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1914-1918 First World War Centenary

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31 October 2018

Oliver Cyril Spencer Watson was born on 7 September 1876 to Georgine Mary Jane Mair Watson and William Spencer Watson, F.R.C.S.  His mother died two years later, age 36. At the time of the 1881 census, his father is described as a widower living at 7 Henrietta Street, Marylebone, and at four years of age, Oliver is the youngest of eight children – John, Emma, George, Georgina, Mary, Alice and Spencer. At this time, his father was a surgeon and oculist and in the 1891 census he is described as a ‘surgeon practising as a dentist’.  In 1901 his father (a surgeon, age 65) is listed as a patient at a nursing home at 29 Devonshire Street, Marylebone and a death for someone of the same name, age 70, is registered in 1906 in Kensington.

Oliver attended St Paul’s School, West Kensington and Sandhurst Royal Military College [HAU record states: honours 1896, Passed (a) (b) (c) (d) & (g) for promotion. Dis in Musketry], the start of a long an distinguished military career. From 1897 he served in the Tirah Campaign with the 19th Bn. Yorkshire Regiment, and he also served in China during the Boxer rebellion.

There are several other references to Lieutenant Colonel Watson and the details of his military service online.

On leaving the army, he enrolled on the Harper Adams Diploma course on 29 September 1904 as a relatively mature student, aged 29 years and is mentioned in the Mercer student diary for autumn 1905 [HA Archives].  He passed the College Diploma first part with Distinction in 1905 and also the Final NDA but officially left on 4 April 1906 as he could not afford to complete the course. Another source reports that from 1904 he worked for Sir Charles Henry MP as his estate manager at Parkwood and Crazies Hill, so his employment and studies may have run concurrently.

https://www.britishempire.co.uk/forces/yorkshireregimentspencerwatson.htm

He continued his military career on the Reserve of Regular Officers and joined the Middlesex Yeomanry in 1909, seeing active service at Gallipoli in 1915 and joining the 5th Battalion King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry in 1916.

He died on 28 March 1918, age 41 at Rossignol Wood, France, and was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.

Victoria Cross Citation, from "The London Gazette," 18th May, 1918

"For most conspicuous bravery, self-sacrificing devotion to duty, and exceptionally gallant leading during a critical period of operations.  His command was at a point where continual attacks were made by the enemy in order to pierce the line, and an intricate system of old trenches in front, coupled with the fact that his position was under constant rifle and machine-gun fire, rendered the situation still more dangerous.  A counter-attack had been made against the enemy position, which at first achieved its object, but as they were holding out in two improvised strong points, Lt. Col. Watson saw that immediate action was necessary, and he led his remaining small reserve to the attack, organising bombing parties and leading attacks under intense rifle and machine-gun fire.  Outnumbered, he finally ordered his men to retire, remaining himself in a communication trench to cover the retirement, though he faced almost certain death by so doing.  The assault he led was at a critical moment, and without doubt saved the line.  Both in the assault and in covering his men's retirement, he held his life as nothing, and his splendid bravery inspired all troops in the vicinity to rise to the occasion and save a breach being made in a hardly tried and attenuated line.  Lt. Col. Watson was killed while covering the withdrawal."

https://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/776250/watson,-oliver-cyril-spencer/

He is remembered with honour at the Arras Memorial (Bay 1).

 

The Arras Memorial commemorates nearly 35,000 soldiers of the British, South African and New Zealand forces with no known grave

https://www.cwgc.org/find/find-cemeteries-and-memorials/82700/arras-memorial

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