29572 PTE. H. WATSON. L.N.LAN.R.
Henry (known as Harry) was my granduncle (my maternal grandfather’s older brother). He was born in 1892 in Lostock Hall. His parents were Joseph Henry Watson (b. 1862 in St Mary’s Street, Preston (just behind the prison)) and Mary Jane Whitehead (b. 1862 in Kirkham), though her family moved to Tardy Gate when she was little (her father worked on the railways). Joseph Henry had moved to Lostock View by 1881 and was working in the cotton mill. He and Mary Jane were married in 1885. They had 13 children of whom 7 survived infancy. They were: Dorothy Ann (Dolly) (b. 1886), Margaret Alice (b. 1887), Mary Ann (Polly) (b. 1890), then Harry, John Robert (Bob) (my granddad) (b. 1894), Thomas Andrew (b. 1896), and finally Winifred (b. 1900). All the children were weavers apart from Harry who was a clogger and boot repairer. They lived at The Nook, Coote Lane, Tardy Gate.
Harry enlisted at Bamber Bridge in 1915 and served in the 8thBattalion Loyal North Lancashire Regiment. The Batallion landed in France on 24 September 1915 and went into the trenches near Armentières on the French-Belgian border. Although fighting was light at the time, the whole area was already becoming a sea of mud. In December they received the news that the Germans had begun to use gas.
During 19-21 May 1916 the Battalion was engaged in intense close fighting to repel a German attack and then defend Broadmarsh Crater near Vimy (just north of Arras), by far their most intense fighting of the war so far, during which 2 officers and 27 other ranks were killed, 6 officers and 103 other ranks wounded and 15 other ranks missing, presumed dead.
During the Battle of the Somme, trench warfare near Aveluy on 10thJuly resulted in 8th Battalion L.N.LAN.R. losing 4 officers and 33 other ranks killed, 5 officers and 156 other ranks wounded and 49 other ranks missing believed killed; on the 14th now near Ovillers, 3 other ranks were killed, 2 officers and 11 other ranks wounded and 4 missing.
In November the Battalion returned to the front line near Le Touquet, close to the River Lys. Due to proximity to the river, poor maintenance and heavy rains, the trenches were flooded. The enemy trenches were no more that 50 yards away. Most of the month was spent, under intermittent shelling and sniping, in drainage and repair work on the trenches. It’s the same in December, both sides are simply dug in facing each other with minor skirmishes every now and then. Stalemate.
8th Battalion spent much of the first part of 1917 in reserve. The Battalion then moved to Ravelsberg, and on June 7 took part in the attack on Messines Ridge. In this successful operation, 36 other ranks were killed, 5 officers and 98 other ranks wounded, 7 other ranks missing.
Harry died on 23 October 1917, aged 24, at Oakdene Auxiliary Hospital, Rainhill, near St Helens. His death certificate cites asthma and bronchitis. His military record states he died of wounds. Almost certainly his condition was caused by gas, and quite possibly this was mustard gas, which was first used by the Germans in July 1917 in the area where the 8th Battalion were active. Mustard gas is not a particularly effective killing agent (though in high enough doses it is fatal) but it was used to harass and disable the enemy and pollute the battlefield. Delivered in artillery shells, mustard gas was heavier than air, and it settled to the ground as an oily liquid. Once in the soil, mustard gas remained active for several days, weeks, or even months, depending on the weather conditions. The skin of victims of mustard gas blistered, their eyes became very sore and they began to vomit. Mustard gas caused internal and external bleeding and attacked the bronchial tubes, stripping off the mucous membrane. This was extremely painful. Fatally injured victims sometimes took four or five weeks to die of mustard gas exposure.
29572 Private Henry Watson is buried in the cemetery at Brownedge St Mary’s.
Service No: 29572
Date of Death: 23 October 1917
Regiment/Service: The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment
Cemetery: Brownedge St Mary’s R.C. Church
Harry’s brother Tom (photo right) served in the Royal Army Medical Corps throughout the War, first in France then in the last year of the War in northern Italy.
Their brother Bob (my granddad) volunteered but suffered from flat feet and was judged unfit for military service.