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Introduction

This page deals with the murder of Baronet Sir Henry Wilson. He was shot by two Irish Republican Army (IRA) gunmen outside his London home in 1922. He had just returned from unveiling the War Memorial located inside London's Liverpool Street Rail Station.

Liverpool St Memorial

The Memorial inside Liverpool Street Rail Station (Stephen Stratford 2002)

Henry Wilson's Career

A soldier from the early 1880s, Wilson rose to the command of the Staff College at Camberley, Surrey (1907-10). During this period he cultivated the friendship of his counterpart at the French war college, General (afterward Marshal) Ferdinand Foch; an association that may account for Wilson's readiness to involve Great Britain in French strategy. He played a dubious part in the Curragh incident (March 1914), surreptitiously encouraging some British army officers who refused to lead troops against Ulster opponents of Irish Home Rule.

On the outbreak of World War I, the British government chose Wilson's policy of fighting in France alongside French armies in preference to attacking the German invaders in Belgium, the strategy of the commander in chief, Field Marshal Earl Roberts. Wilson agreed with Roberts, however, on the necessity of military conscription (not instituted until 1916). The smooth mobilization of the standing army and its rapid movement to France in August 1914 may be credited largely to Wilson's prewar planning.

Wilson himself soon went to France as assistant chief of the general staff. His only field command in the war (December 1915-December 1916) was marked by the loss to the Germans of a sector of Vimy Ridge, near Arras, by his IV Corps. In September 1917 he took over the Eastern Command, a position that enabled him to live in London and ingratiate himself with Lloyd George. As chief of the imperial general staff (from Feb. 18, 1918), he aided the prime minister in securing Foch's appointment as supreme commander of the Allied armies on the Western Front.

Disagreeing with the government's postwar Irish policy, Wilson, who had been promoted to field marshal and created a baronet (1919), was refused reappointment as chief of staff by Lloyd George. Wilson then left the army and entered the House of Commons as a Conservative member for the Ulster constituency of North Down (all in February 1922). During May 1922, Wilson was working in Ulster, advising the Northern Irish Government on policing the new border. He was also an eloquent speaker on behalf of Anglo-Irish Unionism. 

Murder of Henry Wilson

On the morning of 22 June 1922, Wilson was returning to his home in Easton Place (London). He had just unveiled the war memorial at Liverpool Rail Station, in London. He had paid his taxi driver, and was feeling for his keys, when two men came up behind him, pulled out revolvers and shot him down as with an arm wounded by the first two bullets he half drew his sword. His two murderers fired a total of nine bullets at Wilson before attempting to escape. They were eventually captured half a mile away from Eaton Square.

Wilson's body had been laid on a couch in his study. Bernard (later Sir) Spilsbury, the famous pathologist, arrived at the scene and carried out his examination of Wilson's body. Wilson, aged 58, had been shot in the left forearm, twice in the right arm, twice in the left shoulder, in both armpits, and twice in the right leg. Both armpit wounds had fatally pieced Wilson's lungs.

In the period leading up to the trial of the two suspects, a police guard was placed on Spilsbury's house and another police officer was detailed to follow Spilsbury.

The two suspects were identified as Reginald Dunne (also known as John O'Brien) and Joseph O'Sullivan (also known as James Connelly). Both suspects were members of the IRA and aged 24 years' old. O'Sullivan had lost a leg at Ypres in the First World War, and this had hampered his escape from the scene. Instead of fleeing the scene on his own and possibly making his own escape, Dunne stayed to try and aid O'Sullivan.

The Aftermath

Both suspects were tried together with the murder of Sir Henry Wilson, before Mr. Justice Shearman, at the Old Bailey on 2 July 1922. Spilsbury was able to precisely describe where the murderers had been standing in relation to their victim and even the order in which some of the shots had been fired.

In his notes, Spilsbury wrote

Wilson was not shot after he had fallen. All nine wounds were inflicted when he was erect or slightly stooping, as he would be when tugging at his sword-hilt. The chest injuries were from shots fired at two different angles: one from the right to left and the other from left to right. Either would have proved fatal and produced death within ten minutes. The bullet through the right leg passed forwards and downwards, and therefore the shot came from directly behind. That in the top left shoulder had been fired from the left side and rather behind, and the downward direction proved that the arm was in a raised position as the bullet entered. The wounds in the forearms were inflicted from behind whilst the arms were still at the side of the body.

Both Dunne and O'Sullivan were found guilty of murder, and sentenced to death by hanging. On 10 August 1922, both men were hanged together in a double execution at London's Wandsworth Prison. As was usual for executed prisoners, they were both buried within the prison grounds. In July 1976 the remains of Dunne and O'Sullivan were repatriated to Irelandand reburied in the republican plot at Deans Grange Cemetery.

Sir Henry Wilson was buried in the crypt at St. Paul's Cathedral, located in the City of London. As Sir Henry Wilson had no children, the baronetcy became extinct upon his death.

Wilson Memorial

The Memorial to Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson (Stephen Stratford 2002)

The war memorial unveiled at London's Liverpool Street Rail Station can still be seen today.

A plaque was added after Wilson's death, to commemorate his unveiling of this memorial on the morning of his murder. The inscription on the tablet reads "To the Memory of Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson Bart, GCB, DSO, MP Whose death occurred on Thursday 22 June 1922 within two hours of his unveiling the adjoining memorial".

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