Wilfred was born in the spring of 1896 in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire, to Arthur Frederick Watson, a gamekeeper born in Marylebone and his wife Clara Oliver born in Guist, Norfolk. The couple were married on the 7th May 1892 in Beetley Norfolk and then settled in Cheshunt where their first children were born.
Following a move to Wangford they finally settled in Toft where heir final child was born.
Oliver Watson, 1893, Chushunt
Gladys Watson, 1894, Chushunt
Wilfred Watson, 1896, Chushunt
Cecil Watson, 1899, Chushunt
Gilbert Watson, 1901, Brandon
Eric Watson, 1902, Witham on the Hill
In 1901 Wilfred was living with his family in Broom Cottages in Wangford Suffolk. His father, known as Frederick was working as a gamekeeper under Head Gamekeeper William Eady at Wangford Hall.
Only a year later the family would move to near Toft where their last child was born.
For the 1911 census they were living in a cottage at Toft Lodge, Frederick still working as a Gamekeeper in the employ of the Grimsthorpe Estate. Eldest brother Oliver also working as a gamekeeper, sister Gladys carrying out domestic duties and Wilfred now working as a Railway Clerk at the railway office.
Not long after war broke out Wilfred enlisted in Preston on the 15th September 1914, listing his occupation as a footman and issued with the army number Z2997. It has been assumed that Wilfred was a footman at Grimsthorpe Castle although why he would enlist in Preston is so far unknown.
Five days later he was posted to the 5th (reserve) Battalion Rifle Brigade for training being assigned to B company.
The 5th battalion had ben stationed at Winchester at the outbreak of war and then moved to Minster on the Isle of Sheppy where they would remain for the rest of the war.
After his training Wilfred was posted to the 3rd Battalion Rifle Brigade and arrived in France on the 9th February 1915. The 3rd Battalion had been in France since September 1914 and had spent January in tours of trenches near Chaple D’Armentieres.
Usually on arrival in France the men would be held in a base depot close to the port of disembarkation and then sent to the front to join their battalion. This process would normally take between three days and one week depending upon where the Battalion was based at the time.
The 3rd Battalion diary has the following report:-
Battalion relieved by 1st Royal Fusiliers. Billeted in Chaple d’Armentieres.
13th – 16th February 1915
Battalion remained billeted in Chaple d’Armentieres. A reinforcement of 3 officers and 75 NCOs and other men joined the Battalion on 16th February 1915.
Battalion “relived by” 1st Royal Fusiliers
17th to 20th February 1915
Battalion remained in trenches.
Casualties – 17.2.15, 2 Riflemen killed, 1 wounded. 18.2.15, 1 Rifleman killed, 12 NCOs and men wounded
A reinforcement of 60 NCOs and men joined the Battalion on 20.2.15.
Two Companies of a Canadian Regiment were attached to the Battalion during the period of the 18th to 23rd February 1915.
On the evening of the 18th one Canadian platoon joined each company in the trenches and remained until the evening of the 19th. They were split up among the four Rifle Brigade platoons in each company and were instructed in trench work e.g. digging, sentry work, sniping, sanitation, rations, etc.
On the evening of the 19th they were relieved by four more platoons who remained in the trenches until the evening of the 20th and were relieved in the same manner. On the evening of the 20th four platoons were attached to the Battalion and were not split up but took over a platoon trench in each company, and were commanded by the Rifle Brigade.
21st February 1915 – 1am to 5am
Battalion relieved by 1st Royal Fusiliers, the four platoons of the Canadian Regiment remained in the trenches and were taken over by the 1st Royal Fusiliers.
22nd to 24th February 1915
Battalion remained billeted in Chaple d’Armentieres.
25th February 1915 – 2am to 5am
Battalion relieved the 1st Royal Fusiliers in trenches.
26th to 28th February 1915
Casualties during period were :-
25.2.15, 1 Rifleman killed, 1 NCO wounded
26.2.15, 1 Rifleman wounded
27.2.15, 1 Rifleman wounded
Reinforcements of 16 NCOs and men joined the Battalion on 26.2.15
Captain M Godolphin Osbourne died of wounds on 25.2.15 from wound received 10.2.15.
On the 25th of February No 3 Company, 14th Battalion Royal Montreal Regiment accompanied the Battalion into the trenches and were split up among the companies each Canadian soldier being associated with a well trained regular soldier. Officers and NCOs were attached for instruction to the corresponding ranks.
On 26th No 4 Company of this Regiment relieved No3 company in the trenches and were treated in the same manner.
On 27th No 3 company relieved No4 company, going into the trenches as complete platoons under their own platoon leader, but under the command of the Captain of the Regular Companies.
On 28th no 4 Company relieved No 3 company in the trenches under the same arrangements as those in preceding paragraph and relieved to billets on the morning of 1st March.
The strength of the Battalion on 28.2.15 was
1st March 1915 – 2am to 5am
Battalion relieved by 1st Royal Fusiliers. Billeted in Chaple d’Armentieres
2nd March to 4th March 1915
Remained Billeted in Chaple d’Armentieres
5th March 1915 – 2am to 5am
Battalion relieved 1st Royal Fusiliers in trenches
6th March to 8th March 1915
5.3.15, 4 Riflemen killed, 7 NCO and men Wounded. 2/Lt E.M. Winch Wounded
7.3.15, 1 Rifleman killed, 1 wounded
8.3.15, 1 Rifleman killed, 2 wounded
It was during the 5th March 1915, most likely during the relief that Rifleman Wilfred Watson was one of the four Riflemen killed on this day.
One army document would indicate that he was initially buried in Chapelle d’Armentiers. If this was the case then we must assume that the grave was destroyed in subsequent actions or that Wilfred’s grave could not be identified as the Commonwealth War Graves Commission commemorate Wilfred on the Ploegsteert memorial to the missing.
La Chapelle d’Armentieres old military cemetery contains 103 WW1 burials of which 3 of them are unidentified.
In October 1915 the officer in charge of Rifle Records was instructed to dispatch any personal property of Wilfred’s in their posission to Mrs Clara Watson of Toft Lodge Nr Bourne. The items were, 1 Purse, 1 Watch (Broken), 1 Rifle Brigade Badge and 1 unsent letter.
Wilfred’s photograph is courtesy of the IWM Lives of the `first World War project.
“Photograph taken in uniform just after signing up for the Rifle Brigade.”
“This is my great uncle, and the photograph was in my grandfathers collection, given to me by my aunt”. This is a post by contributor Anne30873 however there does not appear to be any mechanism to contact the contributor.