6th Gordon Highlanders, 23 April 1917
Synopsis of Life and Military Service
William Watt was born circa 1896 at Aberlour, Banffshire, he was the second son of William Watt, Farmer, Whitehouse, near Aberlour and his wife Mary Ann Munro or Watt. The family probably moved into Whitehouse around 1900 when his grandfather, Alexander Watt who had the tenancy of Gownie, Aberlour took over the tenancy at Whitehouse. He had at least three other brothers according to the 1901 Census.
Tragedy was to strike the family on 6 January 1911 when the grandfather, Alexander Watt, who was also residing at Whitehouse Farm, failed to return from the nearby village of Aberlour following a day out and was found deceased in the nearby Lynn Burn later that evening.
Whitehouse Farm while in possession of the Watt family appears to have been very successful with numerous awards being won locally for the quality of the barley they were producing and the condition of the horses they raised.
Very little is known about William Watt’s military record as it did not survive, however, it is known that he enlisted in 1914 at Aberlour, Banffshire into the 6th Gordon Highlanders, the local infantry regiment as Private, number 1110. He moved to France / Belgium on the 10th November 1914 (the same day as his brother Alexander James).
On 25th September 1915, his brother Private, 1215 Alexander James, 6th Gordon Highlanders was killed on the first day of the Battle of Loos, his body was either never identified or he was untraced and is honoured on the Loos Memorial. It is probable that both brothers fought in this battle.
William was successful in his military career and achieved the rank of Corporal and his service number was updated to 265177.
On the 23rd April 1917, the 6th Gordon Highlanders were involved in the Second Battle of the Scarpe (23rd-24th April 1917) which was part of the Arras Offensive and it is likely that William was killed in this attack which was to capture a German Trench system. (A report of the attack is noted below)
He is honoured and buried at Brown’s Copse Cemetery, Roeux, Pas de Calais, France.
Report on 6th Gordon Highlanders Action in the Operations on 23 April 17
The Battle of Arras took place between the 9th April to the 17th May 1917 in which the British launched an attack in support to a larger French offensive. After some initial successes by the British and Commonwealth forces the attack eventually bogged down leading to around 300,000 casualties. As part of the Arras offensive, the 6th Gordon Highlanders took part in the Second Battle of the Scarpe (23rd-24th April 1917)
The following is an extract from the above Operations Report from the dates 23rd April 1917, the date of William Watt was killed in action:-
The work assigned to the 6th Gordons in the operations on the 23rd April was the capture of a German trench running from I.20.b.7.5. in a north westerly direction to I.15.c.58. (known as the RED LINE); the capture of HAUSA AND DELBAR WOODS and the digging of a support line about 200 yards on the British side of the German trench. The assault on the trench was to be delivered by two Companies in a wave of two ranks and the digging by two supporting companies.
The 153rd Brigade to which the 6th Gordons were temporarily attached to act as follows : The 7th Black Watch on the right of the Brigade front with the 7th Gordons on the left were to take the BLACK and BLUE lines. The 6th Gordons on the right and the 6th Black Watch on the left wee to pass over the other two battalions; the 6th Gordons to take the objectives already mentioned and the 6th Black Watch to dig a line running roughly northward from the trench captures by the 6th Gordons. An elaborate artillery barrage scheme had been prepared for dealing with all objectives. The 6th Gordons were to jump off from the Assembly Trenches PUDDING and PORT.
The Commanding Officer intended to advance his battalion in artillery formation of half platoons in an easterly direction keeping the trenches named HOPEFUL, HUMID and HUDDLE on his left flank and marching on a front of about 450 yards. It was expected that the battalion would reach the CHEMICAL WORKS before an extension would be needed, seeing that the BLACK and BLUE lines were to be taken by a proceeding battalion. When the railway culvert had been reached by the left flank the battalion was to change direction half right and, following closely the artillery barrage, the trench was to establish posts on the eastern outskirts at I.15.0.3.. and I.21.a.74.
The battalion, on the 23rd April, reached the Assembly Trenches without mishap at 2 a.m. and took up its position, starting the advance at ZERO plus 1 (5.45 a.m.) “A’ Company on the right and “B” Company on the left were the assaulting companies and “C” Company followed by “A” and “D” Company, “B” Company in support. The battalion came under heavy shell-fire immediately on leaving the Assembly Trenches, but proceeded without great loss, except in the case of a platoon of ‘B’ Company which was practically wiped out, until it came under violent machine gun fire, which make an extension necessary much earlier than was intended. This extension took place somewhere in H.18.a. and c. and the advance was continued with great difficulty as the front German trench was still untaken (BLACK line) and was held very strongly by the enemy. The delay occasioned by the taking of this line and the CHEMICAL WORKS lost to the attack the advantage of the artillery barrage and the battalion suffered accordingly.
On the left one platoon of ‘B’ Company managed to reach a position about I.13.a.994. but by this time three of the four Company Officers had fallen. ‘A’ Company on the right had also to extend early. In order to escape the edge of FAMPAUX at a point H.17.b.91. which was being very heavily shelled, it closed to the left and then worked round to the right. Part of the company reached a trench which the FAMPAUX – CHEMICAL WORKS road intersects immediately in front of the German front line and were here held up owing to the severity of the fire. By this time the confusion was very great. Platoons, Companies and Battalions were mixed and the accounts of the fighting are very confused. The men managed to advance only by the use of bits of trenches and shell holes. A Tank which came in response to a signal rendered great assistance at this stage of the attack. It attacked the German trench, cleared it and then proceeded to deal with the CHEMICAL WORKS.
About 6 a.m. when the advance had reached about H.18.b.32., Lieutenant J. Dawson, D.S.O. had been severely wounded and the command had devolved on Captain Hutcheson. When the Tank came on the scene Captain Hutcheson carried the advance forward until the CHEMICAL WORKS were reached. About 9.30 a.m. Captain Hutcheson established his Headquarters at I.13.0.99. and posts were thrown out round the CHEMICAL WORKS. Urgent messages were despatched, by pigeons and runners, for reinforcements but none were forthcoming and as the enemy fire was very heavy and the number of casualties great, while the number of men at Captain Hutcheson’s disposal was small, he decided to withdraw. This he did, at 12 noon, leaving a post at the QUARRY. This post held its ground until a general advance later in the day, assisted by the 6th Seaforths, permitted a line to be dug 30 yards in front of the ROEUX – GAVRELLE ROAD. This advance took place at 8.30 p.m.
The 6th Gordons were withdrawn to the British Front line about 11.45 p.m. and there they remained during the night. They were relieved next day at 12 noon by the 25th Northumberland Fusiliers, (103rd Brigade), and after a period of rest in the Assembly Trenches, were moved back the same night to bivouac in ST. NICHOLAS.
From the foregoing it will be seen that the objectives were not gained. This failure was due to the fact that the BLACK and BLUE lines were not taken, but had to be fought for, and the time taken to do this lost to the attack the protection of our own artillery barrage. The enemy machine gun fire was of an extremely galling nature. The Battalion went into battle 630 strong.
- 28 were killed.
- 194 wounded.
- 28 Missing.
William Watt was born on circa 1896 at Aberlour, Banffshire. The following family information is taken from the 1901 Census.
His family is shown as follows :-
- Father: William Watt, born c.1860 at Speymouth, Morayshire – Farmer.
- Mother: Mary Ann Munro or Watt, born c.1866 at Alness.
- Brother: Alexander James, born 30 November 1893 at Aberlour, Banffshire.
- Brother: John Munro, born c.1898 at Aberlour, Banffshire.
- Brother: Charles, born c.1900 at Aberlour, Banffshire.
Also within the residence in 1901 was a Domestic Servant – Jannet Fraser, a Cattleman – James Munro and a Ploughman – Adam Strathdee.
The following addresses have been ascertained for William Watt :-
- 1901 – Whitehouse, Aberlour
William Watt is honoured and remembered on the Aberlour War Memorial, Banffshire.
Links to Additional Information
- Find a Grave website – William Watt – Brown’s Copse Cemetery
- Find a Grave website -William Watt – Aberlour Cemetery
- A Street Near You website – William Watt
- Lives of the First World War – William Watt
- Commonwealth War Graves Commission – William Watt
- Imperial War Museum Memorials – Aberlour War Memorial
- Medal Index Card.
- Soldiers Died in the Great War.
- Pension Card.
- Register of Soldiers Effects.
- Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
- Find a Grave.
- Family Grave, Aberlour.
- 1901 Census.
- Aberdeen Press & Journal dated 9 January 1911.
- Banffshire Herald dated 26 May 1900.
- Medal Roll – Gordon Highlanders – British War Medal and Victory Medal.
- Vincent Stuart.