Lieutenant-Colonel Oliver Cyril Spencer Watson VC DSO

Oliver Cyril Spencer Watson was the youngest son of William Spencer Watson FRCS and Georgina Mary Jane Mair Watson. He was born on 7 Sep 1876 in Cavendish Square, London. He went to St Paul’s School and then on to Sandhurst to begin an army career. He was commissioned into the Yorkshire Regiment (Green Howards) on 20 Feb 1897 and sent out to the 2nd Battalion in India. He saw active service straight away in the Tirah Campaign on the Northwest Frontier. But he was severely wounded. He was promoted to lieutenant on 17 Aug 1898, and in 1900 saw more service in the Boxer Rebellion in China. He was appointed Transport Officer for the 4th Brigade in that campaign. He was invalided from India in 1903 and went into retirement in Jan 1904 but on the Reserve of Regular Officers. For the next ten years he worked for Sir Charles Henry MP as his estate manager at Parkwood and Crazies Hill. But he maintained his military career by joining the Middlesex Yeomanry in 1909. He was promoted to captain in 1913. In WW1 his regiment was sent to Gallipoli in 1915 and he was promoted to major in July. He returned to Britain and in 1916 was attached to the 5th Battalion King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. He was sent to France as second in command of the battalion the following year. In May 1917 he was mentioned in Despatches and awarded the DSO. At Bullecourt on 3 May 1917 he was wounded. On 28 Mar 1918, at Rossignol Wood north of Hebuterne, there was a counter-attack following repeated enemy attacks in the British line. Watson’s 5th Battalion KOYLI achieved their objective but a serious situation arose as they tried to defend two improvised strong points. Watson went on the offensive again and led a small bombing party against intense fire from rifles and machine-guns. But because they were heavily outnumbered it proved hopeless and they had to retreat. Lt-Col Watson realised that this retreat had to be covered as a forlorn hope and he remained behind, giving his life to save his men. His action inspired the troops in the vicinity to steel themselves and block the enemy’s progress. Lt-Col Oliver Watson was killed but does not have a grave. His name is on the Arras Memorial and there is an ornate plaque dedicated to him in St Mary’s Church Wargrave, Berkshire. Also inscribed on a pillar in the chapel at RMA Sandhurst and in St Paul’s Cathedral. The painting of Oliver in the uniform of the KOYLI is by his elder brother George Spencer Watson RA.

Lt-Col Watson’d medals are displayed at the Green Howards Regimental Museum in Richmond. The Victoria Cross is on the left, then the Distinguished Service Order with white and coloured enamel cross. The India Medal 1895-1902 has a green and crimson striped ribbon and clasps for TIRAH 1897-98 and PUNJAB FRONTIER 1897-98. The China Medal of 1900 has a crimson ribbon with yellow edges. The WW1 medals on the right are the British War Medal 1914-20 and the Victory Medal 1914-19 with oak leaf for Mentioned in Despatches.

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by Stephen Luscombe