b. 06/09/1829 Chigwell, Essex. d. 23/01/1919 Finchampstead, Berkshire.
Sir John Watson (1829-1919) was born on 6th September 1829 in Chigwell, Essex. He enlisted in 1848 at the age of 19 into the Bombay Army, and served in the Second Sikh War when Watson took part in the Siege of Multan, while serving with the 1st Bombay European Fusiliers. Shortly afterwards he took part in the Battle of Goojerat. After two short-lived postings to other Bombay Infantry regiments, he began his career as a cavalryman with the 1st Punjab Cavalry. Promoted to adjutant, he was regarded as one of the most promising officers of the Punjab Field Force, along with contemporaries, George Younghusband and Dighton Probyn.
He was present during the Siege and assault of Delhi and the subsequent battles of Greathed’s Flying Column. He was particularly prominent at Agra and captured a gun. In the advance on Lucknow, the British drove the rebels out of La Martiniere and the cavalry pursued them as far as the canal.
On 14th November 1857, during the advance on Lucknow, Watson found himself ahead of his squadron, when he suddenly encountered a squadron of the enemy. Knowing if he returned to his men to give them orders they would misunderstand his movement, and probably go back themselves, he charged the enemy entirely alone, and was at once engaged with the leader (a Ressalder) and six or seven of the front men. The leader opened fire with his pistol but missed Watson, and Watson then killed him with his sabre. The remainder of the squadron then attacked him; but Probyn, who was not far off with his own and Watson’s squadrons, galloped to the rescue, and the enemy fled. For this and other actions, Watson was recommended for and awarded the VC.
During the fight, Watson received a blow to the head from a tulwar, another on the left arm, which severed his chain gauntlet glove, and a tulwar cut on his right arm, which disabled him for some days. Watson’s VC was gazetted on 16th June 1859, though he was presented with his medal by Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace eight days previously on 8th June.
Following this, Watson took part in further fighting around Cawnpore and then the Relief of Lucknow. After this he returned to England briefly on convalescence leave before returning to India. In 1858, Watson raised the 4th Sikh Irregular Cavalry which later became the 6th Duke of Connaught's Own Lancers (Watson's Horse).
In 1864, he was promoted to Major and by 1873 was Lieutenant Colonel of the Central India Horse. In 1879, he was brigadier in the 2nd Afghan War and commanded the Kurram Field Force. Watson also served in a number of others roles including Aide-de-Camp to Her Majesty Empress Victoria, 1870–71 and the Agent to Governor-General at Baroda, 1882–86. He was knighted in 1886 and retired as a full general in 1891, after 43 years in the military. He retired to Finchampstead, where his neighbour was Lieutenant-Colonel Alfred Stowell Jones VC, whose daughter married Watson’s son. He was also made Colonel of the Regiment of the 13th Duke of Connaught Lancers in 1904.
Sir John Watson VC, KCB died at his home in Finchampstead on 23rd January 1919 aged 89. He was laid to rest in St James’ Churchyard in Finchampstead. His medals came up for auction at Sotheby’s on 11th May 1999, and were sold for a hammer price of £89,500 and purchased by the Michael Ashcroft Trust. They are now displayed in the Ashcroft Gallery, Imperial War Museum.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: LORD ASHCROFT GALLERY, IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM, LONDON.
BURIAL PLACE: ST JAMES CHURCHYARD, FINCHAMPSTEAD, BERKSHIRE.
Sir John Watson's medals including his VC on display at the Lord Ashcroft Gallery, Imperial War Museum, London
John Watson VC is buried in Plot S. 11
St James Church, Finchampstead