Born in Auckland, New Zealand, in 1928, he completed a Master of Arts at Auckland University in 1952 and a PhD at the University of Oxford in 1959, where his dissertation was the joint winner of the Gilbert Campion Award.
While completing his PhD at Oxford, Emeritus Professor Wilson worked as a research assistant in Government at the University of Manchester. He took up the position of Lecturer in History at the University of Adelaide in 1960. It was here that he spent most of his professional career; he became Senior Lecturer in 1965 and Professor of History in 1968. During his tenure at the University of Adelaide, he was a Commonwealth Fellow at St John’s College, the University of Cambridge in 1972, a Visiting Fellow to the Australian National University in 1982 and a Visiting Fellow at Magdalen College, the University of Oxford, in 1987. Emeritus Professor Wilson was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and, in 2007, appointed an Honorary Member (AM) in the General Division of the Order of Australia “for service to education in the area of World War I military history through teaching, writing and historical research”. In 2009, he was made Emeritus Professor in History at the University of Adelaide; a post he retained until his death.
He authored The Downfall of the Liberal Party 1914-1935 (1966) and The Political Diaries of C.P. Scott 1911-1928 (1970). His numerous books on World War I include his magisterial volume, The Myriad Faces of War: Britain and the Great War 1914-1918 (1986), and, with Robin Prior, Command on the Western Front: The Military Career of General Sir Henry Rawlinson 1914-1918 (1992), Passchendaele: The Untold Story (1996), The First World War (1999) and The Somme (2005). He also appeared in The Great War and the Shaping of the 20th Century (1996), airing originally in the United States on PBS and later in Britain and Australia.
Emeritus Professor Wilson’s longtime collaborator, co-author and Academy Fellow Professor Robin Prior frequently spoke of Emeritus Professor Wilson’s contributions to the field of World War I military history. Speaking in lumen, the University of Adelaide’s magazine, in 2015, Professor Prior said:
My own debt to him is obvious but there were a raft of students who first became interested in the war as a result of reading his books or taking his courses and these were not just students based in Adelaide but scattered all over the world.
It is not given to many to create a field of historical enquiry. We should celebrate the fact that in Great War studies it happened at Adelaide and that one of ours, Trevor Wilson, was its presiding genius.
Trevor Wilson’s contributions to understanding World War I history and his commitment to teaching the next generation of history scholars place him as one of the finest military historians of the 20th century.
Emeritus Professor Trevor Wilson passed away peacefully on 11 June 2022. We extend our deepest sympathies to his wife Jane, his two children, his wider family, friends and to Emeritus Professor Wilson’s colleagues.