Frank Watts

Lance Corporal Frank Watts, 8th Royal Fusiliers, died 19th July 1917, age 27 years.

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1 Church Street, now the Croft, was a bakehouse owned and managed by George James Watts and his wife Maria. George was born in Wootton Bassett in about 1854. George and Maria had five children, George Ernest, Frank, Dorothy Marie, Charles Albert, known as Charlie, and Kate. George died at 1 Church Street in 1929 and his wife Maria died in 1942. Both are buried in the cemetery.

George was a baker and grocer, selling among other things, superior seed and currant cake, self raising flour, and ‘En Avant’ yeast. He also owned premises at 22 High Street where his daughter Dorothy ran a sweet shop and tea shop, having learned her trade as her father’s assistant in the bakery. Dorothy never married. She died in Wootton Bassett in 1987.

Charlie helped in the bakery and in due course took it over from his father. He married Lucy May Palmer in 1931.

George (junior) was a headmaster at Marcham School near Abingdon. He married in the second week of the war, just before taking up residence at the school.

George and Maria’s second son, Frank Watts, was born in Wootton Bassett about 1890. By 1911 he had moved to Greenhithe in Kent, where he was employed as a baker. He was well known and generally liked, and he was thought of as ‘no shirker’. He enlisted in Whyteleafe at the end of December 1914 and became a Private in the 8th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment) (E/1524). His medal roll gives his regiment as “17 Royal Fusiliers” which may refer to the Division.

He went into training in Croydon and was then sent out to France on the 17th of November 1915. He suffered the many hardships of trench life and warfare in the neighbourhood of La Bassée and Givenchy. On May 2nd 1916, he volunteered with a small company to go out at night and repair some barbed wire entanglements at Souchez. During this mission he was badly wounded in the arm and leg and was sent home to England, to the Wharnecliffe Hospital in Sheffield.

Owing to the excellent attention he was given and his strong constitution he quickly made progress and was transferred to the convalescent home at Eastbourne and thence to Portobello. As he recovered, he became restless, and volunteered for Salonika. Before his departure he was granted the usual leave, but during his return journey there was an air raid on London and he was stranded at King’s Cross. His detachment left before he could reach them. In October 1916 he was sent to France, where he endured the harsh winter of 1916 to 1917. He took part in the battles of Arras and Vimy Ridge, and his family reported that he sent home a vivid account of the fighting. His company suffered great losses, but Frank came through it all unscathed, and was in due course promoted to Lance Corporal. He continued to assist in holding the line in the neighbourhood of Arras.

Frank was killed in action on July 19th 1917, age 27. The following letter was sent by Captain H V Wells to his father:

Dear Mr Watts, Please accept my deepest sympathy in the loss of that valiant soldier, Lance Corporal Frank Watts. A very gallant fellow who knew not fear, he died instantly and lies buried at Monchy le Preux. It is men of his type that one cannot afford to lose. He gave his life for the greatest of all causes, and was always so cheerful and bright.

The information in this letter, that Frank Watts is buried at Monchy le Preux, was probably meant to be a comfort to his father. If Frank was buried at all, at best it was a field burial, for Frank’s body was never recovered. He is not listed at the British Cemetery at Monchy le Preux. Frank was awarded the Victory Medal, the British War Medal, and the 1914-15 Star. He is commemorated on the Arras Memorial, Bay 3.

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