Brigadier General Donald Watt CIE DSO*

 Awarded two Distinguished Service Orders and Mentioned in Despatches on seven occasions.

Watt as a Major in France in 1915

Brigadier General Donald Munro ‘Doogal’ Watt was born on 18 June 1871.  He was educated at Fettes College in Edinburgh and the Royal Military College Sandhurst.

On commissioning Watt joined The Gordon Highlanders in India where he first saw active service in the Chitral Relief Column.  He took part in the storming of the Malakand Pass on 3 April 1895 when the Gordon Highlanders, after providing provided covering fire to the assaulting Guides Infantry and 4th Sikhs, were ordered to advance up a spur towards the summit.  An account of this noted ‘The climb was precipitous and Lieutenant Watt was the first to top the ridge.  The enemy rushed at him and he shot two with his revolver.  He shouted to the men below but as they could not reach him he was fortunately able to get down until another rush could be made.  He had a shoulder strap carried away by a bullet which first passed through the brain of his Corporal.’   Enemy losses were estimated to be 1300 against only 70 British troops killed.  Watt was slightly wounded.

In August 1896 Watt transferred to the Indian Staff Corps and in November that year was attached to the 3rd Gurkha Rifles.  In October 1897 he transferred to the 2nd Goorkhas and joined the 1st Battalion, part of the 3rd Brigade, a few days after their action at Dargai, as Officiating Wing Officer (equivalent to company commander).  Watt was present at the capture of the Sampagha and Arhanga Passes on 29 October and 31 October respectively.  He also took part in operations in the Waran Valley in early November which involved securing the Tseri Kan Dao (Oak Tree Pass).  He was with the Battalion as it withdrew in freezing conditions from Dwatoi on 24 November 1897 when it was subject to continual enemy harassment, and afterwards as it marched down the Bara Valley from 7-14 December 1897. This was described by the Regimental Historian: ‘The march down the Bara Valley proved extremely arduous because the road lay along the river bed, and through the fields bordering it which were heavy and slippery.  Rain fell all day and numerous deep watercourses crossed the route.  Total casualties on this march were 3 Other Ranks killed, one British and one Gurkha Officer and 10 Other Ranks wounded.’

Watt was formally appointed Wing Officer in January 1898 in the vacancy caused by the death of Captain J G Robinson.  He returned to Dehra Dun with the 1st Battalion in April 1898 and temporarily transferred to the 2nd Battalion from June to October 1900, during which time he passed Parvatia (hill language), Army Signalling and Musketry courses.  He had also qualified for employment in The Supply & Transport Corps and with Mounted Infantry.

In November 1900 he was appointed Officiating Adjutant of the 1st Battalion.  He was confirmed in the post in April 1901 and remained formally as Adjutant until March 1905.  During part of that time he was on furlough in the UK where he was one of the officers selected to carry the old colours of the Sirmoor Battalion in the procession marking the Coronation of HM The King Edward VII, the Colonel-in-Chief of the Regiment. The occasion was described in a contemporary newspaper article: ‘It will suffice to refer to perhaps the most picturesque incident in that brilliant march past, the passing of the ancient Colours of the 2nd Goorkhas – the regiment of which the King is Honorary Colonel.  They carried two sets of scarred and battered ribbons on poles.  The first had been carried by the Regiment from 1844 to 1850 through the bloody campaign of the Sutlej – the carnage-swept fields of Aliwal and Sabraon.  What a record of heroism lies wound among the blackened silks of those Colours.  The other set had been carried by the same Regiment through the struggle of the Mutiny and had been planted upon the shot-riven Ridge at Delhi.’

Major ‘Long’ Watson and Major ‘Doogal’ Watt carrying the old Regimental colours in London, 1905

While still nominally Adjutant Watt left the 1st Battalion in April 1904 for six months’ employment on the Lines of Communication of the Somaliland Field Force which defeated the dervishes led by Hassan ‘The Mad Mullah’.  He returned to the 1st Battalion in September that year and in May 1905 became Adjutant of the Simla Volunteer Rifles.  He rejoined the 1st Battalion briefly in June 1906 before attending the Staff College Quetta as a student, from where in August 1908 he was appointed Brigade Major Abbottabad Brigade.  In August 1912 he rejoined the 2nd Battalion in Dehra Dun as Officer Commanding No 4 Double Company.

At the outbreak of the First World War Watt was on leave in the UK.  From September 1914 he was a General Staff Officer Grade 2 (GSO2) in the newly formed 13th (Western) Division, part of the First New Army.  The 2nd Battalion arrived in France from India in October 1914 and Watt rejoined it in November when he resumed command of No 4 Double Company.  He also officiated as Commandant from late December 1914 to early March 1915.  It was a relatively quiet time.  Drafts of reinforcements were received and although the Battalion had several spells in the line and were subject to enemy shelling, they did not see any major action.  However, shortly afterwards, in the attack on the Bois du Biez (near the village of Neuve Chapelle) on 10 March 1915, Watt led No 4 Double Company with great skill.  The following day the 2nd Battalion was ordered to renew the attack.  The Regimental History reported: ‘The morning opened with a thick fog but all preparations were made and supporting companies advanced to the positions best suited for carrying out the attack. During this movement heavy machine gun fire was opened on us from new hostile trenches on the left, causing some casualties, amongst these being Major Watt, badly wounded in the leg by three machine gun bullets, but who continued with the attack until too exhausted.’  For his part in this action Watt received an immediate award of the Distinguished Service Order.  Later he was twice Mentioned in Despatches for his work in France, in May and June 1915.

After recovering from his wounds he was appointed, in May 1915, as GSO2 of the Colchester Training Centre and then as GSO2 of the Colchester Division, based in England.  He was promoted to Temporary Lieutenant Colonel and commanded 1st/7th Battalion The Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding Regiment) Territorial Force in France from late May 1915 to November 1916, being again Mentioned in Dispatches in June 1916.  This was followed by the appointment of GSO1 in 25th Division, also in France.  He was promoted Brevet Lieutenant Colonel and in late November 1916 was promoted to Temporary Brigadier General to command 145th (South Midland) Brigade, part of the 48th Infantry Division.  In this appointment he served initially in France until the division moved to Italy November 1917 when where he remained as 145 Brigade commander until September 1918, taking part in the Battles of Asiago Plateau and Piave River in June 1918.  During this time he was awarded three further Mentions in Dispatches, in January 1917, December 1917 and May 1918.  He was also awarded a Bar to his Distinguished Service Order in 1918 and the Italian Croce di Guerra as well as receiving a gold souvenir medal from the Italians.

In December 1918 Watt rejoined the 2nd Battalion in Tank, North West Frontier Province and was appointed Officiating Commandant, but he was placed on the sick list and had to leave the Battalion in May 1919, having been awarded another Mention in Dispatches in January 1919.  In February 1919 he had been appointed permanent Commandant of the 1st Battalion 1st King George V’s Own Gurkha Rifles but, possibly because of his sickness or  operational commitments on the North-West Frontier, he never joined it.  He returned to England in June 1919 on six months’ medical certificate but in December 1919 rejoined the 2nd Battalion in Karachi, again as Officiating Commandant.

In January 1920 he left the 2nd Battalion, which by now had returned to Dehra Dun, in order to take temporary command of the 2nd Battalion 5th Gurkha Rifles (Frontier Force) (2/5GR) in Waziristan because their Commandant had been killed.  Watt received a slight wound in the heel which necessitated his evacuation, but in August 1920 he was awarded the Companion of the Most Eminent Order of the Indian Empire as recognition of many years’ service in the Indian Army.  Watt retired in December 1920 with the honorary rank of Brigadier General

In 1926 the Government of India approved the Regiment’s ‘use of plumes of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales’ and other changes to dress regulations.  This prompted much discussion on dress, and at one point the then Colonel of the 2nd Goorkhas, General Sir Kenneth Wigram, commented ‘In the same way old Donald Watt tried very hard at one time to introduce pipes, tartans, kilts and things like that.  I am very glad to say that we beat him over that and pointed out that we were not a Scottish Regiment but a Rifle Regiment.  That is a point on which we have always been keen.’

Watt married, in 1923, Miss Dorothy King. They had no children.

On retirement he returned to England and lived in Farnham, Surrey.  He died on 12 October 1942.

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