Thousands pass the war memorial at London’s Liverpool Street Station every day without realising that it is unique: the man who unveiled it on JUNE 22nd, 1922, was shot dead minutes later.
Dressed ceremonially for the occasion, Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson drew his sword when two gunmen attacked him as he left the taxi which had taken him to his Eaton Place home after he performed the unveiling.
As he reached his door a shot rang out and a bullet ploughed into the woodwork. A second shot also missed him as he turned and drew his sword. Two more shots followed, and he collapsed dying.
Pursued by police and bystanders, the two gunmen shot a chauffeur in the thigh when he tried to block their way with his car. Then they shot a police constable in the stomach and a detective constable in the ankle.
The chase ended at the junction of Ebury and Elizabeth Streets, where a truncheon hurled by a constable floored the smaller of the two gunmen, whose flight had been impeded by his wooden leg. The taller gunman was struck on the head with a truncheon by another constable and with a milk bottle by a council worker. He was then overpowered after a fierce struggle.
The killers were identified as Reginald Dunn and Joseph O’Sullivan. Both were Irish, but Sinn Fein deplored the assassination and the IRA denied that the pair were members.
The field marshal too had been born in Ireland, in County Longford. He had received eight bullet wounds and had died from haemorrhage and shock.
At their trial the two gunmen described themselves as Irish nationalists who had served in the British Army. “All I have done, I have done for Ireland,” O’Sullivan told the Old Bailey jury, “and for Ireland I am proud to die.”
Convicted and sentenced to death, they were hanged together at Wandsworth Prison on August 10th, 1922.