Private Arthur Watson

FH 5 LincBdgePrivate Arthur Waston 202487
2nd/4th Territorial Battalion
Lincolnshire Regiment
Killed-in-Action 26 September 1917
Dochy Farm, Passchendaele

Watson Port
Family Background

Arthur Watson was born in Corby in 1880 the son of John Thomas and Fanny Christina Watson. John Thomas was a General Labourer born in Marston in 1850 and came to Corby around 1875. He married Fanny C Harrison in 1876 at Kirkby Underwood and their children were James Harrison, Mary, Arthur, Sarah and Emily. The family lived for many years in Stonepit Terrace that lay beyond the Woodhouse Arms stretching from the Bourne to the Swinstead road.

Arthur grew up in Corby and became a General Labourer like his father.  He married Mary Maria Falkener of Bourne; a daughter Ivy was born in 1909 and a son Raymond A F Watson followed in 1910.  Arthur’s obituary stated that he and Mary had a third child.  In 1911 the family are recorded living at Edenham and his obituary also mentions that he had worked on the Grimsthorpe estate for a number of years

Private Arthur Watson 202487 Military Service

Although Arthur’s service papers did not survive, a great deal can be learnt from those of Private James Booles 202475 of Ewerby who also served in the 2nd/4th Battalion.   During registration in August 1915 James was age 35, married with 2 children similar to Arthur who was also 35, married with 3 children. James attested on 10 Dec 1915 and was placed on the Army Reserve the following day. He would have received a day’s pay for the 10th and then returned home. He was mobilised on 7 August 1916 and after training joined the 2nd/4th Battalion in February 1917(3). This pattern fits the Derby scheme even though it became defunct following the Military Service Act so it’s highly likely that both men originally attested in December 1915 under the Derby Scheme.

The 1st/4th had gone to France in 1915 whilst the 2nd/4th continued recruiting and split into the 2nd/4th and 3rd/4th. In spring of 1916 the 2nd/4th were about to go to go overseas when the Easter Uprising took place and instead of France the Battalion found itself in action on the streets of Dublin. The Battalion remained in Ireland until January 1917 when it returned to England where it was brought up to full strength and commenced its final training.

It arrived in France in February as part of 177 Brigade of the 59th (North Midland) Division. Due to its inexperience the Division did not take part in the Battle of Arras but remained to the south on the Somme. It was not until September that it took part in its first major battle. On 20 September the Division joined the Fifth Army that was now fighting in the north of the Salient. Initially the Battalion was held in reserve but on the 24th it entered the Salient moving into reserve trenches near Wieljt.

Ypres 26 Final (1)The Attack by 177 Brigade  26 September 1917

The war diary(4) records that 2 companies were immediately allocated to working parties. The previous ‘Battle of Menin Road’ on 20 September had been a major success; the workload that followed was enormous to move hundreds of guns into position, improve roads, construct tramways and take forward ammunition. Up to 300 tons of wooden planking went forward each night to construct the walkways and gun platforms. Miles of cables were laid to ensure communication to the new frontline would function. The “Bite” had only been 3000m, about half the expectation in July, but the ground was devastated and it was 6 days before they were ready for the next battle.

The Battle took its name from the ‘Bois de Polygone’ between Gheluvelt and Zonnebeke. This wood changed hands 6 times during the course of the war and by 1917 it had been reduced to shattered stumps; it was the objective of the ANZACs fighting with the Second Army. The army boundary was just south of the ruined Ypres-Zonnebeke-Roulers railway. The Fifth Army was to the north and the Second Army the south. 59 Div was between the railway and the Wieljt-Gravenstafel road. 177 Brigade on the right and 178 the left. The distance for 177 Bde to the final objective was about 1000m and the frontage about 600m. The frontage for the 2nd/4th Lincolns only 230m.

2:4 Attack

The ground rises gently before falling away towards a stream but to the naked eye appears flat; numerous German concrete shelters dotted the area (shown in red/by squares on the map above). The majority were shelters set deep into the ground; access was via a trench to the rear that would stretch just as far as the fighting positions for the garrisons. The photograph below shows the rear of a shelter at a German strongpoint at Bayernwald near Wytschaete on Messines ridge. The strongpoint with 4 shelters and a localized trench system is preserved by the Passchendaele museum Zonnebeke. It similar in size to ‘The Snag’ shown on the map in square 20 and the group to the east of Dochy farm. Access to the site can be gained via the Tourist Information centre in Kemmel and is a must for the visitor to the salient.

Bay Bunk copyGerman Shelter at the Bayernwald strongpoint, Wytschaete, Belgium

 Only about 50cm of the shelter extends above ground level and that would be hidden by debris, weeds etc. With the dust and smoke from a barrage it could easily be missed and the garrison emerge to fire on the attackers after they had passed. The shelters on the map were identified in the Brigade operation order and specific sections detailed to locate and deal with the garrison. The entrance was low down and a man would have to crouch down to pass through, the space inside was intentionally cramped as the enemy did not want the garrison loitering inside when the fighting started. The trench top right led to a MG position. The second photograph shows the trenches in the strongpoint restored using original construction methods. The trenches were revetted with wood rather like hurdles as the enemy did not have the same access to raw materials as the allies.

Bay Tr copyReconstructed trenches in the Bayernwald strongpoint

As a new unit the Lincolns had not experienced the failed attacks of the Somme and Arras and must have been heartened when the barrage opened at 3:50am and tore into the German defences. Their sister Bn the 2nd/5th were on their left and at 5:50am they rose up and went forward following the 2nd/4th & 2nd/5th Leicesters who were the vanguard.

The attack formation that had evolved was a loosely spaced line of men moving abreast close behind (about 40m) the barrage followed by sections (14 men) in file. When a strongpoint was encountered the formation would move around it and reform whilst it was dealt with by the sections coming on behind. For once the wire had been cut and the ground was baked dry throwing up dust that screened the advancing troops. The Leicesters made good progress and achieved their objective (the red line) by Zero+ 59min. As the Leicesters dug-in, the Lincolns arrived and took what shelter they could as they waited for Zero+ 100min when it started to move again. It was an uncomfortable time as the German retaliatory barrage started to fall beyond the stationary barrage and the men were keen to get moving.

On time the advance continued the barrage moving at 90m/8min (100yds/8mins) until once again it became stationary whereupon the Lincolns dug-in. The German garrison at Dochy Farm put up a fight until surrounded when the garrison of 50 surrendered. Elsewhere the garrisons surrendered after a token resistance. The report on the action by the 2nd/4th is missing from their war diary. The 2nd/5th report states that their support company consolidated a line close to the road whilst the attack companies established a post in Dochy farm and another to the northwest(5). On 4 Oct the New Zealand Div started the battle of Broodseinde from the road and Dochy Farm lay under the opening barrage. Therefore it would appear that the 2nd/4th also consolidated a line along the Zonnebeke road between Dochy and Van Isackere Farms. This area can be viewed immediately beyond the southeast wall of Dochy Farm New Military cemetery.

The 2nd/4th had 1 officer and 36 men killed, 10 officers and 144 men wounded and 18 men missing. The Bn was relieved on 27 September by the 2nd/4th Leicesters. Arthur was among the dead of 26th September and has no known grave. His name is recorded on the Tyne Cot Memorial Wall amongst 34,887 other missing soldiers. The memorial designed by Sir Herbert Baker is a curved wall to represent the shape of the salient. It has a domed pavilion at each end and 2 rotundas with a central apse. The north rotunda lists the names of the Lincolnshire Regiment

TyneCott N WallThe northern end of Tyne Cot memorial wall. The entrance to the rotunda is halfway along the wall.

Lincs Panel copyInside the northern rotunda. The Lincolnshire tablet with Arthur Watson’s name is above the wreath and shown inset. The Cross of Sacrifice can be seen through the colonnade.

There are nearly 12,000 graves in the adjacent cemetery of which about 8,500 are unknown soldiers. The headstones with their small descriptions “a Corporal, a Scottish soldier, an Australian” etc. tell the tale of the state of the battlefield that was fought over on 2 further occasions before the war ended.

After Arthur’s death Mary Maria re-married George F Chester of Bourne in 1919. Arthur’s son Raymond died at Wellingborough in 1973.

1.  CWGC
2. Grantham Journal
4.  2nd/4th Battalion War Diary held at the National Archives WO 95/3023/2
5   2nd/5th Battalion War Diary held at the National Archives WO 95/3023/4