Alex WATSON

Poppy

WATSON, Alex

Service Numbers: 245, 1593
Enlisted: Not yet discovered
Last Rank: Private
Last Unit: 24th Infantry Battalion
Born: Maroon, Queensland, Australia, date not yet discovered
Home Town: Not yet discovered
Schooling: Maroon State School, Queensland, Australia
Occupation: Police Officer, Motor Driver
Died: Killed in action, France, 30 June 1916, age not yet discovered
Cemetery: Ration Farm Military Cemetery, la Chapelle-D'Armentieres
Memorials: Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour, Boonah War Memorial
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World War 1 Service

24 Sep 1914: Involvement Private, SN 245, 9th Infantry Battalion
24 Sep 1914: Embarked Private, SN 245, 9th Infantry Battalion, HMAT Omrah, Brisbane
30 Jun 1916: Involvement Private, SN 1593, 24th Infantry Battalion

Narrative

Alex Watson #245 9th Battalion and #1593 24th Battalion

Alex Watson was born at Maroon to parents Kirby and Mary Watson in 1893. He attended Maroon State School as a boy. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Alex did not stay on the land. He reported at his enlistment that he was a motor driver (as opposed to the more common in 1914, horse or bullock driver) He also stated that he had served for a period of time with the Queensland Police Force being stationed at Rosewood, Maryborough and Cordalba (near Childers) before being dismissed from the force on 13th January 1914.

Alex enlisted in Brisbane on 26th August 1914. This date is barely three weeks after war was declared which places Alex amongst those young men who rushed to the recruiting depots. He was drafted into the 9th Infantry Battalion of the AIF and just one month later, the 9th battalion boarded the “Omrah” at Pinkenba wharf for overseas. There is no record of Alex on the embarkation roll which may be explained by events later in his military career. He was just 21 years old at the time.

The “Omrah” sailed to Sydney and then Melbourne where the assembled transports waited for the threat from a squadron of German cruisers from the China Station to resolve itself. Eventually, naval intelligence deduced that the squadron (save for the light cruiser “Emden”) had sailed east across the Pacific and was no threat to the Australian and New Zealand transports which resumed their crossing of the Indian Ocean from Albany in Western Australia. During the crossing, the Australian cruiser HMAS Sydney encountered the Emden and forced the German ship aground. The other piece of news that was revealed as the 1st Division of the AIF sailed via Colombo towards the Suez Canal was that Turkey had entered the war on the side of Germany and Austria Hungary.

The entry of Turkey into the war changed the strategic situation in the Middle East. The newly arrived Australians and New Zealanders, who had originally been slotted for deployment to England and France, were housed in camps close to Cairo while the British Authorities attempted to meet the new threat to Egypt. It is well documented that soon after arrival in Egypt, the ANZACs began to exhibit poor discipline. There were several reasons for this.

The AIF was a volunteer force, remunerated at a rate of five times that of their British counterparts. The men had plenty of cash to spend. The camp that the men occupied was at Mena on the outskirts of Cairo, and cashed up young men on leave could easily catch a tram from the camp into the centre of the city. Alex Watson would have been one of those soldiers out for a good time.

There was a deal of concern surrounding the behaviour of the Dominion troops. The British authorities expected that ordinary soldiers would show deference to officers due to the difference in class. The Australians generally were far more egalitarian having come from backgrounds that were virtually classless. An ugly incident in the red light district of Cairo on Good Friday 1915 became the catalyst for swift reactions from the Australian commanders. The incident which could best be described as a riot protesting about overpricing and the prevalence of venereal disease was reported in the Australian press. Outrage at the way in which Australia’s good name was being sullied by a “few rotten apples” caused the Australian Commander in Egypt, General Bridges, to order that undesirables and syphilitics would be sent home to Australia and discharged.

The 1st Division of the AIF finally received their orders to board ships at Alexandria in early April 1915. They were bound for the island of Lemnos where a vast armada of ships and men was being assembled in preparation for an amphibious assault on the Gallipoli Peninsula. While on board the 9th Battalion transport in Lemnos, Alex Watson reported to the ship’s hospital with a severe case of gonorrhoea. Alex was sent back to the Australian Hospital in Alexandria for treatment but was caught up in the Return to Australia policy and he found himself on board the transport ”Ceramic” along with other VD cases and men who had been charged with military crimes. The “Ceramic” departed Suez on 4th May and docked in Melbourne three weeks later. The defaulters were marched out to Broadmeadows camp.

Alex’s file is devoid of information as to what happened to him when he arrived at Broadmeadows. The army, in an attempt to deal with the large number of VD patients arriving in Melbourne from Egypt had established a VD camp at Langwarrin on the Mornington Peninsula. Alex may have been sent there for a short time. It is also likely that he was discharged from the AIF, but again there is no proof of this in his file. What is certain is that one month after arriving in Melbourne, Alex presented himself to the camp at Seymour where he was duly sworn in again as a soldier in the AIF, using his own name, but with a completely different regimental number. On this second occasion, Alex freely admitted that he had seen previous service with the 9th Battalion. On 22nd June 1915 Alex Watson was sworn in as member of the 24th Battalion. On 10th July he sailed on the “Euripides” for Egypt.

By the time that Alex arrived back in Egypt, things had changed. The camps at Mena had been closed and new camps established at Tel-el-Kabir on the Suez canal, miles from Cairo and temptation. On 30th August, the 24th Battalion boarded a transport ship for Lemnos and on 6th September landed at Gallipoli under cover of darkness.

The Gallipoli campaign had ground to a stalemate after the failed offensives of August. As newly arrived troops, the 24th spent much of its time in fatigue duties or manning the front line at Lone Pine and were successfully evacuated from the peninsula in December. Alex arrived back at Alexandria on 10th January 1916 and was immediately hospitalised with Mumps. The 24th Battalion had suffered few casualties during the stint on Gallipoli and as such was one of the first battalions to be shipped to Marseilles where they were loaded onto trains for a three day journey to Northern France and the Western Front.

The sector around Armentieres where the 24th found themselves was referred to as the “nursery”. It was a good place for newly arrived troops to become accustomed to trench life. The terrain was low lying and boggy which precluded large scale attacks from either side, however small trench raids were used to give the troops experience in confronting the enemy.

During one such trench raid, Alex Watson was killed. There are no details available surrounding his death except for a brief entry in the 24th Battalion War Diary which states that a trench raid just after midnight on 30th June 1916 resulted in one soldier killed and one wounded. It is fairly certain that Alex’s mates brought his body back from no man’s land as he was buried later that day at Ration Farm Cemetery with the Reverend Dunford in attendance.

Kirby Watson signed for his son’s medals and memorial plaque in the 1920’s.

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