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William Forbes Gatacre : biography

1843 - 1906

Lieutenant general Sir William Forbes Gatacre KCB DSO (1843 – 1906) was a British soldier who served between 1862 to 1904 in India and Africa. He commanded a division of two brigades at the Omdurman, and commanded the 3rd Division during the first months of the Second Boer War during which time he suffered a humiliating defeat at the Battle of Stormberg.

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Category:1843 births Category:1906 deaths Category:British Army generals Category:Middlesex Regiment officers Category:77th Regiment of Foot officers Category:British Army personnel of the Mahdist War Category:British Army personnel of the Second Boer War Category:British military personnel of the Chitral Expedition Category:Companions of the Distinguished Service Order Category:Knights Commander of the Order of the Bath Category:Graduates of the Royal Military College, Sandhurst Category:People from Stirling (council area) Category:Recipients of the Kaisar-i-Hind Medal Category:Recipients of the Order of the Medjidieh


  • 7 December 1888 he was awarded Companion of the Distinguished Service Order.
  • 15 November 1898 CB was upgraded to Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath.
  • 10 May 1899 he was awarded the Order of the Medjidie Second Class.
  • 23 May 1900 he was awarded the Gold Kaisar-i-Hind Medal for services as Chairman of the plague committee of Bombay City 1896 & 1897.

Early life

William Forbes Gatacre was born at Herbertshire Castle, near Stirling on 3 December 1843, he was the third son of Edward Lloyd Gatacre and Jessie Forbes, who's father William Forbes owned Herbertshire Castle. He was educated at Royal Military College Sandhurst and entered the army as an Ensign of the 77th Foot in 1862, posted in India. He purchased the rank of Lieutenant on 23 December 1864.

Military career

He reached the rank of Captain by purchase on 7 December 1870, before the purchase of commissions was abolished in the early 1870sReid 2006, p51 and passed into Staff college in 1873. Between 1875 to 1879 he returned to Sandhurst but this time as an instructor of surveying. He then returned to India with his regiment in 1880, being promoted to Major on 23rd March 1881.

On 29 April 1882 he was promoted to Lieutenant colonel and appointed to command a battalion on 28 June 1884 until he was made Deputy Quartermaster General in December 1885 He was mentioned in Sir George White's despatches of 10 March 1887 as part of the Upper Burma Field Force.

He gained the substantive rank of Colonel and became Adjutant general of the Bombay Army with local rank of Major general on 25 November 1890. While serving as a Major general in India in the early 1890s he was bitten by a jackal whilst hunting with the Bombay Jackal Club and, temporarily deranged, had his bungalow windows barred against jackals.

He was put in command of a second class district in India in January 1884. Mentioned in despatches by Lieutenant general Sir Robert C. Low, commander of the Chitral Relief Force on 1 May 1895.

He returned home to command a brigade at Aldershot Command in August 1897.

He commanded a division of two British brigades at Omdurman, and in the Second Boer War he was placed at the head of a the 3rd division, with the rank of Lieutenant general. Gatacre was the commanding general of the Imperial forces at the Battle of Stormberg, during "Black Week", in which 135 men were killed and 696 captured in an ambush. His reputation, high after Omdurman, sank after Stormberg.

He retired in 1904.

Though he worked them hard, Gatacre's men loved him and called him "General Backacher." Lady Beatrix Gatacre wrote his biography in General Gatacre: The story of the life and services of Sir William Forbes Gatacre, K.C.B., D.S.O. 1843-1906 (London, 1910).

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