Thursday, 6 August 2009

Donald James Ross Wilson - 1916-2009

It came as quite a shock when my father died suddenly on Tuesday, after falling ill a few days ago. He was 93 years old, but lived on his own, quite independently in the Dales. I've been deeply touched by all of the kindness shown to me and the expressions of sympathy following his death - and got quite a surprise to receive an e-mail message of condolence from sir David Jason. I introduced my father to sir David when I had the good fortune to interview him at the Yorkshire Air Museum last year. I'm not going to say any more on the subject right now, but below is my father's obituary:

One of Nidderdale’s most fascinating characters has died suddenly aged 93.
Donald Wilson moved from Edinburgh to Dacre Banks in February 1950, having been stationed at RAF Linton on Ouse during the war. Don was shot down over Germany early in the conflict and was eventually imprisoned in the infamous Stalag Luft III, setting for the film The Great Escape. He provided invaluable information and advice for the makers of the film, having kept a detailed wartime log during his incarceration.
Having trained as a vet before the war Don took up a position as a veterinary services advisor with Hull-based Reckitt and Coleman, spending almost the rest of his working life with them. He was a friend of Thirsk-based vet turned author Alf White, better known as James Herriot, who he visited on a regular basis. During his career with Reckitt and Coleman Don became involved in the development of a new drug to be used in the rapid tranquilising of animals, and subsequently set up a rapid response dart gun service for the company. He appeared on TV’s Blue Peter and Magpie programmes, and helped out on the set of what was then known as Emmerdale Farm – in the days when it featured real animals!
When not working Don became heavily involved in local life, and over the years served on the local Parish Council the Village Hall committee and the Home Guard. He was extremely reluctant to accept becoming old, and walked down to his local, the Royal Oak most lunch-times until relatively recently, when he bought an electric buggy. He quickly got used to riding the machine, and almost as quickly – despite being by this time in his late eighties – decided it wasn’t fast enough, and went out and bought a “GT” model!
Don never forgot his time in the RAF and had been a long-time member of local branches of the RAFA, and the British Legion. Just a few years ago he accompanied his son on a news assignment to the Air museum at Elvington, and was delighted to be offered an exclusive look inside their recently restored Halifax bomber – once again, despite his advancing years, he was up inside the aircraft, as one member of staff put it “like a rat up a drainpipe”! More recently he had the pleasure of being introduced to the actor Sir David Jason, who’s a huge supporter of ex-RAF flyers.
Despite the privations Don suffered throughout the war years he never lost his sense of humour, and would often recount the tale of when he first moved into Dacre Banks and making friends with the Abbot family, owners of the local garage. One dark, windy night he visited Kit and Norah Abbot, knocking on the door and asking a bleary-eyed Kit, who at first hadn’t recognised him, if he could have a fill-up with petrol – for his cigarette lighter!
Over the last few years his ever-increasing family and friends have celebrated his birthday with the annual June Barbecue, which has recently become more like a United Nations event. Guests have represented Australia, Africa, Israel, Scotland, Norway, and of course his beloved adopted home – Yorkshire. Don’s only regret was that his late wife Vera, who died 16 years ago, couldn’t be with him.
He leaves six children, eleven grandchildren and seven great grandchildren, with another on the way.


  1. RIP Grandad. You were a wonderful man who was loved by all. You will be greatly missed.

    Love Julia, Andy, Holly & Matthew in Oz.

    BTW: I didn't know you had a blog. I was Googling Grandad to see if I could find anything in the media about him.

  2. judith - the best father in law any woman could ever want. I loved him as much as my own dad, even more so when I lost my own dad. He once told me that I had brought a smile back to James's face and that was all he needed to know that we were meant to be together.
    I count myself one of the luckiest daughters in law to have had him as my second dad and will miss him so much.

  3. A privilege to read this James, a fitting tribute beautifully written, I'm sure he was, and will always be, as proud of you, as you are of him