I think the Collins revenge story is historical revisionism or poetic licence. How would he know about or recognise an unknown Captain in the British Army in 1916 when there were thousands of them in Dublin at the time.15 June 1920RIC District Inspector Percival Lea-Wilson was shot and killed near his home in Gorey, Co Wexford. Lea-Wilson was walking back home after paying a visit to the RIC barracks in Gorey, dressed in his civilian clothes, when he was shot. He had stopped at the railway station to buy a newspaper and met Constable Alexander O’Donnell who accompanied him on part of his walk home. O’Donnell and Lea-Wilson parted company at the railway bridge on Ballycanew Road. Further up the road there were a number of men standing around a parked car with its bonnet up.
Lea-Wilson was reading his paper while strolling along the road. As he drew near the men by the car, they pulled out revolvers and opened fire. Although wounded twice, Lea-Wilson made a dash for safety but the assassins ran after him and brought him down in a hail of bullets. The coroner’s report stated that Lea-Wilson was hit 7 times.
Later that evening Michael Collins was in the Wicklow Hotel in Dublin city when word reached him from Wexford of the shooting dead of Percival Lea-Wilson. Collins greeted the news with glee and mentioned to one of his comrades: ” Well we finally got him!” Two of Lea-Wilson’s killers, Liam Tobin and Frank Thornton, had been sent from Dublin for the job. The others were local men- Joe McMahon, Michael McGrath, Jack Whelan and Michael Sinnott. The popular belief is that Lea-Wilson was targeted because after the surrender of the 1916 rebels he had abused Tom Clarke as they were held prisoner in the grounds of the Rotunda Hospital. Tobin, and Collins himself, were witnesses to this event.
Lea-Wilson was buried in Putney Vale cemetery in West London. His grave is marked by a plaque which mentions his assassination in Gorey in 1920, a death which had its roots in the Easter Rising 4 years previously.
"Well we finally got him" | Michael Collins' hit on Captain Lea Wilson
Lea-Wilson appears to have had a bad war. He was commissioned in the Royal Irish Regiment in 1914 and was wounded in 1915. He was invalided out of the later in the war and rejoined the RIC. He had a reputation as a heavy drinker after the war. Pre-war he married a woman, Marie Ryan, whom he had met in Charleville. Marie and Percival seem to have been deeply in love and she had a tough time getting over his death. She never remarried but in 1924 she enrolled in Trinity College as a medical student. She graduated in 1928 at the age of 41 and then lived and practiced in Dublin as a paediatrician for the rest of her life, dying in 1971 at the age of 84. After her husband's death Marie turned to the church for comfort and she was helped by a Jesuit priest, Father Finlay of the Leeson Street Jesuit Community. About 1920 she gave Father Finlay a painting she had bought in Edinburgh, a copy of Caravaggio's The Taking of Christ. The Jesuits hung it in the Leeson Street dining room where it stayed for the next 60 years.
In 1990 Sergio Benedetti a curator and conservator at the National Gallery of Ireland was asked to look at the paintings that had accumulated at Leeson Street. He identified the painting as Caravaggio’s original. It was commissioned by Ciriaco Mattei in 1602. In the early 1800s the Matteis sold it to William Hamilton Nisbet, an obscure British politician who displayed it in his Edinburgh home until Marie Lea-Wilson bought it in 1921.
I think the Collins revenge story is historical revisionism or poetic licence. How would he know about or recognise an unknown Captain in the British Army in 1916 when there were thousands of them in Dublin at the time.
Was Lea Wilson present at Galipoli/ salonika front or did he serve on the western front?
His cruelty to prisoners can't be excused, it happened though regardless of his active war time service. A person can change for the good or the bad. Is it possible up to that point quiet area meant he was sent away to help improve his personality. It is hard to say, the story of the painting is fascinating though.
I tend to agree with you, I'm simply relating what I research. Collins was, in my opinion, a mission-driven pragmatist. He would not waste men or bullets on a simple revenge shooting unless the killing advanced the mission.I think the Collins revenge story is historical revisionism or poetic licence. How would he know about or recognise an unknown Captain in the British Army in 1916 when there were thousands of them in Dublin at the time.
According to the account in this book Lea Wilson was a bit of a nasty type when dealing with prisoners.
He also claimed Collin's was not one for revenge, but ordered hits on legitimate targets;
What is interesting is that Gorey had been a relatively quiet area and the Squad had been dispatched there to assassinate Lea-Wilson so this may lend some weight to the revenge theory.
Gorey being a quiet area may well have been enough reason. You will have noticed that the Dublin hard men turn up in quiet areas to give the locals a kick in the arrse. Both Tobin and Thornton were very senior men to send on a simple hit- Tobin was Deputy Director of Intelligence and Thornton 3rd Director of Intelligence, so essentially Collins second and fourth in command. Losing Tobin would have put a serious dent in the war effort. Technically they weren't members of the Squad as such although they worked closely with them.