En 22 junio 1922 Sir Henry Wilson, an army field marshal turned MP, unveiled a plaque to railway employees who had died in the first world war before returning to his stately home in Belgravia, centro de londres.
He was a distinctive figure – tall, in uniform, with a facial scar that had earned him a nickname as the “ugliest man in the British army”.
As Wilson approached his door a member of the Irish Republican Army crossed the street, raised a revolver and shot him twice. A second IRA man appeared and fired more shots into the dying Wilson. The gunmen fled, leaving behind shocked witnesses and screams of “murder!"
El miércoles, precisely a century later, Wilson will get his own plaque at a ceremony in the House of Commons, adding him to memorials for other MPs who died violent deaths, incluso Jo Cox.
Recognition has been a long time coming. Wilson’s murder shook Britain and he received a pomp-laden state funeral, but one of the most notorious assassinations in British political history soon faded in memory, leaving Wilson, and the killing’s historical impact, all but forgotten.
The ceremony at Westminster and a new book, Great Hatred: the assassination of Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson MP, by Ronan McGreevy, are set to change that by shining a light on Wilson’s controversial career and the mystery of who ordered the assassination.
“Now at long last he is to be properly honoured,” Lord Lexden, a Conservative peer and historian, wrote in The House, parliament’s in-house magazine.
Born into the Anglo-Irish gentry in County Longford, Wilson believed Irlanda should remain in the UK. After serving as a senior staff officer during the first world war he lobbied the British government to crack down on the Irish rebels waging a guerrilla war for Irish independence from 1919-21.
Elected as an Ulster Unionist MP for North Down in February 1922, in parliament he denounced the treaty that gave independence to 26 of Ireland’s 32 counties, calling it a sellout to the IRA “murder gang”. He advocated reconquering Irlanda.
The assassins were Reginald Dunne and Joseph O’Sullivan, born in England to parents of Irish heritage, and both British army veterans who had been wounded on the western front, with O’Sullivan losing a leg. His disability stymied their getaway – a crowd led by policemen chased and caught the pair. They were tried and hanged.
The British government accused anti-treaty IRA diehards in Dublin of orchestrating the assassination and pressured the provisional Irish government, led by Michael Collins, to crush them. This precipitated a bitter civil war in Ireland, won by pro-treaty forces.
“There is a direct link between the Wilson assassination and the start of the civil war. It was Ireland’s Sarajevo,” McGreevy, an Irish Times journalist, dicho, citing the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914 that triggered the first world war.
Historians have long debated whether Collins ordered Wilson’s killing. Drawing on letters, testimonies and other written material, McGreevy argues it was indeed Collins, acting without the knowledge of the provisional Irish government. “He was hoping to remove what he saw as a dangerous foe of Irish nationalism, and someone whom he blamed for the behaviour of security forces in the north.”
Si es así, it cost him his own life. Two months after Wilson’s murder, as civil war blazed, an anti-treaty IRA gunman killed Collins. “If Wilson hadn’t been shot, Collins wouldn’t have been shot,” said McGreevy.
While Ireland’s martyred leader became revered, Wilson, according to Lexden, was until now a victim of “undeserved neglect”.