LIEUTENANT COLONEL GORDON CHESNEY WILSON
ROYAL HORSE GUARDS
6TH NOVEMBER 1914 AGE 49
BURIED: ZILLEBEKE CHURCHYARD, BELGIUM
In a way Gordon Wilson chose his own inscription because his wife found the lines on a newspaper cutting in his writing case when it was returned to her after his death. Wilson had cut out the first two lines of an epitaph that was relatively well known in the eighteenth-century, one of the earliest and best-known examples being on the grave of James Handley who died in 1694 and is buried in the churchyard at Redmile, Leicestershire:
This world is a city full of crooked streets
Death is a market place where all men meet.
If life were merchandise that men could buy
Rich men would ever live and poor men die
Even earlier occurrences of the epitaph can be found, including a variation in Shakespeare's Two Noble Kinsmen, written in 1614-5, where these lines are given to the Third Queen:
This world's a city full of straying streets,
And death's the market-place, where each one meets.
But perhaps Shakespeare in his turn was just quoting a familiar epitaph. Whichever, Wilson's wife chose the lines for her husband.
Gordon Chesney Wilson, a regular soldier who had served in South Africa, was by 1911 in command of his regiment, the Royal Horse Guards. The regiment went to France on 7 October 1914 and was involved in all the fierce, close fighting around Ypres. He was killed leading an attack on 6 November, one of the many well-trained, experienced soldiers that the British army could ill afford to lose.
Born in Australia in 1865, Wilson was the son of Sir Samuel and Lady Sarah Wilson. Educated at Eton and Christ Church, Oxford he was commissioned into the Royal Horse Guards in 1888. In 1891 he married Lady Sarah Spencer-Churchill, sister of Lord Randolph Churchill and aunt of Winston Churchill.
The new commander of the regiment, Lord Tweedmouth, wrote to Lady Sarah, his aunt, to tell her:
"I cannot express my sympathy sufficiently with you over poor Gordon's loss, and it was a great disaster for us as a regiment: he was so active and keen, brave as a lion and full of sympathy for the men and officers. I feel his loss tremendously, as we had been so much together in the last month, and he has been very kind to me."