16th June 1891 - 4th/5th August 1916 (age 25)
25th Bn. Australian Infantry
A forlorn and broken gravestone in St. Oswald's churchyard provides the confirmation that George Watson was killed in France on 4th August 1916. Sadly, the cross is no longer intact, but it is still possible to read the words:
In Loving Memory of Robert Watson of Sowerby
Who died June 23rd 1913 aged 53 years
Also Elizabeth wife of the above
Who died April 11th 1919 aged 60 years
Also George son of the above
Killed in France August 4th 1916 aged 25 years
The Watson family gravestone at Sowerby
George's actual grave can be found in France on the Somme battlefield at Serre Road Cemetery No. 2 in plot V.E.34 and this headstone shows him to have died on August 5th 1916 while serving with the Australian Infantry. His remains had been moved there after the war from his original grave in a field just north of Pozieres near the German 3rd line, which the Australians had attacked in early August 1916. It had been a tough battle with severe casualties. Many soldiers were buried by their comrades close to where they fell, and after the war it was necessary to clear the fields and to concentrate the remains into a number of military cemeteries such as the one at Serre Road.
Robert and Elizabeth Watson were blessed with six children, and in 1911 they were living at Fir Cottage, Front Street, Sowerby where Robert was shown as a farmer and his son George was working at home. Later, George appears to have emigrated to Australia where he was living when he enlisted into the Australian Imperial Force at Brisbane on 5th January 1915 giving his occupation as Station Hand. He was 5 feet 7.5 inches tall, weighing 138lbs with dark complexion, brown eyes and brown hair when he joined "D" Company of the 25th Battalion. Towards the end of June and after training, he embarked on the troopship "Aeneas" bound for Egypt and eventually he arrived at Gallipoli in September 1915.
The troopship "Aeneas" on which George Watson travelled to Egypt
The Gallipoli campaign was an attempt to ease the pressure on Russia who was fighting on two fronts against the Germans and Austrians. Turkey had joined the war on the side of the Germans. It was hoped that an attack by the Allies on the Turkish Peninsula could open the way to Constantinople and through to the Russians. The initial landings by Commonwealth troops including New Zealanders and Australians in April 1915 had faced tough resistance from the Turkish soldiers defending strong fortifications and they had not achieved the objective. The doomed campaign continued through the hot summer months as the Allies struggled to maintain a grip on the ground above the landing beaches. George Watson was thrown into this battle in September and was lucky not to have become one of the 28,000 Australian casualties. Eventually, a well planned withdrawal was completed on 20th December. George travelled via Mudros on the Greek island of Lemnos, and disembarked from the troopship "Honorata" in Alexandria on 9th January 1916. Two months later, the battalion transferred to France, disembarking at Marseilles on 19th March 1916. George was granted eight days leave to England on 24th June returning to France on 1st July. Probably his widowed mother had not seen him since he emigrated a few years earlier. This was her last opportunity to see him before he was reported "missing" on 5th August, a statement which was changed to "killed in action" at a court of enquiry in 1917. His effects were returned to Mrs Watson at Fir Cottage, Front Street, Sowerby and included the following items: Prayer book, photo, note book, razor, guide book, letter, wallet.
Mrs Watson passed away in April 1919, and so was spared the added distress of the letter which was sent to George's next of kin in 1928 advising that his body had been exhumed from one of the scattered graves at Pozieres and re-interred at Serre Road.
The information on this page was compiled by Steve Billings.
Information about George Watson on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website
Information about George Watson on the War Graves Photographic Project website
Part of the St Oswald's Church website