Harry Watson

Harry Watson
Born at Hemingford Grey in 1881, Harry was the youngest and only surviving son of four children delivered to William Watson, a painter, and Martha (née Waring). One child died in infancy.

In 1881 the family lived in Victoria Terrace, Hemingford Grey. Harry's father died in 1884 when Harry was aged 3yrs, and his elder brother George died in 1895 when Harry was aged 14yrs. By 1891 the family had moved to 2 New Church Terrace, St Ives, sharing the accommodation with Henry Cope. Harry's mother worked from home as a laundress. Another move by 1901, to 2 Globe Place, St Ives. Harry's mother let rooms. Harry, aged 19yrs, worked as a grocery assistant with Russell and Sons, St Ives, where he was employed for 23yrs.

Harry still lived at home in 1911, aged 29yrs. One reason why can be found in his appeal against call up, published by the Hunts post on 13 October 1916, when he was given three month's dispensation on condition he was continuing to support his mother. In another report of Harry appearing before the Military Tribunal, on 11 May 1917, he again based his appeal on the fact he was 'the sole supporter of his mother, a widow, and paid all the household expenses.' The Army had a more pressing need for his services and he was given a final stay of two months.

Enrolled in July 1917, Harry joined the 15th Battalion, London Regiment (Prince of Wales' Own Civil Service Rifles). He reached France late in 1917. On 21 September 1918 Harry joined No 3 platoon as part of a Lewis gun team. One of at least five men, Harry's task was to carry ammunition for the light machine-gun. Because of the weight involved, he didn't carry a rifle.
Lewis gun
Lewis gun in action
The team moved frequently, avoiding becoming a target for German artillery. Given an 'LG' badge to wear on their sleeve, it was nicknamed the suicide badge. If captured wearing this badge, it was believed the enemy would shoot you because of the terrible casualties inflicted by a Lewis gun. The team's job was to fire defensively from the trenches, or give covering fire from no-man's land during a raid.

At dawn on Saturday 28 September 1918 Harry's Battalion were part of an attack at Messines. Harry and his Lewis gun team went over the top under a barrage of enemy shells. Having reached their first objective, Harry was hit by a shell which killed him instantly and wounded three colleagues. He was aged 37yrs. News of his death was published on 18 October 1918. His grieving mother and sister posted a memorial in the same edition of the Hunts Post.

Harry's remains were identified by a letter he was carrying. He is buried at Wulverghem-Lindenhoek Road Military Cemetery, Belgium. His elder sister, Nellie, requested the headstone inscription 'He hath done all things well, and gave his life that we might live'. Harry is also commemorated on the Civil Service Rifles Memorial at Somerset House, London.

Do you have a photograph of Harry or any addition information? If so, please get in touch via the make contact page.

Source materials
Click any of the links below to view original source materials.
1881 Census
1891 Census
1901 Census
1911 Census
Burial Return
Headstone Inscriptions
Commonwealth War Graves Register
Commemorative Certificate

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