On Saturday 18th September 1915, the Hamilton Advertiser reported that a Blantyre hero was missing on active service during WW1. Captain Wilson was feared to be a Prisoner of War of the Germans.
The brief official notification that Captain Frederick John Cowan Wilson of the pioneering “Flying Corps”, was missing, was received in Blantyre with general regret. The missing airman was the son of Dr. J. Cowan. Wilson, and was well known throughout the district. He had joined the local Territorials in 1912, and following the outbreak of WW1, soon obtained the rank Lieutenant under the teaching of the late Captain James Brown, serving with the Scottish Rifles.
Frederick went to France with his company in March 1915. ‘The Flying Corps’ had always been a special attraction for him, and at the footsoldiers charge “over the top” (of the trenches) made by the Cameronians at Festubert on 15th June 1915 he was away making arrangements to enter the Flying Corps. However owing to the heavy loss sustained by officers, he had to again join his regiment.
By Summer 1915, he was attached to the Flying Corps, and in August 1915 he was promoted to the rank of Captain. The only information at first obtainable at the battalion headquarters was that along with Captain Scoffield, they were undertaking recon work over the German lines and were suddenly reported missing. On Tuesday 14th September 1915 however, he was reported to be safe, but slightly wounded, and was a prisoner war, captured by the Germans.
The Flying Corps were truly inspirational. This organisation was a predecessor to the Royal Air Force and the bravery of all these early pilots was absolutely to be commended. They flew in aeroplanes, a new technology. In those early days pilots had life expectancy of just half an hour in some of WW1 battles. They only became efficient once they perfected communication via radio. Pictured is a BE2c of No 2 Squadron preparing to start off on a reconnaissance mission, Summer 1915, Hesdigneul, France. This was Frederick’s squadron and may even have been included in this picture.
During a fight in mid-air between Captain Wilson’s aeroplane and a German one, it surmised that the pilot, probably being wounded, was forced to descend behind the German lines. Both observer and pilot, are now prisoners of war. In letter to his parents, giving particulars of the occurrence, his Commanding Officer wrote: —“I am exceedingly sorry to lose Captain Wilson’s services. He was most efficient officer and was most popular with everyone in the squadron.”
Despite knowing that Frederick John Cowan Wilson was a prisoner, I was surprised by how blunt and final his commanding officers letter was to his parents. It suggested a past tense, which I don’t think would have been much comfort to the Blantyre doctor and his wife. John’s father, the doctor is Dr John Cowan Wilson who has a street named after him and the memorial arch in Stonefield Park. The bravery in this story is worthy of its own memorial arch.
** Update: I’ve now found out more about this story and thankfully Frederick John Cowan Wilson did not die during wartime. In late August 1916, almost a year after being shot down, his father Dr J.C.Wilson of Parkville, Blantyre heard the news that his son was still alive and was now in Switzerland under the care of the Red Cross. Despite the risks of travelling in Europe, he and his wife made arrangements immediately to travel to Switzerland to go and see him, leaving Blantyre the last Wednesday of August 1916.
Frederick J.C.Wilson was repatriated on 1st July 1917 and served out the rest of the war, very much on the ground. However, the effects of his ordeal stayed with him and gave him a troubled life until he passed away on 4th February 1933, aged only 41. He is buried at the Kirk of Shotts Cemetery.
Featuring Blantyre Project Social Media with permission. Strictly reserved for Blantyre Project Books and not for use by others on or offline, our visitors said:
Nick Rice I have had a look at this and Frederick initially served with the Scottish Rifles before being attached to the RFC. He was repatriated on 1 July 1917 and served out the rest of the war as ground based.
The Blantyre Project thank you Nick. I like this story as one of my favourite so its great to see a photo too!