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Walter John Mowbray Watson

Rank: Lieutenant

Lifetime: 1893-1917

Watson

Fettes School War Memorial on which Lieutenant Walter John Mowbray Watson's name appears

Lieutenant Walter John Mowbray Watson of the 249 Company of the Machine Gun Corps (Infantry) (formerly of the North Staffordshire Regiment) died on 22 August 1917 at Sanctuary Wood. He is buried at the Valley Cottages Cemetery Memorial Railway Dugouts Burial Ground (Transport Farm). He is not listed on the Hampton Wick War Memorial but his Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) entry refers to him as the son of Blanche Mary Watson (nee Branston) of The Shieling (Gaelic for Shed), 4 Station Road, Hampton Wick and the late John Mowbray Watson of Edinburgh. It is slightly odd that the CWGC site refers to this property as his mother only occupied it from 1927 until 1929.

Lieutenant Watson’s father, born in Edinburgh in October 1867, was a pupil at Fettes College which he left in August 1887 to attend Trinity College Cambridge. His occupation was a colliery owner and coal exporter but he must have been also a prominent member of Edinburgh society as he served as the Royal Danish Vice-Consul at Granton. After his death in Edinburgh on 5 December 1905, Lieutenant Watson’s mother must have moved south to England. Before her marriage, his mother lived at The Grange, Winthorpe, Newark. She was the daughter of Joseph Gilstrap Branston.

Lieutenant Watson was born on 23 May 1893 in Edinburgh where, like his father, he attended Fettes College joining School House in 1906. Whilst at Fettes he joined the Cadet Corps. He left Fettes in July 1911, according to the school records, to join the Mexican Eagle Oil Co in Mexico. According to his obituary in De Ruvigny (the record of officers killed in the Great War), he returned to England from Mexico at the outbreak of war.

After a period of training at Oxford OTC (based in Balliol College) he was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 9th (Service) Battalion of the Prince of Wales (North Staffordshire) Regiment in February 1915 serving with the British Expeditionary Force in France and Flanders from 10 March 1916. According to Fettes School Roll of Honour, he was wounded during the Battle of the Somme in the summer of 1916 and subsequently transferred to the Machine Gun Corps later the same year.

The letters of condolence quoted at length in De Ruvigny must have been of some comfort to his family being excessively fulsome in their praise of him and his conduct. His Commanding Officer wrote of him:

“His death is an irreparable loss to the company; his gallantry and devotion to duty were reflected in his section which could always be relied on to do well and by whom he was always universally loved. I can’t tell you how we all miss him.”

He was also fondly remembered by his men, as his section sergeant recalled:

“The men perfectly adored him: in fact the whole company adored him, and would do anything for him. He attended to his section better than any officer I have known; they were his first thought, and he made them the best section in the company. . . for myself I feel I have lost my best friend.”

Even his batman, the personal servant who would have known him best, was fulsome in his praise, describing him thus:

“He was the best of masters and the best friend I have ever had since I joined the army. He was a man who always thought of his boys’ safety and comfort first. He was a gentleman and a finer officer never left Belton Park!”

He is commemorated on the war memorial at Newark cemetery, his mother’s home town and also on the extremely impressive war memorial contained in the grounds of his old school, Fettes College.

The first phase of this Project is to gather information about the men commemorated on the Hampton Wick War Memorial who fought in the Great War, also known as World War I, WWI or the First World War.

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