Major General Sir Harry Watson KBE CB CMG CIE MVO

 ‘Extra Equerry to the King, Commandant 2nd Battalion 9th Gurkha Rifles, Inspector General Imperial Service Troops, Brigade Commander and sometime General Officer Commanding Egypt and Chief Administrator British Occupied Palestine…’

Major General Sir Harry Watson, known as ‘Long’ because of his tall thin figure, was born on 18 July 1866, the youngest son of Lieutenant General Sir John Watson VC GCB, late Colonel of the 13th Duke of Connaught’s Lancers.

Watson was educated at Charterhouse and the Royal Military College Sandhurst.  He was a Queen’s India Cadet at Sandhurst and in February 1885 was gazetted to a Commission in The Devonshire Regiment.  He later transferred to the Indian Staff Corps and was temporarily attached to the 1st Goorkha Light Infantry whilst awaiting a vacancy in the 2nd Goorkhas.  While with the 1st Goorkhas he saw active service with their 2nd Battalion in the Sikkim Expedition September 1888, and took part in the attack on the Jelep La Pass.

In August 1890 he joined 2nd Battalion 2nd Goorkhas in Dehra Dun and was later part of the Detachment at Fort Tregear, a large fortified post located in the Looshai Hills in North East India.  Watson is mentioned in an incident in March 1891 described in the Regimental History Volume I: ‘…the Looshai (tribesmen) ambuscaded a Frontier Police Detachment and before the attack , two signallers of the 2nd Goorkhas were helioing to Lieutenant Watson at Fort Tregear, who on taking down the message and looking through a telescope, saw a column of smoke rise from the village and surmised something untoward had occurred’.  It transpired that the signallers had been killed by the tribesmen, but although punitive patrols were sent out into the local area, it was not until some time later the tribes’‘turbulent chief’, Jacopa, was captured and handed over to the civilian power for punishment.    

Watson returned to Dehra Dun in April 1891 and was Quartermaster of the 2nd Battalion from March 1893 to January 1894.  He was then transferred to the 1st Battalion as Adjutant, remaining in that post until February 1896, marrying Miss Ada May Reynolds in April 1895.  He then qualified for employment on the staff and from November 1896 until April 1903 was Assistant Inspecting Officer Rajputana State Infantry and later Punjab State Infantry, Ambala.  The Imperial Service Troops, to which he was at that time seconded, were forces raised by the Princely States and were available for service alongside the Indian Army, subject to inspection by British Officers in order to maintain their standards.

Harry Watson (standing, third from the right) and his family in the UK in 1902.  His father, General Sir John Watson, is seated in front.

In June 1900 Watson was appointed Deputy Assistant Adjutant General (DAAG) of the Imperial Service Troops taking part in the China Expeditionary Force, which successfully ended the 55 days siege of Peking and defeated the Boxer Rebellion.  In March 1901 he was cross-posted to the 2nd Battalion as a Double Company Commander.  In May 1902 he commanded the Imperial Service Troops in the Indian Army Coronation Contingent sent to England for the Coronation of King Edward VII on 9 August 1902.  It was at this time that he was photographed carrying one of the old Colours of the Sirmoor Battalion before they were laid up in the Royal United Service Institution in Whitehall.  The Daily Telegraph described the Colours: ‘…[the] time-worn and blood-stained hue of the King’s Colour and the inky black of the Regimental [Colour]…recalled the many sanguinary conflicts above which they had waved, and brought back memories of the gallant lives cheerfully laid down to preserve them in glory and honour‘.

Watson (left) and Major DM Watt carrying the old Regimental Colours in London, 1902

Watson returned to India and in July 1903 was commanding No 2 Double Company of the 1st Battalion , but his tour of Regimental duty was again interrupted when in October 1905 he was appointed Aide-de-Camp to His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales during the latter’s tour of India with the Princess, also becoming Extra Equerry to the Prince.  He became a Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire (CIE) for his success in these roles.

Watson as Royal ADC, 1903

Following the departure of Prince and Princess, in April 1906 Watson was appointed Second-in-Command of the 1st Battalion, and after leave in the UK went with the Battalion to Kila Drosh in October 1907 as part of the Chitral Garrison, where he was photographed after a day’s shooting with other 2nd Goorkha officers:

(Watson is sitting, 2nd from the right)

In January 1910 Watson left the 1st Battalion and transferred to 9th Gurkha Rifles on appointment as Commandant 2nd Battalion of the 9th Gurkhas (2/9GR).  Later that year he was also appointed an Extra Equerry to His Majesty the King.  He continued to command 2/9GR, who were stationed in Birpur near Dehra Dun, until 1914, although he went to England with the 1911 Indian Army Contingent attending the Coronation of King George V on 22 June 1911.  On his return to India, Watson was again appointed Extra Equerry to HM King in order to assist Her Majesty Queen Mary during the Royal Visit to India.  It was during this visit that His Majesty was crowned Emperor of India on 12 December 1911 at the Delhi Durbar.  After the Durbar, Watson accompanied the Royal party to Nepal in January 1912 for a shooting trip which accounted for 18 rhinos and 39 tigers.  Watson was made a Member of the Victorian Order (MVO) for his services.

In July 1913 Watson was appointed officiating Inspector General of Imperial Service Troops, and in September 1914 was confirmed in that appointment.  He began his First World War service with the Imperial Service Troops stationed on the Suez Canal.  He was on operations in Egypt between November 1914 and March 1916, when he was appointed a Brigade Commander with the temporary rank of Brigadier General.  In October 1915 he was made a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George for his services.

‘Colonel Storrs and General Watson at a YWCA Fete in 1919’

From March 1916 to October 1918 he served with the Egyptian Expeditionary Force, as Commander 20th Indian Infantry Brigade (Northern Canal Section).  This mainly comprised Imperial Service infantry who had been sent from India to form part of the garrison in Egypt, although the 2nd Battalion of the 2nd Goorkhas was briefly part of it, from November 1915 to February 1916, on completion of their service on the Western Front and prior to returning to India.

For a time Watson commanded a section of the Suez Canal before being appointed General Officer Commanding Lines of Communications Palestine.  After Allenby’s victorious advance and occupation of Jerusalem, Watson was promoted Major General and appointed General Officer Commanding Egypt.  In May 1918 he was became a Companion of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath and in June 1919 became a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire for ‘valuable services in connection with military operations in Egypt‘.  For his services during the First World War Watson was also mentioned in despatches four times.

From June 1919 Watson served briefly as Chief Administrator of British occupied Palestine after his predecessor (General Sir Arthur Money KCB KBE CSI) had been removed by the British Government for not favouring the Zionists over the Arabs.  According to Dr D K Fieldhouse in ‘Western Imperialism in the Middle East’ Watson was to suffer a similar fate in December 1919 when he was – wrongly – thought to be pro-Zionist.

In January 1920 Watson was appointed Military Advisor in Chief, Indian State Forces, a post he held until his retirement to Devon in April 1924.

In retirement he lived in Finchampstead, Berkshire.  He had lost a great deal of money in a bank failure and could not afford to live in the large family home in that village, sos he and his wife purchased a smaller house called ‘Longwater’.  In January 1936 he, as a former ADC and Equerry, was a pallbearer at the funeral of His Majesty King George V.  He became a member of the British Legion and was a Special Constable.  In 1938, he was invited to join the very short-lived, 1200-strong British Legion Volunteer Police Force (BLVPF).  He enlisted as Legionnaire No 546 and commanded No 3 Company (all Berkshire men).  They were issued with blue police uniforms consisting of a double breasted suit, a walking stick and a whistle.  The BLVPF was intended to go to Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia in response to international concerns that Germany would annex that territory.  The force had already embarked on two troopships at Tilbury, bound for Bremen, when German assurances removed the threat of annexation.  The BLVPF disembarked and was disbanded, having existed for only 10 days.  Watson was later to receive the King George VI Special Constabulary Long Service Medal for 9 years voluntary service.

Watson had married Ada May Reynolds in 1895 and they had a son and two daughters, one of whom  married another Army officer in Jerusalem in 1920.  He was a keen fisherman and had been Honorary Secretary of the Dehra Dun Fishing Association. He was a good shot and captain of the 1st Battalion shooting team which won the Bengal Presidency Rifle Association Meerut Cup in 1903.  He also represented the regiment at polo in the Dehra Dun Challenge Cup of 1903.  He excelled as a raconteur and several of his letters and articles were published in Regimental Journals prior to the Second World War.  He wrote A Short Story of the Services Rendered by the Imperial Service Troops during the Great War 1914 – 18 which was published by the Government of India in 1930, and in which he described himself as being ‘late Military Adviser in Chief, Indian State Forces’.

Watson is unique as the only 2nd Goorkha to have been awarded the class of Companion for three different British orders; the Order of the Bath; the Order of St Michael and St George; and the Order of the Indian Empire.  He was in addition awarded the several foreign orders: the Order of the Nile (3rd Class); Legion d’Honneur (4th Class); Order of St Maurice and St Lazarus (3rd Class or Commander) and Order of the Crown of Italy (3rd Class or Commander).

He died at his home on 7 May 1945.


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