Oliver Cyril Spencer Watson VC DSO

b. 07/09/1876 Westminster, London. d. 28/03/1918 Rossignol Wood, France.

Oliver Cyril Spencer Watson (1876-1918) was born in Cavendish Square, London on 7th September 1876, the youngest son of William Spencer Watson MB FRCS and Georgina Mary Jane Watson. He was educated at St Paul’s School and then left for the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. On 20th February 1897 he was gazetted to the 2nd Battalion, Yorkshire Regiment. He served in the Tirah Campaign of 1897-1898, in which he was badly wounded, and in the China Expedition in 1900. He had become a Lieutenant on 17th August 1898. He retired and was placed on the Reserve List of Officers on 16th January 1904 at the age of 28.

Oliver C S Watson

He became an estate agent in the service of Sir Charles Henry Bart MP at Parkwood and Crazies Hill. On 8th September 1909 he was commissioned into the 1st County of London Yeomanry, becoming Lieutenant on 24th November 1911 and Captain in November 1913.

In 1914 he was posted to Egypt and served in Gallipoli from April 1915, becoming Temporary Major on 28th July 1915. He then returned to England where he was attached to the 5th Battalion, King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry in France. He was awarded the DSO for his work at Bullecourt on 3rd May 1917 when his commanding officer was killed in an initial attack. Watson was sent forward to take over and on arrival at a railway cutting he found the men from units of the brigade that had survived the first attack. Watson reorganised the men and led them forward in a second attack. An enemy machine gun prevented progress, however, so Watson carried on alone in an attempt to reach men who were holding on in front until he was badly wounded.

In January 1918, although not completely fit, he returned to the Front. On 28th March 1918 at Rossignol Wood, north of Hebuterne, France, 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, Lieutenant Colonel 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 fire. Outnumbered, he finally ordered his men to retire, remaining himself in a communication trench to cover the retirement. The assault he led was at a critical moment and without doubt saved the line, but he was killed covering the withdrawal.

Sadly Lieutenant-Colonel Watson’s body was not recovered following the battle, and he is commemorated on the Arras Memorial to the Missing. After the award of the VC, the medal was presented to his sister by General Officer Commanding Home Forces later in 1918. In 1956, Watson’s medals were placed on loan to the Green Howards Museum, Richmond, Yorkshire, before finally being permanently gifted to the Museum in 1992. The group comprises of his VC, DSO, India Medal 1895-1902 with clasps for the Tirah Campaign 1897-98 and Punjab Frontier 1897-98, China War Medal 1900, British War Medal 1914-20 and Victory Medal 1914-19 with Mentioned in Despatches oakleaf.





Thomas Stewart – Image of the Watson VC Medal Group at the Green Howards Museum, Richmond.

Brian Drummond – Image of Watson VC name on the Freemason’s Memorial, London.

Green Howards Regimental Museum – Image of the reverse of the Watson VC medal.

Ian Stubbs – Image of the black plaque at Dorman Museum, Middlesbrough.