Tribute to Tom Wilson - Old Veseyan
TOM WILSON 1920 – 2018.
It is fitting to pay tribute to Old Veseyan Tom Wilson who has died at the age of 97. Tom was born in Birmingham in 1920 and attended Bishop Vesey’s Grammar School from 1929 until 1939. He won a scholarship to Birmingham University and gained a degree in Electrical Engineering before joining the RAF in 1941. He had rejected pacifism because he already knew of the persecution of the German Jews from playing as a child with the sons of several refugees being sheltered by family friends, the Kahns.
He became a navigator and flew Beaufighters before joining 192 (Special Duties ) Squadron equipped with modified Wellington bombers gathering electronic intelligence. Tom was a radar operator responsible for collecting intelligence on the German extensive air-defence radar and communications systems.
In May 1943 his Wellington was shot down over The Hague and he was captured having parachuted and landed beside a ditch and being rendered unconscious. He was taken to Stalag Luft 111 in Silesia, now part of Poland. Tom joined the prisoners orchestra and played a violin he bought and restored, crushing almonds for oil to clean it.
Stalag 111 was the site of the famous Wooden Horse tunnelling escape and Tom Wilson played a notable part in diverting attention from the tunnelling and spoil disposal activities through his renditions of Handel sonatas from memory. It was on October 29th 1943 that Williams, Conder and Philpot escaped through the airless tunnel and melted into the surrounding woodland. All three eventually arrived safely in neutral Sweden. Tom later wrote how proud he was of the ingenuity shown making lamps from cooking oil with pyjama cord wicks and using bed-boards as shoring timbers in the tunnel.
As German opposition began to crumble Wilson and his fellow officers were taken to Nuremberg and then on to Stalag V11-A at Moosburg in Bavaria. On April 29th 1945 the prison camp was liberated by General Patton but food was in short supply. Tom and his fellow officers herded the Kommandant’s herd of swine back inside and light work was made of the nutritional benefits of the pork.
In 1950 Tom Wilson married a young German lady Gabriele Claessens who he had met two years previously at an international student seminar. He took up teaching and took a Cambridge degree in Russian and German and first taught at the Royal Liberty School, Romford before becoming headmaster of Coleshill Grammar School east of Birmingham. Tom retired in 1983 and became a Church of England Reader taking services at Maxstoke and Coleshill and remained a keen violinist.
Tom often attended the Shaggy Dogs Tea Party and lately was brought by his son. He last attended in 2017.