A new book documenting the wartime experiences of Thomas Wilson, a Roberton soldier, has been published online.
‘The Mules are Splendid Company, One Man’s Experience of WW1 in Africa’ was written by Toronto-based librarian and family descendant Sally Wilson and contains the letters he sent home to Roberton during the conflict.
Thomas Wilson’s letters were kept by his father until his death in 1935 and they were then retained by his sister Chrissie. After she passed away in 1960 they were passed onto Thomas Wilson’s nephew who emigrated with them in 1969. The letters were recently sent back to Hawick and are currently housed at the museum.
Thomas Wilson was born on February 5, 1880. His father also named Thomas Wilson, was schoolmaster at Roberton for over 50 years. He married Mary Scott Greive in December 1875 at the parish church in Ashkirk. They had five children, Jim, Margaret, Thomas, Chrissie, who was a school teacher for many years at Ashkirk, and George, a doctor who practiced medicine in Redditch, England.Thomas spent his childhood at the school house in Roberton.
After leaving school he became a civil engineer and worked in Carlisle and Glasgow and latterly in Malaya where he was working when war was declared in 1914. Africa was an important continent for many European powers with colonial possessions and Belgium, Portugal, Great Britain and Germany all had significant African interests.
At the outbreak of the war, Thomas returned to Scotland and enlisted. Perhaps because of his experience of living and working in a tropical climate he was selected to serve in British East Africa.
Speaking to the Hawick News from her home in Toronto, author Ms Wilson said: “I created the book as part of a study leave from my job. Before starting the project I knew very little about the Wilson side of the family apart from the fact that my father, who was born in England, stayed in the Borders during the Second World War with his aunt Chrissie.
“I wasn’t even aware of the letters that my great-uncle wrote from Africa until three or four years ago when my father started talking about donating them to the Hawick Museum.
“It has been a great learning experience and a good way to create a family history project with some permanence that can be made available to a wider audience.”
Thomas Wilson was killed by sniper fire on the morning of June 29, 1917. His body was recovered and returned to camp on June 30 and he was buried at the South Camp, Rumbo, by Archdeacon W. Chadwick. The service was attended by all of his fellow officers.
His remains were removed to the Kilve Kivinje Cemetery in 1919, where in 1927 a permanent headstone was erected. He was later reinterred to Tanzania’s Dar-Es-Salaam war cemetery in the early 1970s. He is also memorialised on the war memorial at Roberton and on his family’s gravestone also in Roberton.
The book is available online at http://digitalcommons.ryerson.ca/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1025&context=library_pubs