b. 20/06/1862 Ireland. d. 24/12/1935 Waterlooville, Hampshire.
James Edward Ignatius Masterson (1862-1935) was born on 20th June 1862, believed to be in Ireland, and he was educated by the Marist Brothers, and entered the Royal Irish Fusiliers in 1881. He served in Egypt in 1882, including at the Battle of Tel-el-Kebir, and received the campaign Medal with clasp and the Khedive’s Star. He was then commissioned into the 2nd Devonshire Regiment in 1891. He served in Burma from 1891 and was awarded the Burma Medal and clasp. He then served on the North West Frontier of India from 1897-1898, including the operations in the Khankia Valley, the Battle of Gunda Kai and the action in the Sampagha Pass. He received the Medal with two clasps.
He was promoted to Captain in 1900, and served in the Second Boer War of 1899-1902. He was present at the Battle of Elandslaagte, the actions at Reitfontein and Lombard’s Kop, and at the defence of Ladysmith, including the action at Wagon Hill. During this campaign he was wounded, and mentioned in despatches three times. He also received the Brevet of Major, the Queen’s South Africa Medal with two clasps, and the Victoria Cross (London Gazette, 4th June 1901).
On 6th January 1900, Wagon Hill Point, a key location on the Ladysmith defensive perimeter, was under attack by the Boers. Lieutenant Masterson commanding one of the three companies of Lieutenant Colonel Park's 1st Devons was dispatched from Devon Post at the south of the town's defences to mount a counter-attack in order to restore the line at Wagon Hill/Caesar's camp. Having climbed the hill and formed up in a depression, in the midst of a rainstorm, the Devons charged and re-captured most of the position held by the enemy. The Devon companies were now exposed to very heavy small arms fire from the right flank and from their left front. In order to direct the fire of a supporting detachment of the Imperial Light Horse onto the enemy to the left of his company, Lieutenant Masterson at once volunteered to take a message back to their commander. To achieve this, Masterson had to cross 130 yards of flat open fire swept ground. Colonel Park described the fire of the Boers as 'like the crackle of a piece of gorse in a blazing fire'. He had sprinted across most of this distance before he was wounded in a thigh but he carried on and was hit again in the other leg. He dragged himself to the Imperial Light Horse's trench and delivered his message before falling, badly wounded, suffering from shock and exhaustion. His bravery saved the Devons in their isolated positions from being wiped out by Boer fire and allowed other units to advance on their flanks to secure the position.
Masterson was presented with his medal on 6th September 1901 from the GOC Sirhind in India. In 1911, he was promoted to Major in the King’s Own Royal Lancashire Regiment, and in 1912 was placed on retired pay. In the early years of the Great War, he served as a Transport Officer. Masterson left the Army finally after the Great War’s end in 1918. He retired to Hampshire, where he died on Christmas Eve, 1935 at his home in Waterlooville. He was buried in Hulbert Road Cemetery in Waterlooville. His medals are held by the Devonshire and Dorset Regimental Museum, The Keep, Dorchester, Dorset.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: KEEP MILITARY MUSEUM OF DEVON/DORSET, DORCHESTER.
BURIAL PLACE: HULBERT ROAD CEMETERY, WATERLOOVILLE, HAMPSHIRE.
James Masterson's medals including VC on display at the Keep Military Museum, Dorchester
(Picture courtesy of Terry Cooling).