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Lance Sergeant E.S. Watson and Private M.H. Glaister
1st Battalion, The Manchester Regiment

by Bob Barltrop

Royal Humane Society Bronze Medal named:
L/SGT E.S.WATSON MANCHESTER REGT 1ST SEPT 1891Royal Humane Society Medal

Edward S. Watson was born around 1868.

(1) He enlisted as a private in 1st Battalion The Manchester Regiment (1MR) at the regiment’s depot at Ashton-Under-Lyne on 16 July 1887.(2)

He was enlisted by Major Hind and was given 8/6d for signing up. At this time the battalion was stationed at Aldershot to where Pte Watson was sent on 4 October 1887. On 4 April 1888 the battalion left Aldershot by train and embarked in HMS Assistance for Queenstown, Ireland from where the battalion moved by train to Tipperary.

Here the battalion stayed for three years until, on 5 February 1891, it moved to Kinsale with two companies being posted to Fort Camden, Cork. Edward Watson was probably in one of these two companies as he was definitely at Fort Camden on 1 September 1891.

Haulbowline Island Cork harbour c 1865 Haulbowline Island Cork harbour c 1865

Local newspapers of the time (3) report that at about 1am on 1 September 1891, during a violent storm, a sentry on Rocky Island, Cork, heard cries for assistance coming from the sea near Haulbowline Island.

He raised the alarm and immediately a boat, crewed by four soldiers from 1 Manchester Regiment (the crew of the officers’ boat) stationed on Rocky Island put to sea and found four brother soldiers clinging to piles at the end of the dock wall after their boat had capsized in the storm.

The four soldiers were taken on board but as the boat neared the shore this boat also capsized and all the men were thrown into the waves. Some men clung to the upturned boat while others swam to the shore. One of those in the rescue boat, Private O’Connor (4) from Oldham, being an expert swimmer took two of the men to shore but drowned while endeavouring to rescue a third.

Lance Sgt Watson, who had seen what was happening from the shore, reported the situation to 2nd Lieutenant Herbert Ravenscroft who ordered that a further boat be launched while he and Watson swam out to find the one unaccounted-for soldier, Private Lewis.

Initially they were unsuccessful so they returned to the shore and put to sea in a boat and eventually brought back safely the unconscious Pte Lewis.

Rocky Island Rocky Island

The officer commanding the battalion recommended both 2nd Lt Ravenscroft and Lance Sgt Watson for an award and at a meeting of the awards committee of the RHS on 19 October 1891, both Ravenscroft and Watson were awarded the RHS Bronze Medal (successful).

The battalion did not leave Kinsale until 31 October 1894 when it returned to England. However, as no service papers are available for Lance Sgt Watson and as he does not appear on The Manchester Regiment medal rolls for the Boer war it is assumed that, at the end of his six or seven years of service in July 1894, he was discharged to the Army Reserve and returned to the UK either with his battalion or just before it returned to England.

Queen’s South Africa Medal (QSA) with three clasps: ‘TUGELA HEIGHTS’, ‘RELIEF OF LADYSMITH’ and ‘BELFAST’, named to 2178 PTE H. GLAISTER.Queen’s South Africa Medal (QSA) with three clasps: ‘TUGELA HEIGHTS’, ‘RELIEF OF LADYSMITH’ and ‘BELFAST’, named to 2178 PTE H. GLAISTER. MANCH. REGT. Glaister was also entitled to the ‘SOUTH AFRICA 1901’clasp

Mungo Henry Glaister was born around May 1869 in Wigton, Cumberland, the son of Chambers Glaister, a warehouseman, and his wife Sarah.

After briefly working as a butcher, on 24 April 1888 he attested at Ashton-Under-Lyne as a private in The Manchester Regiment for a period of seven years in the Army with a further five years in the Reserve having successfully undergone a medical examination three days before. He attested, unsurprisingly, under his second name, Henry.

1st Battalion The Manchester Regiment had just been posted to Ireland and the 2nd Battalion was in India, so Pte Glaister remained at the regiment’s depot at Ashton-Under-Lyne for his first few weeks of Army service until on 7 July 1888 he was posted to Ireland to join 1 MR in Tipperary.

The battalion remained in Tipperary until 5 February 1890 (5) when it moved to Kinsale with two companies, including Pte Glaister’s, being quartered at Fort Camden, Cork Harbour.

On 31 December 1893 he married a 16-year-old local girl, Elizabeth Purcell, at St Mary’s RC Church, Limerick. On 31 October 1894 the battalion sailed for Liverpool in the Warwick Castle and proceeded to Fulwood Barracks, Preston, with one company moving to the Isle of Man but it is unlikely that Pte Glaister was accompanied by his wife initially because he was not taken on to the ‘married establishment’ until 23 April 1895.

On 2 April 1895 Glaister elected to remain in the Army rather than moving to the Reserve and in November he, along with the rest of the battalion, moved to Aldershot. In July 1896 he was posted to the regiment’s depot at Ashton-Under-Lyne and here, on 16 September 1899, he was transferred to the Army Reserve and returned to ‘Civvy Street’. On discharge his conduct was described as ‘very good’.

Following the outbreak of the Boer War, on 11 November 1899 a special Army order was issued recalling Reservists to the Colours. Henry Glaister responded immediately and was re-engaged into 1 MR on the following day. After six weeks, on 30 November, he embarked for South Africa to join the battalion which was at that time besieged in Ladysmith. Therefore, on arrival in South Africa he was probably assigned, along with several other men from The Manchester Regiment, to General Sir Redvers Buller’s command and most likely joined the Ladysmith relief column in late December 1899, at Frere or Chievely where troops had been gathering since the debacle at Colenso.

Following several engagements with the Boers, on 3 March 1900 Buller made the formal entry into Ladysmith at the head of his troops to relieve the beleaguered garrison and so Pte Glaister was finally able to re-join his comrades in 1 MR, some three months after landing in South Africa.

When at last Buller moved northwards the battalion remained behind as part of the Drakensburg Defence Force to defend the lines of communication between Laing’s Nek and Newcastle but later moved north to Zandspruit in the Transvaal in order to attack Botha’s army of some 6,000 men and marched from there to re-join the 7th and 8th Brigades of Lyttelton’s 4th Division.

On 22 July 1900 the 7th Brigade attacked and took the Boer positions in Graskop. After spending the next two weeks at Meerzicht the battalion marched north to Ermelo and re-engaged the Boer’s at Van Wyksvlei on 22 August. Moving further north the battalion attacked the Boers at Bergendal Farm on 27 August 1900 where both sides suffered considerable casualties as the Boers made a spirited defence but, surprisingly, the collapse of this small post precipitated the collapse of the entire Boer position north and south of the Delagoa railway.

The Boers retreated eastward and, while the weaker ones then moved north and sought refuge in Portuguese territory, the most stalwart burgers formed into small groups to continue the struggle.

When the main column moved northwards once more 1 MR was left to garrison Machadodorp and spent the next several months on garrison duty, defending the roads between Schoeman’s creek and Helvetia and escorting convoys. In April 1901 the battalion moved to Lydenburg and for many weeks the same round of duties continued – constant convoy duty, clearing farms, raiding positions said to be occupied by the enemy while the telegraph was often cut and outlying piquets were frequently attacked by the Boers – and so the long drawn out war went on.

While the battalion remained in South Africa until March 1903, Pte Glaister was transferred back to the regiment’s depot. He arrived back in the UK on 11 March 1901 and moved back to Ashton-Under-Lyne where he was discharged on 22 April after serving for 13 years.

After his discharge from the Army, Henry Glaister remained in Ashton-Under-Lyne with his wife and two young children and went to work as a ‘carter’ on the railways. However, he was soon back in uniform and he re-attested for two years’ service in the Army, under the name ‘Harry’, at Ashton-Under-Lyne on 6 September 1901 and was posted to the Royal Garrison Regiment (RGR) as a private.

The RGR was an infantry regiment formed in February 1900 and was composed of reserve infantry called up on the outbreak of the Second Boer War. After training, these units were sent to relieve regular infantry battalions in overseas garrisons; this would allow the regular battalions to be sent on active service in South Africa. The 1st, 3rd and 4th Battalions RGR were sent to Malta, with Pte Glaister departing with the 3rd Battalion on 23 October 1901.

On 4 March 1903 he extended his service for a further two years and on 21 April 1904 he, and the 3rd Battalion, moved to South Africa together with three other battalions of the RGR for garrison duty, so that the regular units could return to normal duties.

Glaister returned to the UK on 4 August 1905 and was discharged from the Army again, at his own request, on 22 August. He received a pension, and a bounty of £11, on discharge. He was also, no doubt, in for a shock because during his absence overseas his wife had given birth to a third child, Josephine born on 17 November 1902, fully 13 months after he left for Malta and he did not return to the UK until August 1905! (6)

On his return to civilian life Harry Glaister appears to have returned to being a carter and is shown as such for a coal merchant in the 1911 census when he was living in Stalybridge.(7)

On 4 August 1914 Great Britain declared war on Germany and the Regular Army, the Special Reserve and the Territorial Force were all mobilised. Harry Glaister was obviously not content to miss the action and so on 21 September he again attested for one year’s service in the Army Reserve.(8)

He was immediately posted as a private to 12th Battalion, The Manchester Regiment (12 MR).(9) This battalion had been formed at Ladysmith barracks, Ashton-under-Lyne but in September 1914, as part of Kitchener’s New Army, the battalion moved to Bovington camp, Wool, Dorset as part of 52nd Brigade, 17th Division. After two further moves, on 15 July 1915, with a strength of 30 officers and 975 men, including Pte Harry Glaister, 12 MR sailed from Folkestone, landing the following morning at Boulogne, before moving to Ouderom around the 21st for training in trench warfare.

The battalion first went into the line on 24 July near Vierstaat but Pte Glaister had returned to the UK on 27 July after serving for only 13 days in France. Exactly why the newly promoted Corporal Glaister was returned to the UK is not known but quite possibly at the age of 45 he was just not fit enough to be back on the front line.

Back in the UK, on 14 September Cpl Glaister was transferred to the 14th (Reserve) Battalion, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment which had been formed at Lichfield, originally as a service battalion, but on 12 January 1917, having been promoted to lance sergeant, Harry Glaister was discharged from the Army for the last time, due to sickness and in consequence of ‘being no longer physically fit for War Service.’

At first he gave his intended place of residence as Stalybridge, Cheshire but then changed this to 42 Methuen Street, Eastney, Portsmouth. For his service in the First World War, Cpl Glaister was awarded the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal, the Victory Medal and the Silver War Badge (No 117076). Harry Glaister died at Lake Hospital, Ashton-Under-Lyne on 2 December 1925.

Henry Glaister’s discharge papers also indicate that he was awarded the Royal Humane Society Medal, and in the 1890 newspapers there are references to a boating accident in Cork Harbour involving soldiers of The Manchester Regiment in which two men, Corporal Considine and Sergeant Lunn, had drowned and three men, Corporals Barker, Watson and Glazer had been saved.

Could Glaister mistakenly have been reported as Glazer but if so, why would he have been awarded a lifesaving medal if he himself had been saved? The matter was clarified by The Western Daily Press of 2 May 1890 which reported that a RHS Medal had been awarded to ‘Private Henry Glaister of the 1st Battalion Manchester Regiment, for rescuing Corporal Stanley Watson, of the same corps, near Camden Fort, Cork Harbour’.

‘An open boat puts to sea in a storm in Cork harbour’

Now the question was: could Cpl Stanley Watson be the Lance Sgt Edward S. Watson who was to be awarded the RHS Medal just a year later for saving a man under similar circumstances?

The RHS records are held at the London Metropolitan Archives in Clerkenwell, London and there, in the relevant case book, covering the committee meeting of 15 April 1890 (LMA/4517/B/01/01/016) is the report of a rescue that had taken place at ‘5pm 16th March 1890. Camden Fort, Cork Harbour’ and which had been reported to the RHS by Captain G. Watson, Adjutant 1st Battalion, The Manchester Regiment. Under case 24,809 is the following entry:

Five non-commissioned officers and men were out in a pleasure boat which got into breakers and capsized. Sergt Lamb and Corpl Consterdine were drowned and Watson was left clinging to a rock 20 yards from the shore, the intervening water 15 feet deep. Glaister had succeeded in swimming ashore but seeing the perilous position of Corpl Watson, he went in again and swam back to his comrade and with difficulty rescued him.

The question is further clarified by the RHS reports for 1888-90 (LMA/4517/A/06/037) under case 24,809 which reports:

Private Henry Glaister, Manchester Regiment, at great personal risk, rescued Corporal E.S. Watson from drowning in Cork Harbour on 16th March 1890. Bronze Medal.

So there it is, Pte H. Glaister was awarded a RHS Bronze Medal for rescuing Cpl E.S. Watson from Cork Harbour in a storm in 1890 while Cpl Watson himself was to receive the same award for rescuing a comrade from Cork Harbour in a storm a year later.

Did Edward Watson spend the intervening 18 months learning to swim? As they say, ‘One good turn deserves another.’

" This is based on an article written by Bob Barltrop which was published in the March 2015 edition of the Journal of the Orders and Medals Research Society. It is reproduced here by kind permission of the author and the society."


1 Year of birth believed to be 1868 – age given as 23 by RHS at meeting on 19 October 1891. One Edward Watson was born in Lancashire/Manchester in 1868, in Burnley. This age would tally with enlistment in 1887
2 It is assumed that Pte Watson enlisted for the normal 12 years – seven years with the Colours and five years in the Army Reserve
3 The Cork Daily Herald, 2 September 1891 and Cork Weekly News, 5 September 1891
4 Sometimes referred to as O’Connell
5 The battalion history states that battalion moved to Kinsale (and Fort Camden) in February 1891, but it is believed to have moved in 1890.
6 Harry Glaister’s discharge papers show him as having a third child, Josephine, who was born on 17 November 1902, 13 months after he left for Malta and almost three years before he returned to the UK!
7 The 1911 census records only two children of the marriage of whom only one (William) is living with his parents – Josephine is not listed.
8 Attestation Documents give number as 3271 but MIC gives number as 3971