Remembering the Fallen: on this day in 1918, Lieutenant Colonel Oliver Cyril Spencer Watson V.C., D.S.O., 1st County of London Yeomanry (Middlesex, Duke of Cambridge's Hussars), commanding the 5th Battalion, King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (now part of The Rifles), was killed during the fighting at Rossignol Wood in France.
After leaving St. Paul’s School in Barnes, he attended the Royal Military College at Sandhurst, and in February of 1897 was commissioned into the 2nd Battalion, the Yorkshire Regiment. He was badly wounded in the Tirah Campaign on the North West Frontier and also saw action during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. Four years later he was invalided home from India and worked as an estate agent, being placed on the Reserve List of Officers. In 1909 he was commissioned into the 1st County of London Yeomanry.
After the outbreak of the Great War, Lieutenant-Colonel Watson served in Egypt and then in Gallipoli in 1915. The following year he was attached to the 5th Battalion, the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry in France. For his actions in May of 1917, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. During the fighting at Bullecourt his commanding officer had been killed, so then-Major Watson took over and led the surviving men in a second attack, eventually going forward himself until he was seriously wounded.
By the beginning of 1918 he was still not completely recovered, but nevertheless returned to the Front. On the day of his death he was involved in the fighting at Rossignol Wood, north of Hebuterne in France. His actions that day earned him the posthumous award of the Victoria Cross, for “most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty”.
The citation tells the story: “His command was at a dangerous point, continuous attacks were made by the enemy in order to pierce the line. A counterattack 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 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 a doubt saved the line. Both in the assault and 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. Lieutenant Colonel Watson was killed while covering the withdrawal.”
His body was not recovered following the battle, and he is commemorated on the Arras Memorial to the Missing.
Oliver, from London, was 41 years old.