Wilson, Ralph Patrick Farquhar

He was the son of Ralph Alexander Wilson, of the Indian Civil Service, and Winifred Wilson, of Golders Green, Middlesex. He came to Mr. Quirk’s House from the Dragon School, Oxford.  He captained OTH VI in 1929; he was in the soccer XI in 1930, and as a cricketer he was a pillar of his house side. A good swimmer and diver, he helped his house to win Rendall Cup in 1930. He was a good oar, and on Boat Club Committee.   Academically, he loved the Classics.   He became Head of his House and a Sergeant Major in the OTC.

After reading Law at Christ Church, Oxford, he worked in London, being called to the Bar by the Inner Temple in 1935. He did not practise, but worked instead with the National Council of Social Service.

He joined the London Scottish in May 1939, and after serving six months in the ranks was commissioned in February 1940. He became in due course Battalion Intelligence Officer.

He was killed at the age of thirty-one during a demonstration on Salisbury Plain, through an airman mistaking his target.   The accident was the subject of questions in the House of Commons, since it had resulted in the deaths of twenty-five officers and men, including a Brigadier, and the wounding of sixty-eight army personnel and three RAF servicemen.

On April 13th 1942, a demonstration had been arranged by the RAF at Imber.  Fighter Command wanted to show officers the effects of fighter attack on ground targets. There were three lines of targets: one of dummy infantry, one of lorries, and one of tanks. As the audience looked on from a marked enclosure, five Hurricane fighter-bombers swooped in and strafed the lines of targets. However, the sixth Hurricane mistook the spectators for the target.   John Shaw, an officer in the Royal Fusiliers, witnessed the disaster:

“In the spring of 1942 I was present at a demonstration of firepower given by the RAF at Imber on Salisbury Plain. Several thousand officers and NCOs were there. Unfortunately, one pilot misunderstood his instructions and went down the line of spectators, instead of the line of targets, with his guns blazing. I was sitting on the ground at the front of the crowd with three other officers from my battalion, all of whom were hit. I was unscathed.

The authorities had not laid on any medical cover for this demonstration, which would have been normal. The result was that there was not a single stretcher-bearer or medical person of any sort to help us deal with the wounded. Despatch riders were sent to try to raise medical help. The first vehicles to arrive were civil defence vans like Lance Corporal Jones’ butcher’s van from “Dad’s Army”, which senior officers refused to put any casualties into. It was some time before an army ambulance unit could get to us to evacuate the sixty or so casualties, some of whom were fatal.”

Wilson was killed that day.  Of the dead, the most senior was a Brigadier, and four were members of the Home Guard; two were members of Wilson’s battalion. The wounded included Lieutenant the Hon. Robert Cecil, heir of Lord Cranbourne, Secretary of State for the Colonies.

He is buried in grave M.12.78, Hollybrook Cemetery, Southampton.

War: World War 2

  • Surname: Wilson
  • Forenames or initials: Ralph Patrick Farquhar
  • House: F
  • Years in School: 1925-1930
  • Rank: Lieutenant
  • Regiment: Gordon Highlanders
  • Date of Birth: 25th October 1911
  • Date of Death: 13th April 1942
  • How Died: Died on Active Service
  • Location in War Cloister: Inner E2
  • Decoration: NA
  • Burial Site: Hollybrook Cemetery, Southampton: Grave M.12.78