Updated: Sep 15
Brigadier Sir Mathew John Anthony (Tony) Wilson Bt OBE MC died in Vermont, USA, after a long illness courageously borne, on 5 December 2019 aged 84.
Tony was educated at Trinity College School, Ontario and at The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. He was commissioned into the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry in October 1956, the last of four generations to serve in the KOYLI. He joined the First Battalion who were at that time stationed in Cyprus in Nicosia on operational duties during the EOKA campaign. In 1958 the Battalion moved to BAOR, initially based in Sennelager and then Hilden. Tony left the battalion to become an instructor at the School of Infantry in Hythe and rejoined at Camp Terendak in Malaya as RSO in 1963. This was the time of the Indonesian confrontation. Tony moved with the battalion to Tidworth from where the battalion did an emergency tour in Aden. He left the battalion in 1966 to become Adjutant of the Light Infantry depot in Shrewsbury. He went to the Pakistani Staff College in Quetta and returned to become GSO 2 (Ops) at HQ Northern Ireland. He was there when the troubles broke out and had the responsibility of setting up an operations room for the GOC Sir Ian Freeland. At that early time, there were only a few on the staff and his initiative and organizational abilities were fundamental to the army’s initial response. He was awarded the MBE for his work there. He left to command A Company in 2LI. In 1971, the battalion was deployed to County Armagh on another emergency tour. When Newry erupted, A Company was deployed to a cramped UDR base to restore order. Two months of some of the worst civil disorder during the Ulster troubles followed in Newry. The town was subject to continual ongoing rioting and arson, fanned by the outstanding rate of Internment arrests by A Company and their successful ambush of terrorists robbing a bank. A Company had to be reinforced and Tony commanded a number of units from other Regiments as well as his own company, tirelessly and incisively. He was awarded the Military Cross for gallantry. He assumed command of 1LI in Colchester in 1975 and took the battalion to Hong Kong where the battalion was regularly on duty on the Chinese border trying to keep out immigrants. After a distinguished time in command, he was awarded the OBE. He returned home to become GSO 1 (Ops) at HQ Northern Ireland, a post for which he was well suited with his experience of operations in the province. On promotion to Colonel, he served on the General Staff in the Ministry of Defence. On promotion to Brigadier, he was appointed Commander 5th Infantry Brigade, successfully serving in the Falkland Islands campaign. He retired in January 1983.
Tony was the sixth baronet, descended from Sir Mathew Wilson of Esthon Hall, Gargrave in Yorkshire. The latter was knighted in 1874 for his services as MP for that area. The name Mathew was carried down the generations. Esthon Hall was the Wilson family home from 1646 until it was sold in 1960.
He married Janet Mary (Mowll) in 1962 in Canterbury Cathedral and she accompanied him on his various postings. Their son Edward (who also served in A Company 2LI and did three tours in South Armagh, the last as a Captain commanding the Close Observation Platoon) lives in the USA near Boston in the USA and their daughter Victoria lives in London. Both are married. During 1983/84 he was the Director of Wilderness Foundation UK, an organization designed to let participants explore the African wilderness. After his retirement, they moved to a house set in a wooded valley near Woodstock, Vermont, the USA where the colours in the ‘Fall’ are stunning. Tony then had a boat built in Devon over a period of three years, before sailing this little 27ft catamaran across the Atlantic to Jupiter, Florida, where he and Janet have a small apartment overlooking a marina. This journey led to his first book, “Taking Terrapin Home” and to 10 winters spent onboard in the Bahamas, writing “The Cruising Guide to the Bahamas”. More books were then written and lectures given on cruise ships which enabled worldwide travel. An extensive adventurer explorer, diver and pilot, he could hold a captive audience when recounting his exploits. He was a man of exceptional intellect and humour with the capacity to live life to the full.
We in the Regiment can remember many happy times and are proud to recall him as a true friend. To Janet and the family, we send from all his many friends in the Regiment our deepest sympathy and love.