George Charles Lee Wilson was the second New Zealand cricket representative to be killed in World War One. He burst on to the provincial and national cricketing scene in the 1913-1914 season and, apparently, just as quickly left it.

The 1914 Canterbury side that played Otago at Carisbrook. Our copy is unlabelled, but we suspect the man in the front row, 2nd from right, is Wilson.
The 1914 Canterbury side that played Otago at Carisbrook. Wilson is in the front row, 2nd from right.

Described as “diminutive”, George Wilson was a right arm leg spinner and a pugnacious batsman. He played for Canterbury and some of his Plunket Shield bowling performances were very impressive. Playing against Wellington in early January 1914, he had second innings figures of 7 for 80 and a reporter wrote of him “his was a class of bowler the visitors were quite unaccustomed to”. In the same month, playing against Auckland, he had match figures of 11 for 190 and reporters commented on his “big leg break” that often left the Auckland batsman stranded. Wilson’s form and class in early 1914 is further emphasised by his performance against Southland – claiming 8 for 56 in the first innings and 13 wickets for the match. There were only two Southland batsmen who didn’t fall to Wilson at least once: Alfred Driscoll, who was not out in each innings, and James Bannerman, another member of our World War One XI.

Playing for Canterbury against the powerful touring Australians in late February/early March 1914 was a completely different proposition than offered by the domestic sides. In a game which the Australians won by an innings and 396 runs, Wilson had figures of 0 for 96 from the nineteen overs he bowled, two of which were maidens. In that match Victor Trumper and Arthur Sims put on a record partnership of 433 for the 8th wicket, well and truly taking Wilson and Canterbury out of the game.

In spite of that performance, Wilson was selected for New Zealand and played in the first ‘Test’ against the Australians in Dunedin in early March 1914. Australia won the game by seven wickets and Wilson bowled 8 overs with figures of 0 for 39 – which suggests he presented at least some difficulties to the mighty batting lineup he was facing. He was not selected for the second Test in Auckland – and that was it, his was a first class career was over. It lasted just four months, from December 1913 to March 1914.

GCL Wilson's grave in Belgium.
GCL Wilson’s grave in Belgium.

George Wilson joined the Canterbury Regiment in early 1917. By April 1917 he was undergoing training at Trentham Army Camp near Wellington, following in the footsteps of so many others. It was too late for him to play cricket for Trentham as so many of his provincial colleagues had done. From Trentham he travelled to England, spending time at Sling Camp before he eventually arrived, in October 1917, at the front line trenches around Polygon Wood in Belgium. Based on descriptions of battles, he would probably have taken part in some brutal fighting there. In December 1917 his regiment was occupying the trenches between Polygon beck and Reutelbeck where there was constant enemy shelling and living conditions were atrocious. George Wilson was killed in action on December 14th 1917. We know he was buried the same day in the Polygon Wood cemetery, his grave carefully marked on his military file.

George Charles Lee Wilson; b. Christchurch, May 1st 1877, d. Belgium, December 14th 1917