Private Robert Watson
49804, 7th Bn., Leicestershire Regiment who was killed in action on 8th October 1918, aged 24
Remembered with Honour
Barrow Hill Memorial
Staveley Parish Memorial
Prospect Hill Cemetery, Gouy (IV. F. 18.)
23 year old coal miner, John Watson married 18 year old Eliza Hides on 18th July 1892 at Staveley and the first of their children, son ROBERT WATSON, was born in 1893. The couple were living at 5, Renshaws Row on Lowgates in 1901, by which time the family had grown to include Rose-Mary in 1895, John James in 1898 and baby William 11 in 1901. Tom and Nellie were also born at Staveley in 1903 and 1905 respectively.
The family moved to live in a 2 up-2 down cottage at Steeles Lane on Brimington Common around 1908 where son George was born. In 1911, 17 year old Robert was working at a local colliery, as a pony driver, and his sister Rose-Mary had gone into service with a family at Southport. Another sister, Dora, was born in 1911.
On 18th June 1917, 23 year old Robert married 22 year old Ellen Costello at St Patricks Roman Catholic Church, New Whittington. Their marriage certificate shows that Robert was then living at 22, Poolsbrook whilst Ellen and her family lived at 14, Hollingwood, Barrow Hill, one of the cottages on Hollingwood Common. Their baby daughter, Ellen, was born in the Spring of 1918, shortly before Robert enlisted and it is probable that the couple lived with her family.
Although coal-mining was listed as an important occupation for war work, miners were still conscripted after 1916 if it was felt that war service was more important than civilian work. Coal miners who had been attested for military service were provisionally exempted from actual service and would not be called up unless it was decided by the Home Office “that it is no longer necessary to retain them in civil employment”. A serious political crisis concerning the provision of manpower led to changes in the Military Service Act in early 1918 and, on April 27th 1918, Robert enlisted at Staveley.
Robert left his young wife and baby daughter at home and joined the army as a Private with the 7th (Service) Bn., Leicestershire Regiment in the 21st Division, 3rd Army. He joined his unit in France 4 months later, on August 27th, where they were in action at the Second Battle of Bapaume on the Somme. In September 1918, the division were again in action during the Battles of the Hindenburg (Siegfried) Line, a series of Allied offensives aimed at breaking-through the main Hindenburg Position, during which Robert took part in the Battles of Epehy and St Quentin Canal.
Robert had been in France for just 6 weeks when his battalion went into action at the Battle of Cambrai on 8th October 1918.
At 1am on 8 October, in darkness and rain, the first of a series of carefully phased attacks was led off, by Third Army’s V Corps’ attempt to seize a northward extension of the Beaurevoir Line, still in German hands. Though supported by tanks, infantry progress was much slowed by uncut enemy barbed-wire and intense machine gun fire. The main Third Army attack (by IV, VI and XVII Corps) was launched at 4.30am behind a protective artillery bombardment. Source
The Derbyshire Times reports that Robert Watson “was killed in action on October 8th by a machine gun bullet, whilst acting as a stretcher bearer. His death was instantaneous.” He had been in France for just 6 weeks.
A few months after his death, Robert’s wife Ellen gave birth to a son who she named Robert after his father.
© Ann Lucas