Blair-Wilson, Charles


Born in Clerkington, Haddington, Scotland he was the only son of Dr Charles Blair-Wilson of Florence, Italy and Ethel Maud Blair Wilson, nee Barclay. He joined Horris Hill in the summer of 1904, aged 10, coming to Winchester in Short Half 1908.  He was a prefect in his last year.

In May 1914 aged 19, he went to Canada to work in a chartered accountant’s office, probably in Montreal, and when war broke out immediately joined the Canadian 5th Royal Highlanders at Montreal as a Lieutentant. They were quickly absorbed into 42nd (Royal Highlanders of Canada) Battalion and Blair-Wilson was assigned to D Company. They were ordered to England on 10th June 1915, landing at Plymouth on 19th June and travelling to Shorncliffe, near Folkestone where they spent the next two and a half months refining their skills and using the Hythe ranges for firing practice. On 2nd September 1915 they were inspected by the King.

Having been posted to France in October, in December Blair-Wilson attended a machine gun training school and then acted for a period as battalion machine gun officer. The Battalion saw major action in June 1916 in the Ypres Salient. He was promoted to Captain that month and Major the month after, and by now was in command of B Company. He was greatly admired by his men, and a fellow officer wrote of him: “From the day he joined he took hold of his work in a serious way, and as the months went by we learned more and more how capable he was and absolutely reliable. During the last months he has had a great deal of very responsible work, which he always undertook and carried out well and quietly. ‘Blair’ had a wonderful quiet, cool courage with the power of doing the right thing at the right time and set always a splendid example to all.”

By September 1916 the Battalion had been moved to the Somme, and were allocated to attack at Flers-Courcelette on 15th where tanks were to be used for the first time on the battlefield. His Company were digging in along “Monquet Road” under heavy fire when he was killed instantly by shell fire, although in a letter written to his mother by 13 NCOs of his company they state that he was killed by machine gun fire, not a shell. The same letter says that to describe him as “A hero of the Somme is no flattery”.

Despite having suffered the loss of almost half their number, his men brought his body back with them for burial. His funeral took place at 8.30 in the morning of 18th September and is described in the Battalion History thus: “At 8:30 in the morning of September 18th the Battalion paraded to attend the funeral of Captain Charles Blair-Wilson whose body had been reverently carried out of the line by the surviving members of his company. Captain Blair-Wilson was a debonair young officer whose life was full of promise and his loss was very keenly felt by all ranks. His funeral service at the cemetery in Albert, conducted by Captain Kilpatrick in the pouring rain while trucks, limbers, ambulances and the endless traffic of war moved unceasingly along the nearby road, was deeply impressive. As the pipes swelled with the mournful strain of the Lament and as the notes of the Last Post rang out, the little company of survivors sorrowed not only for the gallant officer then being buried, but also for the others of their comrades who had given up their lives during the preceding days.”

He lies in grave I.M.2 of the Albert Communal Cemetery Extension. He was not the only Wykehamist to die that day on the Somme: ten others were killed or mortally wounded, including Captain Arthur Innes Adam (Coll.1907-1912, 1/1st Cambridgeshire Regiment); Lieutenant Raymond Asquith (Coll.1892-1897, 3rd Grenadier Guards), the son of the Prime Minister; Lieutenant Colonel Eric William Benson (A 1901-1906, King’s Royal Rifle Corps); Lieutenant George Macpherson (I1909-1915, Heavy Section – Tanks – Machine Gun Corps); Lieutenant Warine Frederick Martindale (B1907-1912, 1st Scots Guards); Captain Desmond Clere Parsons (E1903-1908, 2nd Irish Guards); Lance Corporal 73832 Henry Mark Ruddock (H1908-1913, 28th Canadian Infantry); 2nd Lieutenant Evelyn Godfrey Worsley (A1898-1903, 3rd Grenadier Guards); 2nd Lieutenant Geoffrey Wilfrid Penfold Wyatt (D1909-1915, 1st East Kent Regiment); and Lieutenant Raymond Gilbert Hooker Yeatherd (F1904-1908, 2nd Dragoon Guards).

War: World War 1

  • Surname: Blair-Wilson
  • Forenames or initials: Charles
  • House: I
  • Years in School: 1908-1913
  • Rank: Major
  • Regiment: 42nd Royal Highlanders of Canada Battalion, Canadian Infantry
  • Date of Birth: 18th December 1894
  • Date of Death: 15th September 1916
  • How Died: Killed in action
  • Location in War Cloister: Outer E6
  • Decoration: NA
  • Burial Site: ALBERT COMMUNAL CEMETERY EXTENSION, Grave I.M.2