Lt Col W B S J A E Wilberforce DSO
Commanding Officer - The East Surrey Regiment
(The King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry)
Commanded 1st Bn The East Surrey Regiment from 8th October 1942 to 6th May 1943 when he was killed in action.
William Basil Samuel Joseph Anthony Edward Wilberforce was born on 4th February 1904. He was commissioned in The Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry in January 1924 and joined the 1st Battalion in Germany with which he served until sailing for India in 1933 to join the 2nd Battalion. In 1935 he attended the Staff College, Quetta and returned to England to a staff appointment. He was GSO 3 Southern Command from May 1938 to June 1939 and then GSO 2 from July 1939 to March 1940.
In July 1942 he commanded the 70th (YS) Battalion and in October 1942 was appointed to command 1st Bn The East Surrey Regiment. He took the Battalion to North Africa in operation 'Torch' and in the subsequent Tunisian campaign led it with courage and dash. He was killed in action on 6th May 1943 by one of the last shells in the campaign shortly after being informed of the award of the DSO for his fine leadership especially in the battle for Longstop Hill.
To his friends he was known as "Bill". CONTRIBUTION by Major R C Taylor –“ Bill Wilberforce was sitting in his staff-car with his I0 (Pat Wadham) at Bn HQ when he received a small piece of DSO ribbon from 'Copper Cass (Comd 11 Brigade) to pin on his battle dress, the award having just come through. Bill sent for his batman (Pte Brooks) and asked him to go down to the RAP and ask the M0 for a safety pin, so that he could wear his well deserved DSO ribbon.
Soon after Brooks had left the staff-car, one of the last shells fired on us landed in Bn HQ (quite far from the staff-car in fact), but a piece of that last enemy shell pierced the staff-car, went through Wilberforce, killing him, and ending up in Pat Wadham's leg. When Brooks returned with the new smart DSO ribbon Bill was dead, and Pat badly wounded. So Wilberforce (just by a few minutes) never wore the DSO ribbon. (Sometimes truth is much stranger than fiction). I believe that the I0, Pat Wadham, is still crippled”. RCT 14th November 1990.
See the History of the East Surrey Regiment Vol.IV.