Private George Henry Watts
1891 - 1916

2nd Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers
Service No. 37210
Formerly of the North Staffordshire Regiment
Service No. 23331

Private George Henry Watts

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Written and researched by Barbara Williams on behalf of Mr. David Tonks,
grandson of Private George Henry Watts

George Henry Watts was born on 11th October 1891 in Lichfield, Staffordshire and was baptised on 7th November 1891 at St. Michael’s Church, Lichfield. His parents were George Watts, born 1861 in Wootton, Staffordshire and his mother was Susan Watts (maiden name unknown), born 1862 in Elford, Staffordshire. The 1911 census shows George, his father and his brother Albert working in the building trade, George as a house painter, his brother as a plumber and his father as a builder’s labourer.

Extract from the 1911 census for the family of George Henry Watts

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The family were living at No. 5 Bunkers Hill. The name is known by locals as being between Lower Sandford Street and the football pitches at Beacon Park. A Lodge and a farm once stood on the site but have since long gone but there is a water tap which seems to correspond with the site of a pump on OS maps. In September 1905 Lichfield City Council’s Streets and Highways Committee discussed a proposal to have it enclosed. In the end, it seems that they decided to have Bunkers Hill levelled and sown with grass seed.

The family tree of George Henry Watts

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On 19th June 1915, George Henry Watts married Mary Ellen Treadgold at St. Chad’s Church in Lichfield.

Church of St. Chad, Lichfield

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On the 28th June 1914 - almost twelve months prior to George and Mary Ellen’s wedding - Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, was assassinated by the Bosnian-Serb nationalist group ‘Young Bosnia’ who wanted pan-Serbian independence. Franz Joseph, the Austro-Hungarian emperor (with the backing of Germany) responded aggressively, presenting Serbia with an intentionally unacceptable ultimatum, to provoke Serbia into war. Although Serbia agreed to 8 of the 10 terms, on the 28th July 1914 the Austro-Hungarian Empire declared war on Serbia, producing a cascade effect across Europe. Russia, bound by treaty to Serbia, declared war with Austro-Hungary, Germany declared war with Russia and France declared war with Germany. Germany’s army crossed into neutral Belgium in order to reach Paris, forcing Britain to declare war with Germany (due to the Treaty of London (1839) whereby Britain agreed to defend Belgium in the event of invasion). By the 4th August 1914 Britain and much of Europe were pulled into a war which would last 1,566 days, cost 8,528,831 lives and 28,938,073 casualties or missing on both sides.

The arrest of Gavrilo Princip on 28th June 1914 after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife.

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Recruitment and Conscription

For a century, British governmental policy and public opinion was against conscription for foreign wars. At the start of WW1, the British Army consisted of six infantry divisions, one cavalry division in the United Kingdom formed after the outbreak of war, and four divisions overseas. Fourteen Territorial Force divisions also existed, and 300,000 soldiers in the Reserve Army. Lord Kitchener, the Secretary of State for War, considered the Territorial Army untrained and useless. He believed that the regular army must not be wasted in immediate battle, but instead used to help train a new army with 70 divisions-the size of the French and German armies- that he foresaw would be needed to fight a war lasting many years.

The British had about 5.5 million men of military age, with another 500,000 reaching 18 each year. The initial call for 100,000 volunteers was far exceeded, almost half a million men enlisted in two months. Naturally thereafter there were fewer, though volunteering was still ardently promoted by recruiting posters and newspaper reports of German barbarities that were supported later by eminent historians, pressure from employers who promised to keep jobs open, some Poor Law Guardians who refused to support fit military-aged men, and orations by politicians and public figures.

In the summer of 1915 every man aged 18 to 41 was recorded under the National Registration Act. A pink card for each man listed his pertinent data. The Derby Scheme was launched in autumn 1915 by the Earl of Derby, Kitchener’s new Director General of Recruiting, to determine whether British manpower goals could be met by volunteers or if conscription was necessary. Each eligible man aged 18 to 41 who was not in a “starred” (essential) occupation had to make a public declaration. When the scheme was announced there was a surge in recruiting because many men volunteered without waiting to be “fetched”. It was a huge undertaking. Each eligible man’s pink card from the recently completed National Register was copied onto a blue card, which was sent to his local Parliamentary Recruiting Committee. The committee appointed canvassers who were “tactful and influential men” not liable for service. Many were experienced political agents, a few canvassers threatened rather than cajoled. Each man was handed a letter from Derby explaining the programme, emphasizing that they were in a country fighting for its existence.

Face to face with the canvasser each man announced whether or not he would attest to join the forces, no one was permitted to speak for him. Those who attested promised to go to the recruiting office within 48 hours; many were accompanied there immediately. If found fit they were sworn in and paid a signing bonus of 2s 9d. The following day they were transferred to Army Reserve B. A khaki armband bearing the Royal Crown was to be provided to all who enlisted or who had been rejected, as well as to starred and discharged men (they were no longer issued or worn after compulsion was introduced). The enlistee’s data was copied onto a new white card which was used to assign him to one of 46 married or unmarried age groups. They were promised that only entire groups would be called for active service and they would have fourteen days advance notice. Single men’s groups would be called before married; any who wed after the day the Scheme began were classified as single. Married men were promised that their groups would not be called if too few single men attested, unless conscription was introduced. The survey was done in November and December 1915. It obtained 318,553 medically fit single men. However, 38% of single men and 54% of married men had publicly refused to enlist.

Since there were too few volunteers to fill the ranks, the Military Service Bill was introduced in January 1916, providing for the conscription of single men aged 18 – 41. Every single man and childless widower between 18 and 41 was offered three choices:

1. Enlist at once
2. Attest at once under Derby’s system
3. Or on 2nd March 1916 be automatically deemed to have enlisted.

In April 1916, George Henry Watt volunteered for service and this has been verified by the Lancashire Fusiliers Museum to his grandson, the unusual Service No. being the indicator. He would have more than likely gone to the local recruiting office which, at the time, was situated at the King’s Head Public House, in Bird Street, Lichfield, an old coaching inn dating back to 1408 and the birthplace of the Staffordshire Regiment.

The King's Head Pub in Bird Street, Lichfield. It is an old coaching inn dating back to 1408 and was the birthplace of the South Staffordshire Regiment.

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Initially George would have been registered and photographed as a soldier of the North Staffordshire Regiment but on transfer for training he was selected to become a soldier of the 2nd. Battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers and arrived in France about July 1916.

Lancashire Fusiliers WW1 Cap Badge

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Army Structure

Battalion: Infantry Regiments were composed of battalions, active service units consisting of about 1000 men under the command of a Lieutenant-Colonel. It was often the case that a soldier’s first loyalty was to his battalion; when conditions allowed, great efforts were made to ensure a sense of tradition and ‘esprit de corps’. During the First World War regiments raised large numbers of battalions.

Brigade: Four infantry battalions would be grouped together to form an infantry brigade – under the command of a Brigadier General. In 1918 brigades were reduced to three battalions.

Division:Three infantry brigades would be grouped together to form a division – under the command of a Major-General. The division was likely to have been the largest formation that a soldier would have identified with; they had distinctive insignia and familiar nicknames; some divisional commanders became well known to their men. The division was a self-contained fighting force possessing, in addition to its 12 infantry divisions and Pioneer Battalion, its own supporting specialists, Engineers, Artillery, Transport and Medical Units. Its total complement was over 19,000 men.

Corps: Divisions (any number from two to six) would be grouped to serve under corps – a directing administrative formation responsible for the effective deployment of its divisions in the field. An army corps was commanded by a Lieutenant-General. A corps would be provided with supporting troops – often known as ‘Lines of Communication’ or ‘Corps Troops’.

Army: Corps would be grouped to serve under an army – another higher-level administrative formation responsible for the effective fulfilment of the overall strategic aims of the Commander-in-Chief. An army, commanded by a General, was provided with specialist supporting troops – often known as ‘Lines of Communication’ or ‘Army Troops’.

Commander-in-Chief: Armies came under the control and command of the Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C) at General Headquarters (GHQ). Appointed C-in-C in December 1915, General Sir Douglas Haig was responsible for the overall conduct of the British Army during the Battle of the Somme (and indeed all British Army operations in France and Belgium); he was promoted to Field Marshal on 3rd January 1917.

Extracts on Army Structures courtesy of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Portrait of Douglas Haig (1861–1928), 1st Earl Haig of Bemersyde,
painted by
James Bell Anderson (1886–1938)

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Information obtained from the website www.lancs-fusiliers.co.uk show that George Henry arriving in the Somme would have fought in the Battle of Albert and the Battle of Le Transloy.

Battle of Albert 1st – 13th July 1916

In the early morning of 2nd July 1916, the British 30th Division, holding the newly won Montauban Ridge, repulsed two determined German counter-attacks. Both British and German commands recognised it was here, in the cramped southern sector of the battlefield (where most of the meagre British successes of 1st July had been achieved), that offered the most likely opportunities for further exploitation. But in the immediate aftermath of 1st July, Rawlinson sanctioned repeated assaults against unbroken German defences over the battlestrewn uplands of the entire line of his original attack.

The period 2-13 July was characterised by a series of grindingly slow and costly British subsidiary attacks (principally in the southern end of the line), made to secure the flanks for a later major assault on the German second line positions. In a succession of bloody encounters the Fourth Army sought to secure Trones Wood, Mametz Wood and Contalmaison; operations characterised by vicious hand to hand fighting, within devastated villages and shell-thrashed woods riddled with concealed strongpoints. Heavy rain on 3rd and 4th July produced the first quantities of the infamous Somme mud and hinted at the difficulties which terrain and weather would pose later in the campaign.

Chronology: 2nd July Fricourt was occupied by British troops; 3rd July saw the failure of the British attacks at Ovillers and Thiepval. La Boisselle was captured after much fierce counter-attacking between 4th and 6th July. Offensive operations began on 7th July to capture Mametz Wood, Contalmaison and Ovillers. 8th July saw the first attacks on Trones Wood. The period 9th-13th July witnessed bitter fighting for Trones Wood and the eventual capture of Mametz Wood and Contalmaison.

Battle of Le Transloy Ridges 1 – 18 October 1916

Heartened by the occupation of much of the Thiepval Ridge, Haig determined to continue large-scale offensive operations into the autumn. The Battle of the Transloy Ridges represented Fourth Army’s part in this grand design, and its constituent costly attacks were intended to coincide with simultaneous advances by the Reserve Army planned for early October.

The fighting took place during worsening weather and dreadful battlefield conditions. Fourth Army’s objectives necessitated, as a preliminary, the taking of Eaucourt L’Abbaye and an advance on 111 corps’ entire front was launched, after a seven-hour bombardment, at 3.15pm on 1st October. The attack met fierce German resistance and it was not until the afternoon of 3rd October that the objectives were secured.

Rawlinson’s follow-up attack was delayed by atrocious weather. Starting at 1.45pm on 7th October the advance involved six divisions and resulted in heavy British casualties and little success except for 23rd Division’s capture of Le Sars. Continuous rain during the night hampered the removal of casualties and further forward moves. The failure to secure original battle objectives led to a renewed major assault on the afternoon of the 12th October when infantry on Fourth Army’s right floundered towards German trench lines in front of Le Transloy, while formations on the left slogged towards the Butte de Warlencourt. Despite the slightest of gains (measured in hard fought for trench yards) the operation was not successful. Orders for a fresh attack, issued late on 13th October, ignored the desperate conditions and physical state of the attacking troops. The subsequent early morning assault on 18th October (well before daylight) witnessed heroic efforts to advance but minimal gains were made against resolute defenders well supported by accurate artillery fire.

Extracts on the Battle of Albert and the Battle of Le Transloy Ridges courtesy of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission

The edition of the Lichfield Mercury dated 3rd November 1916 reported details of the death of George Henry Watts.

Local Casualties
Lichfield Soldier Killed in Action

Mrs Watts, 3, Paradise Row, Lichfield has received an official intimation of the death of her husband Private George Henry Watts, Lancashire Fusiliers, who was killed in action on October 10th. Private Watts was the elder son of Mr and Mrs G H Watts, Bunkers Hill, Lichfield, and he would have been 25 on the day following his death. He served his apprenticeship as a painter and decorator to Mr. J R Deacon, builder and contractor, Lichfield, by whom he had been employed for about 11 years. He joined the Army with his group in April and had only been out at the front for about 7 weeks. He was well known in local football circles, having played for Lichfield City and its forerunner Lichfield Phoenix. He was a most capable inside left. He was the son of an old soldier, his father having served for 17 years and 10 months in the South Staffordshire Regiment with which he served in the Egyptian Campaign of 1882 and in the Nile Expedition for the relief of General Gordon in 1884-85. Deceased’s only brother, Private Albert Watts (21) is now serving at the front in the Motor Transport Section of the A.S.C. Private George Henry Watts leaves a widow and one child nine months old.

Transcription of the report in the Lichfield Mercury edition of 3 November 1916 of the death of George Henry Watts

Extract from the Lichfield Mercury edition of 3 November 1916

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Photograph of George Henry Watts’ wife Mary Ellen Watts with their nine month old daughter Mary Ellen. The photograph was found on the battlefield and returned to the family.

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The body of Private George Henry Watts was never recovered, but his name is recorded on the Thiepval Memorial in France.

Thiepval Memorial

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The Thiepval Memorial can be found on the D73, next to the village of Thiepval, off the main Bapaume to Albert road (D929). Each year a major ceremony is held at the Memorial on the 1st July.

The panel numbers (or Pier and Face) quoted at the end of each entry relate to the panels dedicated to the Regiment the soldier served with. In some instances, where a casualty is recorded as attached to another Regiment, his name may alternatively appear within their Regimental Panel (or Pier and Face)

Historical Information

On 1st July 1916, supported by a French attack to the south, thirteen divisions of Commonwealth forces launched an offensive on a line from north of Gommecourt to Maricourt. Despite a preliminary bombardment lasting seven days, the German defences were barely touched and the attack met unexpectedly fierce resistance. Losses were catastrophic and, with only minimal advances on the southern flank, the initial attack was a failure. In the following weeks, huge resources of manpower and equipment were deployed in an attempt to exploit the modest successes of the first day. However the German Army resisted tenaciously and repeated attacks and counter attacks meant a major battle for every village, copse and farmhouse gained. At the end of September, Thiepval was finally captured. The village had been an original objective of 1st July. Attacks north and east continued throughout October and into November in increasingly difficult weather conditions. The Battle of the Somme finally ended on 18th November with the onset of winter.

In the spring of 1917, the German forces fell back to their newly prepared defences, the Hindenburg Line, and there were no further significant engagements in the Somme sector until the Germans mounted their offensive in March 1918.

The Thiepval Memorial, the Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, bears the names of more than 72,000 officers and men of the United Kingdom and South African forces who died in the Somme sector before 20th March 1918 and have no known grave. Over 90% of those commemorated died between July and November 1916. The memorial also serves as an Anglo-French Battle Memorial in recognition of the joint nature of the 1916 offensive and a small cemetery containing equal numbers of Commonwealth and French graves lies at the foot of the memorial.

The memorial, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, was built between 1928 and 1932 and unveiled by the Prince of Wales, in the presence of the President of France on 1st August 1932.

Private George Henry Watts is remembered locally, his name is engraved on the Lichfield Christ Church War Memorial, and is recorded in the Lichfield Remembrance Garden.

Memorial plaque in Christ Church, Lichfield

Memorial plaque in Christ Church, Lichfield

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Lichfield War Memorial in the Garden of Remembrance

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Following the First World War the people of Lichfield were anxious to create a memorial to those who had lost their lives. It is set in beautiful picturesque surroundings between Minster Pool and Cathedral Close; the three spires of Lichfield Cathedral can be seen in the background. A ceremony of dedication was held on the 20th October 1920.

The medal card of 37210 Private George Henry Watts of the Lancashire Fusiliers showing his Regimental and Campaign Medals

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The Victory Medal

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The British War Medal

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Like many service personnel of World War 1, George Henry Watts was entitled to the Victory Medal, also called the Inter Allied Victory Medal. This medal was awarded to all who received the 1914 Star or 1914-15 Star and, with certain exceptions, to those who received the British War Medal. It was never awarded alone. These three medals were sometimes irreverently referred to as Pip, Squeak and Wilfred.

As with many Armed Forces personnel, George Henry Watts was entitled to the British War Medal for service in World War One. This British Empire campaign medal was issued for services between 5th August 1914 and 11th November 1918. The medal was automatically awarded in the event of death on active service before the completion of this period.

The Memoorial Plaque was issued after the First World War to the next-of-kin of all British and Empire Service personnel who were killed as a result of the war.

The plaques (more strictly described as plaquettes) were made of bronze, and hence popularly known as the “Dead Man’s Penny” because of the similarity in appearance to the somewhat smaller penny coin. 1,355,000 plaques were issued, which used a total of 450 tonnes of bronze, and continued to be issued into the 1930s to commemorate people who died as a consequence of the war.

It was decided that the design of the plaque, about 5 inches in diameter and cast in bronze, was to be picked from submissions made in a public competition. Over 800 designs were submitted and the competition was won by the sculptor and medallist Edward Carter Preston with his design called “Pyramus” receiving a first place prize of £250.

The Memorial Plaque (issued, in this photograph, to Sidney George Hoar)

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A war gratuity of £2 16s 8d was paid to George’s widow on the 22nd January 1917.

Extract from the UK, Army Registers of Soldiers' Effects, 1901-1929 for Private George Henry Watts showing the war gratuity of £2 16s 8d was paid to George’s widow.

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George Henry Watts - a young man born and educated in Lichfield - completed an apprenticeship as a Painter & Decorator and was renowned for his football skills. He lost his life tragically in the prime of his life, as did so many men. He will be remembered forever by local people and by his descendants.

Commpnwealth War Graves Commission commemorative certificate for 37210 Private George Henry Watts

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Plan of the Thiepval Memorial showing the location (Pier and Face 3C and 3D) where 37210 Private George Henry Watts is commemorated.

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Item, Source and Credit

1. Photograph of George Henry Watts © Mr David Tonks
2. Extract from the 1911 census for the family of George Henry Watts © Ancestry
3. The family tree of George Henry Watts © Mr David Tonks, Barbara Williams and Burntwood Family History Group
4. Photograph of the Church of St. Chad, Lichfield © Commons Wikimedia {https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_of_St_Chad,_Lichfield}
5. Photograph of the arrest of Gavrilo Princip © Iconic Photos (https://iconicphotos.wordpress.com/2009/05/05/the-arrest-of-gavrilo-princip/)
6. The King's Head Pub in Bird Street, Lichfield © Lichfield Lore website (https://lichfieldlore.co.uk/tag/oldest-pub-in-lichfield/)
7. Royal London Fusiliers WW1 Cap Badge © Imperial War Museum
8. Portrait of Douglas Haig (1861–1928), 1st Earl Haig of Bemersyde, painted by James Bell Anderson (1886–1938) © University of St. Andrews
9. Extract from the Lichfield Mercury edition of 3 November 1916 reporting the death of George Henry Watts © Lichfield Mercury and Find My Past
10. The photograph of George Henry Watts’ wife Mary Ellen Watts, with their nine month old daughter Mary Ellen, that was found on the battlefield and returned to the family © Mr David Tonks
11.  Thiepval Memorial © Pixabay website (https://pixabay.com/en/somme-thiepval-memorial-wwi-1500226/)
12. Memorial plaque in Christ Church, Lichfield © Burntwood Family History Group (Alan Betts)
13. Photograph of Lichfield War Memorial in the Garden of Remembrance © lichfieldlive.co.uk website
14. The medal card of 37210 Private George Henry Watts of the Lancashire Fusiliers © Ancestry
15.  Photograph of the British War Medal © Wikipedia
16.  Photograph of the Victory Medal © Wikipedia
17. The Memorial Plaque © Researching the Lives and Service Records of World War One Soldiers website {http://www.researchingww1.co.uk/ww1-memorial-plaque}
18. Extract from the UK, Army Registers of Soldiers' Effects, 1901-1929 for Private George Henry Watts © Ancestry
19. Commemorative certificate for 37210 Private George Henry Watts © Commpnwealth War Graves Commission
20. Plan of the Thiepval Memorial showing the location (Pier and Face 3C and 3D) where 37210 Private George Henry Watts is commemorated © Commpnwealth War Graves Commission

Thanks to the staff at Lichfield Record Office for their help and support with my research.