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Desmond Wilson: Highly decorated war hero jacked in school to join up

The death of Desmond Wilson, military hero

Desmond Wilson, an old boy of Royal Belfast Academical Institution who has died aged 91, is remembered at the school as a military hero.

Wilson (right) decided as a sixth-former to slip away from home in south Belfast and join up. Wilson, aged 19 in 1941, boarded a troop ship bound for Bombay and eventually became a major with the 2nd Battalion 10th Princess Mary's Own Gurkha Rifles.

In September 1944 in Italy he earned a Military Cross after leading an attack on Passano Ridge near Rimini – only to be confronted by an enemy tank supporting a heavily fortified house. He and his platoon captured the tank and the house.

Weeks later, at Santarcangelo, he stalked two snipers concealed in a tree and killed them both. Soon afterward, in October 1944, he led an attack at Montecodruzzo and he and his two platoons captured the position from 150 Germans.

By the end of the war Wilson had been awarded the Distinguished Service Cross of the United States – the highest gallantry medal available to non-US citizens.

Back on civvy street aged 23 Wilson joined the Colonial Service and served for 17 years in Northern Borneo.

On one occasion he was confronted by an armed mob of some 3,000, but charged into the crowd to confront the ring leaders and disarm them. He was awarded an MBE for his bravery.

After Nigerian independence he remained in the country for two more years to help the new government.

Later, Wilson joined the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in which he served for five years in Turkey. He received the OBE in 1964 and then joined the United Nations in New York before moving to Nepal for several years.

Wilson returned to Northern Nigeria as the Deputy High Commissioner, before retiring in 1981 to settle in Kent. He married Lucy Bride in 1949, a member of the Royal Colonial Nursing Corps.

She survives him with their two sons.

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