John Wilson came to Chelmsford to live with his brother who became principal of the town’s East Anglian Institute of Agriculture. As a Territorial John was mobilized at the start of the war and he landed in France in September 1914. He was accidentally killed there by an exploding bomb in June 1915.
John was born at Swinton, Berwickshire, Scotland c1890, the son of William Wilson and Annie McGilvray Wilson. His father had been born c1855 in Whitsome, Berwickshire, Scotland; his mother c1854 in Muckhart, Perthshire, Scotland. She was the daughter of May Laurie and William McGilvray, a farmer.
John’s siblings, all Swinton-born included Robert Melville Wilson (born in 1885), William Laurie Wilson (born c1888), May Anne Wilson (born c1893).
When aged one, John was recorded by the 1891 census, living with his parents, elder brothers and grandmother at West End, Swinton. His father was a gamekeeper, a profession he had retained at the time of the next census in 1901. That found John, aged 11, living with his parents, three siblings, and two cousins at Laws Cottage, Whitsome, Berwickshire.
In 1911 John’s brother Robert Melville Wilson moved to Chelmsford where he became lecturer in agriculture at the East Anglian Institute of Agriculture. He was a lodger at 5 Queen’s Road in Springfield. Three years later he would become principal at the institute.
John came to Chelmsford to live with his brother while he worked as assistant-secretary for an engineering company in London. He enlisted into the army in London into the 1st/14th Battalion of the London Regiment (London Scottish). This was a territorial battalion, based at Westminster, Middlesex at the outbreak of the war, but it soon crossed to France. John landed there on 15th September 1914.
He was accidentally killed by an explosion on 13th June 1915 while serving as Corporal 1857. He was aged 25. He is buried at Cambrin Churchyard Extension, Pas de Calais, France (grave: E. 32), some 24 kilometres north of Arras.
A report of John’s death appeared in the Essex Weekly News on 25th June 1915:
“Corpl. John Wilson, of the 1st Battalion London Scottish, was accidentally killed in France on the 14th inst. The deceased Corporal was the brother of Mr. R. M. Wilson, principal of the East Anglian Institute of Agriculture, Chelmsford, who received the sad news on Friday.
Corpl. Wilson was in charge of a party of bomb throwers, and it appears that there was something wrong with the missiles, the first lot which the men were using not working efficiently. Deceased endeavouring to ascertain the cause and was about to throw a bomb from a second lot, when unfortunately it exploded prematurely, with fatal results.
The deceased was the third son of Mr. William Wilson, of Laws, Duns, North Britain, and in civil life was assistant-secretary to an engineering firm in London. He resided with his brother in Chelmsford. Corpl. Wilson had been at the Front for several months, his Battalion of the London Scottish being the first Territorial unit to be sent to France.
Deceased when in Chelmsford attended the London-road Congregational Church, and at the morning service on Sunday the Pastor, the Rev. T. M. Mundle, made a sympathetic allusion to his death, remarking that Corpl. Wilson was. as far as is known at present, the first member of the congregation to fall in the war.”
A week later the Essex County Chronicle carried a similar report:
“Corpl. John Wilson, of the 1st London Scottish, accidentally killed in France, was the brother of Mr. R. M. Wilson, principle of the East Anglian Institute of Agriculture, Chelmsford. Corpl. Wilson was in charge of a party of bomb throwers.
Something was wrong with the missiles and the deceased was endeavouring to ascertain the cause and was about to throw a bomb when it exploded prematurely, with fatal results. The deceased was the third son of Mr. William Wilson of Laws, Duns, North Britain, and in civil life was assistant-secretary to an engineering firm in London.
He resided with his brother in Chelmsford. Corpl. Wilson had been at the Front for several months, his battalion being the first Territorial unit to be sent to France. Deceased when in Chelmsford attended the London Road Congregational Church, and is so far as is known the first member of the congregation to fall in the war.”
Corporal, 1st/14th (County of London) Battalion, London Regiment (London Scottish)
Among John’s possessions was a pewter tankard that his family still possess (pictured). John may have engraved it himself, on 29th May 1915, only a month before his death. From the engraving it seems that John was in Vernelles at the time it was carried out.
John is commemorated on the Civic Centre Memorial, Chelmsford and the London Road Congregational Church War Memorial, Chelmsford. He was entitled to the Victory, British War and 1914 Star medals.
In September 1915 John’s brother, William, married Ruth Margaret Cowell, daughter of Walter Cowell a future mayor and freeman of Chelmsford.
The 1918 register of electors listed John’s brother, Robert, at 11 Rainsford Avenue, Chelmsford.
After the war John’s parents lived at Laws Cottage, Duns in
Berwickshire. A 1920 street directory listed his brother Robert at Marrowells, Mount Hill Avenue in Springfield. Robert left Chelmsford in 1922 and died in Kent on 15th September 1940. His obituary in ‘Nature’ on 5th October 1940 reported:
“THE sudden death on September 15 of Mr. Robert Melville Wilson, principal of the South-Eastern Agricultural College at Wye, has removed a notable figure from the British agricultural educational world. Mr. Wilson was fifty-four years of age. He graduated at the University of Edinburgh and gained the national diploma in dairying.”