William Digby Oswald


Date of birth: 20th January 1880
Place of birth: Southampton
Date of marriage: 7th March 1905
Place of marriage: Weymouth, Dorset
Service No.: Insert Number
Rank: Lieutenant Colonel (rank at time of death)
Regiment / Division: Household Cavalry and Cavalry of the Line (including Yeomanry and Imperial Camel Corps)
Battalion: 5th (Princess Charlotte of Wales) Dragoon Guards
Died: 15th July 1916 aged 36 years
Death location: France


The Oswald Family

William’s father Thomas married twice, firstly to Isabella, aka Ella Lambert, on 12th April 1866.

“The Times, Saturday Apr 14, 1866
On the 12th inst. at Marylebone Church, by the Rev. J. Llewelyn Davies, M.A., rector of Christ Church, assisted by the Rev. W.L. Clay, M.A., Thomas Ridley Oswald, Esq., of Sunderland, second surviving son of William Oswald, Esq., of Highbury New Park, to Ella, second daughter of Francis Devereux Lambert, Esq., of 20, Devonshire Place, Portland Place”.

Thomas and Isabella had four children – Arthur Lambert b.1868 d.1942, Thomas Francis b.1869 d.1955, Thomas’s twin Ella Frances b.1869 d.1952 and Edith Annie b.1870 d.1875. Isabella died in 1872.

Thomas then went on to marry Wilhelmina, aka Mina, Catherine Russell in 1875.  Wilhelmina was born in 1852, the daughter of Dr. Christopher Russell, M.D., in Enniskerry, Co. Wicklow, Ireland.  They had 6 children.  William was their only son, his 5 sisters were:

Edith Kathleen b.1877
Evelyn Mary b.1879
Lilian Elizabeth b.1881
Ethel Margaret b.1884
Mabel Victoria b.1887

In the 1881 census the family were living at New Place House, All Saints District, Southampton.  The family were attended by 5 resident female servants while Thomas was employing 1200 in his shipbuilding business.  Thomas took a lease on New Place House, which was an early Georgian town Mansion at the foot of Bedford Place.  This was demolished to provide the site for Southampton’s first purpose built library, opened in July 1893 and bombed in 1940.

They had moved to Castle Hall Mansion, Steynton, Pembrokeshire and lived there according to the 1891 and 1901 census.  Also, along with five servants, they also employed a school governess.  After the closure of his Woolston Yard, Thomas moved his business to Milford Haven where he took over an unoccupied yard and resumed shipbuilding and repair work on his own account.  William was a boarder/scholar living with the Martin family.  Alfred Martin was the Master at Clifton College, Bristol.

In 1911 Thomas and his wife were living at Riverview, Beaconsfield Road, Blackheath with 2 servants.

In 1905 William married Catherine Scott.  At the time of the 1911 census Catherine was living with her daughter Theodore Betty Digby and Domestic Nurse at 6, Brunswick Terrace, Weymouth whilst her husband was serving in the forces.

Lancing College War Memorial
William Digby Oswald was born in Southampton on the 20th of January 1880, the only son of Thomas Ridley Oswald, a shipbuilder, and his second wife, Wilhelmina Catherine (nee Russell) Oswald of Castle Hall, Milford Haven and of Blackheath.

He was educated at Clifton College in Bristol from July 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 and where, in 1898, he won the Wrigley Cup single handed by winning four events – the Quarter Mile, Weight, High Jump and Hurdles.

He left Rugby in 1898 and on the 29th of March 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 was promoted to Lieutenant on the 2nd of August 1901.

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 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 Service Order (London Gazette 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 married on the 7th of March 1905 at St John’s Church, Weymouth in Dorset to Catherine Mary Yardley (nee Scott) and they had three daughters, Theodora Betty b.1909, Ambrosine Mary, and Patricia Catherine Digby, who was born on 23rd January 1914.

In 1906 he served as a Captain and 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 worked 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.  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 the 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.

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 Lieutenant Colonel 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.

Despite his injuries he appeared to be recovering but died of his wounds on the morning of the 16th of July.

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”.

He was promoted to Temporary Lieutenant Colonel after his death (London Gazette 12th October 1916) for the period 22nd of May to the 14th of July 1916 while he was in command of the battalion.

After the Great War his family was living at St Winning in Weymouth.

He is commemorated on a stone seat at Hardy’s Monument at Weymouth and on the Cenotaph at Southampton.

Oswald Mordaunt & Co – 1875 – 1900
In 1875 Thomas Ridley Oswald moved his shipbuilding operation from the Wear to Woolston and by the 1881 census was employing over 1200 men, which was the major source of employment in Woolston.  Thomas was an Engineer and Shipbuilder and established a business in Bishopwearmouth, Co. Durham, but went bankrupt in 1861.  He later started a business in Sunderland and then moved to Southampton where he went into business with John Murray Mordaunt of Bitterne.  The yard was sold in 1900 and Thomas moved to Glamorganshire.  He died in 1916 at Greenwich aged 79.

Remembered with Honour
On the 16th July 1916, age 36, William died from his wounds. He is Remembered with Honour at the Dive Copse British Cemetery, Sailly-Le-Sec, France.

Dive Copse Memorial Register
“Oswald, Lt. Col. William Digby, D.S.O. 5th Dragoon Guards, and 12th Bn. West Yorkshire Regt. Died of wounds, received on the Somme 16th Juky, 1916. Age 36. Son of Thomas Ridley Oswald and Wilhelmina Catherine Oswald; husband of Catherine Mary Oswald, of St. Winning, Weymouth, Dorset.  Ref.II. B. 25”

William is also remembered in the family vault/grave which has a railed off plot in the Old Cemetery at Southampton. The substantial memorial carries the names of Thomas Ridley Oswald, his wives and seven of his children.  There is a long inscription “In Proud and Loving memory of Lt Colonel William Digby Oswald DSO … mortally wounded in France in July 1916″ and continues with highlights of his army service in South Africa and France.

Oswald family vault and memorial

Oswald family vault and memorial

The Family’s National Probate and Death Announcements

Oswald William Digby of Wellington House Melcombe Regis Dorsetshire a major in the 5th Dragoon Guards D.S.O. died 16 July 1916 in France. Probate Blandford 19 September 1917 to Catherine Mary Oswald widow. Effects £300”.

(wife) “Oswald Catherine Mary of Tinker Bell Osmington Mills Dorsetshire widow died 31 August 1946. Administration Carmarthen 10 April 1947 to Ambrosine Mary Digby Simons (daughter) (wife of Basil Tremayne Simons). Effects £243 7s 9d”

(mother) “Oswald Wilhelmina Catherine of 6a Lansdowne Road Wimbledon Surrey widow died 8 December 1930. Probate London 3 March 1931 to Edith Kathleen Oswald Oswald and Mabel Victoria Oswald Oswald (daughters) spinsters. Effects £1232 15s 5d”

The Times, Wednesday, Dec 10, 1930
“Oswald – on Dec 8, 1930, suddenly, at Wimbledon, Wilhelmina Catherine (Mina) widow of Thomas Ridley Oswald, daughter of the late Christopher Russell, M.D., of Enniskerry, Co. Wicklow. Funeral at Southampton on Friday at 2 p.m. Flowers to 6D Lansdowne Road, Wimbledon”.

(father) Oswald Thomas Ridley of River View Beaconsfield Road Blackheath Kent died 22 June 1916. Probate London 17 July 1916 to Wilhelmina Catherine Oswald widow. Effects £213 17s 7d”

Note: a very modest legacy from a lifetime of noteworthy shipbuilding.

The Times, Saturday, Jun 24, 1916
“Oswald – On the 22nd ins, at River View, Beaconsfield Road, Blackheath, Thomas Ridley Oswald M.I.N.A., shipbuilder and Naval Architect, in his 80th year. Funeral at Southampton on Tuesday”.


Researcher: Becky Lonergan
Published.: 3rd August 1914
Updated: Insert dates here

If you have any additional information about the person named above please complete the Comments section below.

One response to “William Digby Oswald

  1. Pete Carr

    I have a family Bible belonging to Thomas Ridley Oswald. Please email me as I would like to return it to descendants of the Oswald family.

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