“His splendid bravery inspired all troops in the vicinity to rise for the occasion”

An experienced officer who in peacetime had worked managing a Wargrave estate was one of the few to be honoured with the Victoria Cross for his great courage. Oliver Spencer Watson (1876-1918) is buried in France.

The Late Lieut.-Col. O. C. Spencer Watson, V.C.

A supplement to the “London Gazette” of May 8th gave the following particulars respecting the award of the V.C. to Lieut.-Col. O. C. Spencer Watson, D.S.O. (Reserve of Officers), late King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry:

“For most conspicuous bravery, self-sacrificing devotion to duty 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 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 impoverished points Lieut.-Col. Watson saw that immediate action was necessary, and he let 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 for the occasion and save a breach being made in a hardly tried and attenuated line. Lieut.-Col. Watson was killed while covering the withdrawal.”

“The Times” of May 11th gave the following particulars, respecting Lieut.-Col. Watson: –

He was the youngest son of the late W. Spencer Watson, F.R.C.S., and was educated at St Paul’s and passed into the Army from Sandhurst, being gazetted to the Yorks Light Infantry in 1897. He was invalided in 1904, after taking part in the Tirah campaign 1897-1898, in which he was dangerously wounded, and in the China campaign of 1900, receiving the medal for each of these campaigns, in the first case with two clasps.

In 1910 he joined a Yeomanry regiment, and on the outbreak of war went with them to Egypt as captain and took part in the fighting on the Gallipoli Peninsula. Promoted major, he came home to join a battalion of the Y.O.Y.L.I., going with them to France early in 1917. In May of that year he was dangerously wounded at Bullecourt, and received D.S.O. for gallantry and leadership.

He returned to the front last January, although he had not recovered from the effect of his wound; was shortly afterwards promoted lieut-colonel, and was killed in action on March 28th. Lieut-Colonel Watson was a keen sportsman, and was known locally as a good cricketer, boatman, and footballer, as well as a straight rider to hounds. Up to the time that he joined the forces in the present conflict he had been the estate agent to Sir Charles Henry, Bart., M.P., at Parkwood, and managed the Farm at Crazies Hill.

Wargrave parish magazine, June 1918 (D/P145/28A/31)

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No peace or victory till the politicians have been exterminated

Maysie Wynne Finch wrote from Wales, where she and her wounded husband had taken refuge at his family home, to her brother Ralph Glyn. She was not impressed by British politicians, or by men trying to avoid service.

Sunday 28 Nov/15
Voelas
Bettws-y-Coed
N. Wales
My dear darling R.

No, I had not seen anything about attacks on Col Sykes – How scheming. All lies I am sure. Oh dear, these politicians, will they never be stamped out & exterminated, we shall have no peace or hope of victory till they are. How people can give presents to Miss Asquith & make it an occasion to tell lies about olf Asquith – God knows – & people like the Speaker too….

Col Toby Wickham … has been recalled from France & is waiting to hear what if anything he’s to do next. All his Yeomanry have been broken up into Div. Cav. & he’s been PM of Ypres for the last month. He’s miserable being home.

What a delightful couple the Harlechs are. She’s enchanting. He was busy trying to get recruits for Welsh Guards, of which he’s Colonel… Billy Gore is off any day, with his Yeomanry Brigade. They go east – where no one knows of course. They have been waiting to start over 10 days now….

John is having a rare lot of “shooting at something which can’t shoot back” as someone put it. At first it hurt his jaw rather, but now it doesn’t seem to often. His back hasn’t healed up even now. I had no idea it would take so long. Of course at the hospital they said it was one of the dirtiest little holes they’d seen. It only missed his spine by a nick too, you know! I expect you’ve heard the story but it was new to me, of the Sergeant to a frightened private under fire, “Now then my man, what’s the matter with you, they ain’t h’after you – you ain’t no blooming cathedral or bloody work of h’art”!! I love it.

Best love darling…
Your own loving Maysie

At last the brave yokels in this district are enlisting having made sure they must go or be fetched! They all try ASC of course!!

Letter from Maysie Wynne Finch to Ralph Glyn (D/EGL/C2/2)