'A man of discipline and honour'

The late Col Edward Wilson's character and achievements were remembered with fondness and admiration at a memorial service held in Abu Dhabi.

Family and friends paid glowing tributes to Col Edward 'Tug' Wilson at his memorial service at St Andrew's Church in Abu Dhabi yesterday.
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ABU DHABI // An accomplished military officer, a passionate horseman and a first-class raconteur were just some of the attributes of Col Edward "Tug" Wilson reflected on at his memorial service yesterday. Col Wilson, who died on Jan 2 aged 87, was a close friend of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan, the late founder of the nation, created the Abu Dhabi Defence Force and went on to manage the royal stables on behalf of the sheikh.

At the service, held yesterday at St Andrew's Church in Abu Dhabi, friends told of Col Wilson's success as a motorbike racer, his passion for mountaineering and even his fondness for collecting fine porcelain. His significance to the UAE was reflected in the seniority of many of the approximately 100 people at the memorial. Among those attending was Mohammed Ahmed al Bawardi, secretary general of Abu Dhabi Executive Council, and Major General Saeed al Rumaithi, the Deputy Chief of Staff of the UAE Armed Forces, along with other serving officers and retired generals.

Edward Oakden, the British ambassador to the UAE, and Jeremy Bruer, the Australian ambassador to the UAE, were also there to pay their respects to a man described by speakers as "short and stocky with enormous physical strength" and someone who "did not suffer fools gladly". The service was conducted by Rev Clive Windebank, chaplain of St Andrew's Church, who said Col Wilson was a man who "enjoyed all that he did and lived life to the full".

"This is a sombre occasion, but we are honouring a man who lived life long and achieved much in his lifetime," he said. "This is a time to pay tribute to a man who in his day, played a significant part in events of which we are the heirs." Among those attending was John Watts, a Dubai-based Briton whose company helped to refurbish the royal stables. Mr Watts first met Col Wilson in 1992. While the two became close friends, Mr Watts said early on he found Col Wilson to be a demanding perfectionist who insisted the work at the stables be done exactly as he wanted.

"He had his ideas and I had my ideas. He pulled me from pillar to post and I worked through the night for him on the designs." Mr Watts described how, while holidaying in Britain, he had received a call from Col Wilson telling him to be in Abu Dhabi at 8.30am the next day to prepare for a visit by senior members of the Royal Family. Mr Watts made it, taking an overnight flight to the UAE capital and was in Col Wilson's office at 8.30am on the dot.

Mr Watts said Col Wilson had an "amazing" knowledge of old motorsport races and the two would test each other to see who knew the most. Col Wilson himself was an accomplished motorbike and car racer, having competed at Aintree, Silverstone, Nurburgring and other legendary circuits. At one time or another his garage contained a Ferrari Daytona and a Ferrari 250. "Tug had a very illustrious and long career on cars and bikes. He loved speed, but if ever he was in a car driven by his son Charles, we often heard the exclamation: 'No thrills, Charles'," said Mr Watts, who after the service described Col Wilson as "a great old boy".

The retailer Mohan Jashanmal said Col Wilson "had discipline, honour and a work ethic" and was an "extraordinary man". "He was dedicated to service to this country and to Britain," said Mr Jashanmal, who knew Col Wilson for more than 40 years. The British defence attache, Col David Adams, was at yesterday's service "out of respect for a former soldier who had a distinguished career and made such a difference".

He said there were around 350 former British military officers and senior non-commissioned officers now employed in various roles in the UAE, a situation which he said could partly be credited to Col Wilson. "In many ways this close connection he started between the British and Abu Dhabi has continued." Speaking after the service, Col Wilson's son, Charles, 36, who has always lived in the UAE and now works for the Royal Family, said his father had "a great sense of humour".

"He was always firm but fair and he always looked after anyone if they had problems," he said. Col Wilson, his son said, "loved the Bedu" and found their straightforward way of life very appealing. "He was drawn to this part of the world. He loved adventure and he thought Arabs were very noble people." It was also Col Wilson's close friendship with Sheikh Zayed that kept his father in the UAE, his son said.

"He looked up to Sheikh Zayed. He saw him as a natural leader of men. They were very similar in character." Col Wilson is also survived by his grandchildren, Tara, three, and Oliver, 19 months, who is described as "mini Tug" because of his similarity to his grandfather, and two stepdaughters, Sally-Anne and Amanda. Col Wilson's wife Patricia died in 2006. dbardsley@thenational.ae