Warrant Officer Class 2
Frederick W Watson MC DCM


About Frederick William

  • Name
    Frederick William
  • Initials
  • Surname
  • Date of Birth
    8 November 1878
  • Birth town
  • Resided town
    Leeds and Dewsbury
  • Commemorated
    Gommecourt South Cemetery France
  • Nationality
  • Place of death
    Bapaume, France
  • Date of death
    27 August 1918
  • Married
  • Occupation

Service Information

  • Army

  • Service Number
  • Rank
    Warrant Officer Class 2
  • Regiment
    Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry


Frederick William Watson was born in Leeds on 8 November 1878, the son of David John, a bricklayer, and Mary Jane (Jinnie) (nee Pease) Watson.  In 1881, the family was living at 6 Amelia Terrace, Leeds.  He had two younger sisters, Laura and Edith and one older step sister, Helena.

Fred was 18 years of age when he enlisted with the 1st Battalion, Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (KOYLI) in Pontefract on 27 February 1897, giving his trade as a mechanic.  He signed on for twelve years, seven years ‘with the colours’ and five with the reservists‘.  He was awarded Good Conduct Badges in 1899 and 1901 and in April of 1901 was promoted to Corporal.  At the end of 1901, Fred was transferred to the 2nd Battalion and sent to South Africa where Britain was fighting the Boer War.  Whilst in Africa he was severely reprimanded for “Neglect of Duty whilst in charge of a Block House”.  However, only three months later, he was promoted to Sergeant.  He was posted to Malta in October 1902, and his service terms were amended to serve all twelve years ‘with the colours‘.  The battalion transferred to Crete in March 1904, before returning home in March 1905.  In July 1906, he was given a further severe reprimand when caught “Gambling in camp”.  Despite these misdemeanours, on 18 January 1908, with over a year of his engagement still to run, he signed on to serve a total of twenty-one years.  Fred served in West Africa for just over a year from February 1908, where he was seconded to the Northern Nigeria Regiment.  He returned home in April 1909, and on 9 June 1909, he married Ada Ellen Taylor in Ravensthorpe Parish Church.

Fred then served in Cork Ireland and was further reprimanded for neglect of duty when in charge of a fatigue party, when, rather than keeping the men working, he allowed them to rest, but was caught by his Sergeant-Major.  In May 1912, he was posted to the 5th (Territorial) Battalion in Goole, as a Sergeant drill instructor.  It was here that his three sons, George, Morris and Jack were born.

When war broke out he was promoted to Warrant Officer Class 2 and appointed Company Sergeant Major (CSM) involved in training the flood of new army recruits.  It was not until January 1917, that CSM Watson was posted to France with the 2/5th KOYLI, part of 62nd Division.

In April 1917, Fred was promoted to Temporary Warrant Officer Class 1 and appointed Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM) for the duration of the war. However, Fred’s promotion was destined to be short-lived, as on 4 August 1917, he was found drunk whilst on duty.  He was placed under arrest and tried by a Field General Court Martial a week later.  Fred was found guilty and the sentence was: “To be reduced to the rank of Sergeant (Recommended to mercy on grounds of long and gallant service).”  From the end of September to the middle of November, Fred left the battalion and acted as a division instructor.  On re-joining the 2/5th KOYLI he was appointed to Acting Company Sergeant Major.

Fred was home on leave between 22 December 1917 and 5 January 1918, following which his rank of Warrant Officer Class 2 – Company Sergeant Major was confirmed.  Around this time 1/5th and 2/5th KOYLI merged to become the 5th KOYLI, within the 62nd Division.  In May 1918, Fred had a further months home leave, when he saw his wife and three sons for what was to be the last time.  He had served twenty-one years in the army and, under normal conditions would have been discharged, but he signed on again ‘for the duration of the war’.

In July 1917, Fred returned to the 62nd Division in France, which was transferred to the southern sector to assist the French in beating off the massive German attacks in a final all out attempt to win the war.  They took part in the French counter attack in the River Marne sector on 17 July 1918.  On both 20 and 21 July, WO2 Watson was wounded, but not so seriously as to warrant evacuation.  The last of the German assaults were beaten back, and the Allies counter attack began on 8 August 1918, at the start of the ‘Hundred Days’ when the Allies forced the Germans back to the German border.

Orders for an attack by the 62nd Division at the village of Mory (near Achiet-le-Grand) were received during the afternoon of 25 August 1918, to commence at 6am the next morning following a barrage by British artillery and further orders were received to continue the attack on Tuesday 27 August at 7.30am. The battalion’s objective was a sunken road running north-south about half mile west of the village of Vraucourt, and at a cross-road on the sunken road was a sugar factory. Fred Watson’s ‘D’ Company was to lead the attack, with ‘B’ Company in support. They were to assemble on the railway east of Mory, and to avoid the British artillery barrage that was to be put down, the attacking companies were ordered to stay to the north of the sunken road. Everything was going well until the attacking troops came to the road junction north-east of the factory when they were hit by fire from German machine gunners who had managed to survive the artillery barrage. The War Diary of the 5th KOYLI states: “During the attack 2/Lt. Logan with his Company Sergeant Major and one runner showed great coolness in capturing seven officers and one hundred other ranks – practically the whole of Battalion HQ – in dugouts.”  “On ascertaining the situation Lieut. R A Houghton who was in command of the support company, collecting what men he could from his own company and details of other units, took up a defensive line which he was ordered to hold at all costs. Parties of the attacking company (‘D’) who were absolutely cut off dribbled in during the afternoon and at night along Banks Trench and around the left flank.”  It was probably during this attack that Fred was awarded the Military Cross, although the action in which it was earned is not recorded.  His citation reads – “5441 CSM Frederick William Watson, DCM, Yorkshire Light Infantry: For conspicuous gallantry and good leadership. When the officers of two platoons became casualties he took command and led the men forward with great dash and skill. He was cut off with part of his platoon but fought his way back to his company. His courage and resolution were remarkable and his cheerfulness inspired all who were with him.”  During the attack, the 5th KOYLI had 24 other ranks killed plus four officers and 114 other ranks wounded.  One of the fatal casualties was Company Sergeant Major Fred Watson.  Fred’s wife, Ada, received a letter which told how Fred “…met his death from an enemy machine gun bullet, which hit him in the back of the neck. He died in a few minutes.”  Fred was aged 39 when he was killed and is buried in Gommecourt South Cemetery.

With grateful thanks to The Western Front Association for some of the above information.  http://bit.ly/2lca3Sd

Additional images reproduced with grateful thanks to the KOYLI Museum Doncaster.

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