prisoner, he met a newly captured RAF officer who informed him that he had been declared dead and awarded a posthumous VC.

“He flatly refused to believe it,” Hamish Wilson, his son, said yesterday. “He said that his Somali soldiers deserved at least equal credit and he had just done what he was supposed to do.” Captain Wilson’s “death” was announced in The Times in November 1940 - and his obituary appears in the newspaper today.

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