1895 - 21st March 1918 (age 22)
2nd Bn. Yorkshire Regiment
On 21st March 1918, the Kaiser's Battle or Operation Michael commenced, this was the start of the German's last big attempt to breakthrough the allied lines before the American's arrived. Wilfred Watson was serving with 2nd Bn. Yorkshire Regiment in the front line near to St.Quentin in Northern France. The following is taken from their war diary and gives a good image of the strength of attack and confusion which prevailed along a wide section of the Front on that day:
At 4.50am the order was received to "Man Battle Stations". The Battalion was ordered to proceed by Coys to the Battle positions at ROUPY. The village of FLUQUIRES was being shelled by heavies at the time and several casualties were inflicted on us before we left. At 6.30am the Battalion was manning its positions in the ROUPY DEFENCES. The morning was extremely misty and a continuous shelling was kept up against our trenches. About 11am we heard that the front line of resistance had been penetrated. Lt.Col.Edwards D.S.O. resumed command from Commanding Brigade. About 1pm, an Officer (lt.Capp) from the 2nd Wiltshire Regt. arrived at our Redoubt and told us that the support redoubt (L,EPINE DE DALLON) had been surrounded and passed by the enemy. About the same time "B" Coy (Left Front Coy) reported enemy in the QUARRY , About 800yds away. By 1.20pm the enemy were advancing in front of our wire, having massed in a valley between the QUARRY and ROUPY. At 1.30pm the enemy attacked our left front in strength but without success. At 1.40pm the Battalion on our right (INNISKILLING FUSILIERS) reported no sign of the enemy on their front. At 1.45pm the Enemy seen to retire in the direction of SAVY. About 4.30pm the second strong attack commenced, the enemy having massed troops taken from the left. Heavy Artillery Fire: our own Artillery firing short. The enemy attacked persistently for more than an hour, with large casualties. About 5pm he gained a position in our front line and 2nd Lieut. Cownley, in Command of the Counter Attack Coy; ("C"Coy) was ordered to counter attack. This he did, but with heavy casualties and without success. At 6.30pm the enemy had gained our Front Line Trench. The platoon keeps immediately behind still held out. During the night the 17th Bn. King's L'pool Regt were sent up to Counter Attack, but owing to the darkness and their unfamiliarity with the defences they lost time and connection and were not successful. They reinforced the platoon keeps and Stanley redoubt.
In terms of casualties on both sides, this was the worst day of the entire war; there were 38,000 British casualties which included Wilfred who was reported missing. A large number of allied prisoners were taken, and this might explain the length of time before it became clear to Mrs. Watson that another of her sons would not be coming home.
The following is taken from the Yorkshire Gazette dated 22nd June 1918:
Thirsk. Sowerby Soldier Missing
Official intimation has been received that Pte.W.P.Watson aged 21, the fourth son of Mrs .J. Watson of Hope Cottages, Sowerby, Thirsk, has been reported wounded and missing from 21 March. Pte. Watson was formerly employed on farm work with the late Mr. T. Appleton of Thirsk, and afterwards worked for Mr.Bird of Sinderby. He joined up whilst working near Northallerton in August 1915. The deepest sympathy is felt for Mrs Watson who had a son killed a year last July and another is discharged a cripple.
His brother Cornelius Herbert Watson had been killed in action on the first day of the Battle of The Somme.
Their brother, Ernest Watson served with the 3rd/4th Yorkshires, a territorial force. He was wounded on 11th May 1917 and suffered a compound fracture of the left leg either from gunshot or shrapnel. An operation was performed to remove shrapnel and pieces of bone. The wound healed, but Ernest was left with 30% permanent disability and was unable to walk without the aid of a stick. He was discharged no longer physically fit, on 27th March 1918, just 6 days after his brother Wilfred had been killed in action.
Due to the speed of the advance by the enemy on 21st March, many bodies were never recovered and this was the case with Wilfred. He is remembered on Pozieres Memorial, panel 31 & 32.
Wilfred Watson is remembered on the Pozieres Memorial in France
The information on this page was compiled by Steve Billings.
Information about Wilfred Percy Watson on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website
Information about Wilfred Percy Watson on the War Graves Photographic Project website
Information about Wilfred Percy Watson on the Yorkshire Regiment - First World War Remembrance website
Part of the St Oswald's Church website