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William Watson 5th Scottish Rifles

Private William Watson died of wounds on 23rd October 1918.
He was a member of 5th Battalion Cameronians in Flanders
and this story is a background to his life.



5th Battalion Cameronians (Rifles) dress, badge and tartan


Private 53009 Watson of the 5th Battalion Scottish Rifles Cameronians saw action in Flanders which was to see him join the statistics of the final days of WW1.  Between August 11th and November 1918, over two million men died. Read that again - In the space of just three months over two million combatants lost their lives, leading to the surrender and Armistice.
The General Armistice took place on Nov 11 1918.  Private William Watson succumbed to wounds on 23rd October 1918.
We do not know the circumstances, but can guess due to the graphic accounts elsewhere of these final days.

It must have been a terrifying experience for a young man, just 21 years old, plucked from a quiet country life in Carluke to the noise and terror of trench warfare. William likely had never seen a hospital, nor seen an aeroplane, though his father and brothers were miners using explosives to extract coal, and now he would be lying on a stretcher in an Army Field Hospital perhaps looking up at squadrons of aircraft engaged in aerial combat overhead. 

William may have been conscripted by the Military Service Act of 1916 which decreed that able-bodied single men of age 19 would be liable for military call-up, so by the end of 1916 he would be Class 1 and called up for service in 1917. It is likely therefore that William may only have been in France for a year or less depending on his basic training and when the Cameronians released new recruits to the front.


So what was the first 18 years of his life like in Carluke ?

William was the 5th child and youngest in his family. John Watson and Mary Chalmers his parents, originally lived in Chapel Street raising their first son before moving to Honeybank Row in Carluke which was a miners row cottage owned by Archibald Russell, proprietor of Castlehill Colliery.   As described elsewhere, the pre-war cottages were squalid and by the time of the census of 1901 William was 3 years old and there were two adults and five children in a two room affair with no piped water, sanitation or electricity. Two outside dry toilets served three families in the row and was likely an appalling health hazard. Possibly 20 people shared the two toilets summer and winter.  Inside there were no sinks so cleaning and cooking took place by the single fireside with water coming solely from a rainwater butt fed from the thatched roof.
 
By 1901 John Watson (51) was working as a miner at Castlehill and his eldest son George (14) was also employed there, dragging baskets of coal hewn by his father to the hutch for winding up to the surface. William's elder brother John was now 12 years old and it is likely that both were destined to become miners too. Then, mid-war, John Watson senior died age 64 in July 1915 leaving Mary Chalmers and her three sons as breadwinners. So perhaps, even though William by 1917 could have been excused war service as a coal miner, maybe he yearned to escape a claustrophobic life in Honeybank Row and went to war anyway - at this point we do not know. Further research is ongoing.

Genealogy:
John, their father, died age 64 in 1915
Mary, their mother died age 74 in 1930
George died age 48 in 1935
John died age 64 in 1953
William died in France age 21 in 1918
Mary, his sister died age 75 in 1971

Read more stories from the First World War section
CPHS Weekly image from our 1914-18 gallery (the next story in sucession)
George Cavan


Last Updated on Apr-28-2014