Obituary: William Wilson

Soldier whose served in many hot-spots and whose quick-thinking saved several lives

William Wilson, Regimental Sergeant Major and army recruiter. Born: 14 October, 1932, in Aboyne. Died: 9 April, 2010 in Inverness, aged 77.

WILLIAM Wilson was a gallant Argyll and Sutherland Highlander whose courage in Aden earned him a mention in dispatches and epitomised the regiment's fearless fighting spirit.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

During the 1st battalion's operations in Crater, soldiers – under the command of Lt Col Colin "Mad Mitch" Mitchell – regularly came under attack from terrorist grenades and mortars.

Wilson, who saw active service in many of the world's trouble-spots, was in the back of a Land Rover when one of the lethal grenades was thrown into the vehicle. Undaunted, he simply leapt into the front and hurled the explosive out again, saving the lives of his comrades and his own skin.

However, he did not escape unscathed and suffered a leg injury, a war wound which only recently he was cheerfully displaying to one of his grandsons.

Wilson also incurred another injury, during peacetime when a mortar went off, leaving him hospitalised and with a hearing impairment that eventually prevented him becoming an army helicopter pilot.

He was born in Aboyne, the son of farm labourer Clifford Wilson and his wife Doreen, the third of four brothers and three sisters. The family soon moved to Insch, where he was educated at Insch Public School. He left at 14 to work in the local grocer's store, Cooper & Harper, as a message boy. But aged 16, and in search of a more interesting life, he enlisted in the army, joining up in Aberdeen in 1949.

He was initially seconded to the King's Own Scottish Borderers before going into active service with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, with whom he served for more than 20 years.

An accomplished musician, he played in the battalion's pipe band, but realised that there would be no prospect of promotion until his pipe major retired at the end of his service.

Encouraged by his colleagues, and being too intelligent and too good a soldier to remain a pipe sergeant until the end of his career, Wilson went into a military company, gained an education and worked his way up to regimental sergeant major, a post he held between 1969 and 1971. He declined a request to become a commissioned officer and during his career served in Hong Kong, British Guyana, Singapore, Berlin, Cyprus, Aden, Borneo and Brunei, where he was offered a job with the Sultan of Brunei, which he also declined.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

In Singapore, he was put forward for a helicopter pilots' course but soon discovered that he had the hearing problem – the legacy of a mortar blast which hospitalised him while he was training national service recruits in Stirling.

But it was while stationed in Lemgo, Germany, that he met his East German wife, Hannah, through mutual friends. She was 17 and working as a translator. The couple became engaged with no plans for a wedding in the near future. But the regiment was posted to Edinburgh and, rather than separate, they decided to marry and wed in Insch on Hogmanay 1960, just before Hannah turned 19.

They made their family home in Scotland and had two sons, Stuart and Sandy.

Like many of his generation, Wilson was a modest man and spoke little of his active service or his mention in dispatches in 1967 for gallantry in battle. "He did not tell me much about it," said Hannah, "but somebody threw a grenade into the Land Rover and he just jumped in the front and threw it out and saved everybody's lives, including his own."

Wilson's last posting was to the Gordon Barracks in Aberdeen. He then transferred to the Army Careers service in Inverness in 1972 and was responsible for recruitment across the north of Scotland, the Highlands and Islands.

Throughout his army career, Wilson had been a keen sportsman playing football, cricket, tennis, hockey, squash and badminton for his regiment. He took up golf when he married and fully indulged his passion for the sport after retiring, aged 55, in 1987.

He was a member of Inverness Golf Club for 30 years and bought a house just around the corner, walking to the course each day for a round, come rain or shine, until ill-health finally prevented him playing a couple of years ago.

He is survived by his wife and sons, six grandchildren, brothers Ronnie, Douglas and Sandy and sisters Barbara, Doreen and Sheila.