Biography of Private James Watson (22554)
2nd Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment
Died 4th March 1917

Soldier

  • Name: James Watson
    Date of birth: 1891
    Place of Birth: Birthorpe, Lincolnshire, England
    Date of Birth Registration: January – March 1891
    Place of Birth Registration: Bourne, Lincolnshire, England

Father

  • Name: Thomas Watson
  • DOB: 1855
  • Place of Birth: Spanby, Lincolnshire, England
  • Occupation: Small holder

Mother

  • Name: Sarah Ann Glenn
  • DOB: 1864
  • Place Of Birth: Creeton, Lincolnshire, England
  • Marriage: 1886 Bourne District

Siblings: (Name), (DOB), (POB)

  • William Watson, 1887, Billingborough
  • James Watson, 1888, Birthorpe (Died 1889)
  • Frederick Watson, 1889, Birthorpe
  • James Watson, 1891, Birthorpe
  • Mary Watson, 1892, Birthorpe
  • Clara Watson, 1894, Birthorpe
  • Harry Watson, 1896, Birthorpe (Died 1897)
  • Emma Watson, 1898, Billingborough
  • Ada Watson, 1902, Horbling

Census

  • 1891: James is living with his parents in Birthorpe, Lincolnshire.
  • 1901: James is living with his parents in Horbling, Lincolnshire.
  • 1911: James is living with his parents in Horbling, Lincolnshire. The census gives him an age of 20 and he is listed as a farm general labourer.

Relatives in services

  • James’ brother William also served in ww1 in the Lincolnshire Regiment but returned

Marriage

  • No marriage for James has been found and because of his age we can assume that he never had the opportunity to marry.

Newspaper Mentions

  • Lincolnshire Echo Tuesday 3rd April 1917
    LINCOLNSHIRE DAY BY DAY
    Mr. and Mrs. T. Watson, of Horbling, near Billingborough, have received the distressing news that their youngest son, Private J. Watson (Lincolnshire Regiment), has been killed in action while fighting in France.  Before enlisting he was in the employ of Mr. Arthur Wilson, builder, Billingborough.  Deceased, who was about 26 years of age, was brother to Private W. Watson, the goalkeeper of Billingborough Town F.C., who is also serving with the Lincolns in France.  It is remarkable that before leaving for the front the dead soldier had a premonition that he should not get safely through, and he mentioned this to his friends before going abroad

 

  • Grantham Journal Saturday 7th April 1917
    HORBLING
    KILLED IN ACTION – Mr. and Mrs. T. Watson have received the distressing news that their son, Private J. Watson (Lincoln Regiment), has been killed in action.  Before enlisting, about a year ago, he was in the employ of Mr. Arthur Wilson, builder, Billingborough,he had a premonition that he should not get safely through, mentioning this to his friends when home on leave before going abroad.  Deceased, who was about twenty-six years of age, was very popular with his officer, he was shot through the head, and died instantly.  Much sympathy is expressed for the family in their bereavement.

 

  • Sleaford Gazette Saturday 7th april 1917
    HORBLING
    KILLED IN ACTION – Mr. and Mrs. T. Watson, of this village, have received the distressing news that their youngest son, Private J. Watson (Lins. Regt.), has been killed in action in France.  Before enlisting, about a year ago, he was in the employ of Mr. Arthur Wilson, builder, Billingborough, and it is remarkable that he had a premonition that he should not get safely through.  This he mentioned to his friends when home on leave before going abroad.  deceased, who was about 26 years of age, was very popular with his comrades.  he was brother to Private W. Watson, the goalkeeper of Billingborough Town F.C., who is also serving with the Lincolns in France.  It is a source of consolation to his parents to know that he did not suffer, for according to a letter from his officer, he was shot through the head and died instantly.  Much sympathy is expressed for the family in their bereavement

 

  • Sheffield Daily Telegraph Wednesday 18th April 1917
    MISSING
    LINCOLNS – Watson (22554), J. (Folkingham)

 

  • Lincolnshire Echo Wednesday 18th April 1917
    LOCAL CASUALTIES
    MISSING
    LINCOLNSHIRE REGIMENT
    Watson, 22554 Pte J. (Folkingham)

 

  • Sheffield Daily Telegraph Monday 30th April 1917
    N.C.O.’S AND MEN
    The following casualties amongst warrent officers, non commissioned officers, and men are reported under various date:-
    PREVIOUSLY REPORTED MISSING, NOW REPORTED KILLED
    LINCOLNS – Watson (225544), J. (Folkingham)

    Military Records

    Attestation Papers

    • Available

    Soldier’s Died In The Great War

    • These records show that Private James Watson, 22554, 2nd Bn Lincolnshire Regiment was killed in action on 4th March 1917 in the Western European Theatre in France and Flanders.

    Pension Records

    • Available

    Effects Left To

    • Father Thomas

    Medals

    • The British Medal
      The Victory Medal

    Memorials

    • UK:
    • Horbling, Roll of Honour in Horbling St Andrews Church

     

    • Commonwealth War Graves Commission:
    • In memory of Private James Watson, 22554, 2nd Bn., Lincolnshire Regiment who died on 4 March 1917
    • Remembered with honour, Thiepval Memorial

    © Helen Smith

    © Picture taken by South Lincolnshire War Memorials

    © Picture taken by South Lincolnshire War Memorials

    Military Service Timeline

    • William found employment as a bricklayer and enlisted in the Army on the 1st September 1914, serving with the Lincolnshire Regiment throughout the war in various Battalions.

      James had been working for builder Arthur Wilson of Billingborough before his enlistment.

      In January 1916 parliament announced the Military Service Act that declared that all men between the ages of 18 and 41 who were not exempt or married would be conscripted into military service on the 2nd March 1916.

      James was called up for service on 6th April 1916 being posted initially to the 9th Battalion and given the regimental number of 22554 on the 10th April.

      After initial training James was posted to the Infantry Base Depot on the 14th July 1916 where he would wait for his posting into his eventual battalion. That posting would eventually come on the 4th August when James was posted into the 2nd Battalion whilst already in France.

      From the army service records it would appear that James embarked on the 24th July for overseas action.

      A postcard to his sister dated 23rd July 1916, a Sunday, would indicate that he was to go to France on Monday morning as per the service record.

      If this is correct, then he would have embarked for the base depot in France officially still part of the 9th Battalion and then posted to the 2nd shortly after arrival. This is quite usual and the men could be posted to Battalions of the Regiment that were in the most need of replacements at that time.

      On the 1st July the 2nd Battalion had been in the attack of the 1st day of the Somme based in trenches opposite Ovillers. They were to sustain losses that day in the ranks of 25 killed, 303 wounded, 89 missing and 25 wounded and missing. If you included officers then the Battalion could only have been at half strength following that fateful day.

      By the time James had reached the Battalion they had been pulled out of the line in the Somme and moved to Lozinghem, placed in Army reserve, reorganising, training before being entrained at Bethune bound for the Hoenzollern sector of the front.

      James was posted on the 4th August, serving in 15 Platoon ‘Z’ Company. It my well be possible that he had joined the Battalion before the following note was made in the Battalion Diary 12th August whilst they were in Divisional Reserve at Fouquereuil:

      ‘The Battalion turned out into the streets and cheered His Majesty the King who drove through. The King stopped, got out of his car and walked up the main street of the village and back to his car amid the cheers of all the village’.

      The Battalion and now James would be in the trenches again in the Quarries Sector on the 15th August. A note in the Diary on the 20th stated ‘In the Trenches. We discharged gas and smoke which passed over to the enemy’s lines very successfully. The first action James may have been involved in happened on the 24th when two companies were in support of the Rifle Brigade in a raid on the enemy trenches after an intense hour long bombardment. James certainly had a baptism of fire in his first two weeks in the line, seeing the King, gas, a bombardment and a trench raid.

      In September and October 1916 the 2nd battalion had been in the now usual pattern of tours of the trenches interspersed with times in reserve and resting. The typical pattern would be four days in the front line trench, followed by 4 days in brigade reserve trenches. During the brigade reserve periods they would be forming up working parties for various tasks such as rewiring the trenches, repairing or reinforcing trenches, carrying parties for water, food or ammunition. After this period the Battalion would be taken out of the line and billeted in a rear area where they would undergo, cleaning of equipment, refits, and training.

      The Battalion had spent much of the last months in the Hoenzollern sector near Loos in the Pas de Calais region of France. This had seen heavy fighting in the early part of 1916 but by the time James probably had arrived the British Army had moved its focus south to the Somme area. The heavily reinforced enemy line in this sector meant that planned big actions were out of the question and the action would take place in smaller trench raids and patrols.

      Indeed even he 2nd Battalion would be on the move to the Somme Sector by the middle of October 1916 and by the 19th they would find themselves in Lesboeufs and taking over trenches near Trones Wood.

      Their first action on the Somme would come only days later and the Battalion Diary from the 23rd October describes this action:

      At daybreak the Battalion took up its assembly positions in trenches dug night before by 2nd Royal Berks immediately behind front line trenches previously occupied.

      2.30pm – The Battalion assaulted Zenith Trench in 4 lines. The front two lines of W & Z Companies, W on right, z on left. Y & X companies formed the second two lines in support of W & Z Companies respectively. The 2nd Middlesex were on our right and the 2nd Rifle Brigade on our left. Zero hour which was to have been at 11.30am was postponed to 2.30pm owing to fog. At about 1.45pm the enemy could be seen working along Zenith Trench from our right evidently with the object of setting back via Eclipse Trench but owing to it being blocked they were unable to do so. This caused them to be very thick at our objective.

      At Zero hour the Battalion assaulted following the creeping barrage as closely as possible. W company under 2nd Lieut Drysdale, Z company under Captain Burton, Y company under 2nd Lieut Spicer, and X company under 2nd Lieut Coneygreave. As soon as the Battalion started to assault a very gallant German officer ran down his parapet and got his men up and stopped us by rapid rifle fire. X and Y companies immediately pushed on to support the front two lines but suffered very heavily from machine gun fire and only a small portion of W and Y Companies on the right managed to enter the German trench with the Middlesex who had captured their first objective with very slight loss. The Rifle Brigade on the left did not reach their objective.

      5pm – The Battalion was collected and proceeded back to Rose Trench in brigade support

      The 24th was spent in Rose trench reorganising and then on the 25th and 26th formed carrying parties and stretcher bearers both days.

      The 26th would see the Battalion relieved by the 1st Irish Rifles moving back to Bivouacs near Trones Wood and eventually marched to camp at the Citadel near Meaute.

      The action of the 23rd would see the Battalion Casualties of 23 Killed, 129 wounded and 120 missing. This is likely to have been James’ first major taste of action. Something that may have been playing on his mind was a premonition that he would not survive the war, something he had discussed with friends on his last leave before being posted abroad.

      November would see them maintaining the same pattern of Front Line, Reserve and then rest that they had been used to in Hoenzollern. Although this changed in December when they spent 27 days in Heucort with training before going back to the usual routine.

      Towards the end of January they Battalion were on the move again and this time a move to the Rancourt sector.

      Thus By March 1917 the Battalion were still on the Somme section of the Western Front in the area between Bapaume and Peronne.

      Taken from the 2nd Battalion Diary;
      On the 1st March 1917 the battalion moved back to dugouts in Junction Wood and into Brigade Reserve. The 2nd saw them move up to dugouts and cellars in Lockbarracks and Bouchavesne again in brigade reserve where they remained on the 3rd March.

      At 5:15am on the 4th the 8th Division carried out an attack east of Bouchavesnes to gain the high ground from which the enemy had observation of our positions.

      The battalion was detailed for the following duties in support of the 2nd Royal Berkshire Regiment who were the assaulting battalion of the 25th infantry Brigade. “C” company and half of “D” company as moppers up “B” company and the other half of “D” company as carriers. “A” Company and the battalion Lewis gunners hold the front line from which the attack was launched.
      The attack was most successful and all objectives gained.
      1 officer killed, 2 wounded and 1 missing. Other ranks, 18 Killed, 33 wounded and 13 missing.

      The Division listed 1137 casualties from the operation most from artillery fire in the initial attack.
      Retaliatory artillery fire and counter attack continued for several days afterwards and the operation was seen as a complete success allowing the new position to menace the enemy defences to the south towards Peronne. It has been said that this operation played a small part in the German decision to retire to the Hindenburg line two weeks earlier than planned.

      James was officially reported missing in this action of the 4th March however a letter to his parents would tell a slightly different and maybe less traumatic story.

      Another Billingborough man Walter Carrington was also reported missing on the 4th March serving with the 2nd Battalion in the same action that James was killed in.

      On the 17th July 1917 the Officer in charge of Infantry records sent a memorandum that any personal property of James Watson be despatched to Mr Thomas Watson of Horbling.

      Each deceased soldier was to receive a scroll signed by the king and also a plaque (commonly known as the Death Penny). This was posted out and was received by Mr T Watson on the 1st July 1920.

      Mr Watson also acknowledged the receipt of James’ British War and Victory medals on The 24th November 1921.

    Sources

    • WW1 Soldier’s Records (www.ancestry.co.uk)
      Commonwealth War Graves Commission

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