|Lieutenant Colonel William Digby OSWALD DSO|
5th (Princess Charlotte of Wales's) Dragoon Guards attached to the 12th (Service) Battalion (Prince of Wales’ Own) West Yorkshire Regiment
Date of birth: 20th January 1880
Date of death: 16th July 1916
Died of wounds aged 36
Buried at Dive Copse Cemetery Plot II Row B Grave 25
|William Digby Oswald was born at Southampton on the 20th of January 1880 the only son of Thomas Ridley Oswald, a shipbuilder, and his second wife, Wilhemina Catherine (nee Russell) Oswald of New Place House, All Saints in Southampton, later of Castle Hall, Milford Haven and of "Riverview", Beaconsfield Road, Blackheath.
He was educated at Clifton College where he was in Poole's House from May 1890 to July 1892 and at Lancing College where he was in School House from November 1892 to April 1895. He left Lancing for Rugby School where he was in Mr. Donkin’s House from 1895 to 1898. In 1898, he won the Wrigley Cup single handed by winning four events, the Quarter Mile, Weight, High Jump and Hurdles.
On the 29th of March 1898 he was granted a commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 6th Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers (Militia). The following year he entered the regular army and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 2nd Battalion Leicestershire Regiment on the 15th of November 1899. He saw service in Egypt and in South Africa where he resigned from his regiment on the 17th of July 1901 and on the same day he transferred to the 3rd Railway Pioneer Regiment later becoming their Adjutant. He was promoted to Lieutenant on the 2nd of August 1901. He was mentioned in the Lord Kitchener’s despatches of the 8th of March 1902 and was awarded the Distinguished Serve Order, which was reported in the London Gazette of the 31st of October 1902, for “services during operations in South Africa”. This is thought to have been for the rescue of a native scout on the 31st of January 1902 while the enemy were in close pursuit for a number of miles.
He was married on the 7th of March 1905 at St John’s Church, Weymouth in Dorset to Catherine Mary (nee Yardley) and they had three daughters, Theodora Digby, born on the 7th of February 1909, Ambrosine Mary Digby, born on the 22nd of November 1911 and Patricia Catherine Digby born on the 23rd of January 1914. After the war his family was living at St Winning in Weymouth.
In 1906 he served as a Captain and as the Adjutant of Royston’s Horse during the Natal Rebellion and was wounded in the fighting in Zululand in June 1906. He moved to Bulawayo in Rhodesia and continued to work in mining until he returned to the UK on board the SS "Garth Castle", landing at Southampton on the 30th of April 1914. He was a keen horseman, polo player and big game hunter.
Following the outbreak of war he joined the 5th Dragoon Guards Special Reserve as a Lieutenant on the 7th of August 1914 and landed in France a week later on the 14th. The Commanding Officer of the 5th Dragoon Guards wrote: - "I am taking Mr Oswald to stiffen up my Subalterns, as he is the man I want, and has had active service."
He saw action at Mons, on the Marne and at Messines where he was wounded on the 31st of October and was evacuated back to England.
In May 1915 he was eager to return to the front and was attached to the Royal Field Artillery, being promoted to Captain on the 11th of May, before seeing more heavy fighting around Ypres with 3rd Division. From June until the 1st of December 1915 he served on the Staff, being an Aide de Camp to Major General J.A.L. Haldane and served as Assistant Provost Marshall from the 16th of September, for which he was mentioned in despatches in June 1916.
In December 1915 he was appointed as Second in Command of the 12th Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment, becoming Commanding Officer in March 1916, when he was promoted to Temporary Major on the 14th of March. He took part in the actions at St Eloi and in the early fighting in the Battle of the Somme. He was promoted to Temporary Lieutenant Colonel on the 22nd of May 1916 when he took command of the battalion, replacing Lieutenant Colonel R.A.C. Leggett who had been appointed to the 2nd Army School of Instruction.
On the 14th of July 1916 the battalion was detailed to attack German positions at Caterpillar Valley, on the ridge between Bazentin-le Petit and Longueval. They moved into position the night before and at around 3am the artillery began a one hour bombardment of the German positions in preparation for the assault. At 3.25am the artillery lifted from the German first line onto their second line and the West Yorks left their trenches, advancing briskly towards the enemy lines. At 4.30am Major Oswald sent a message back to Brigade Headquarters that his battalion had taken all its objectives in the German first line and had seized part of the second line as well. He reported that casualties had been heavy and that he needed reinforcements. At 5.26am another message came back that the battalion had gained all its objectives and that consolidation of those gains was underway. At about 7pm William Oswald, who had returned to Battalion Headquarters to rest, was hit in the chest by a shell band following a misfire from a British gun. He had earlier noted that the same gun was wrongly sighted and had himself issued orders earlier in the day that it should be corrected.
His servant later wrote: -
"I was with him when he received his wound, and I stayed by his side until the last minute of his departure, which I thought was my duty, as he had been a good master and just like a father to me, so I did all that was in my power to make him happy and comfortable."
He was evacuated to a dressing station at Dives Copse where, in spite of his injuries, he appeared to be recovering but died of his wounds there on the morning of the 16th of July.
His wife received the following telegram dated the 17th of July 1916: -
"Deeply regret to inform you Major W.D. Oswald 12 West Yorkshire Regt. died 16 July 1916. The Army Council express their sympathy."
Major General Haldane, commanding the 3rd Division, wrote to Catherine Oswald in a letter dated the 16th of July:-
"He was my aide de camp for a time, and latterly was given the command of 12th Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment. He improved the battalion enormously, and, though one of the New Army battalions, I felt that it was one of my best. He was a lion hearted man - a brave man among the many brave men in the Division, and none could be braver in action than he. His loss I feel much personally, but still more as Commanding Officer, for a man like him was worth a battalion of infantry. I regret that it was impossible for me to see him after he was wounded, but my A.D.C., who was devoted to him, saw him in hospital, and was at the grave. I believe he realised that his wound was a mortal one. He led his battalion with his usual gallantry on the 14th, and they did splendidly. I valued him so highly I cannot let another day pass without writing to you."
Another officer wrote:-
"I always thought it an extremely sporting thing to give up a pleasant post such as Assistant Provost-Marshal, and take on infantry work in the trenches".
The Brigade Chaplain wrote: -
"He was a source of strength and inspiration to everyone. When he was over on his well earned leave at the end of May, and the Brigade was being called in again to action, the men were very anxious to have him back at their head. He was invariably and tremendously good to me, and encouraged and helped me in my work unfailingly."
He is commemorated on a stone seat at Hardy’s Monument, Weymouth, on the war memorial at Rugby School and on the Cenotaph at Southampton.