Bewdley Men on the Somme: Joseph Watkins

j watkins

17th Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers (14328) : died of wounds 24th July 1916

Joseph Watkins was born in Ribbesford in 1886, the second son of Joseph and Charlotte Watkins. Joseph Watkins senior was born in Lindridge, near Worcester in 1855. Charlotte (nee Booton or Green) was born in Dudley in 1857. they were married in 1876, and had four other children: Elizabeth born in 1879; John Thomas born in January 1881; Charlotte born in 1889 and Horace born in 1901.

The family initially lived at 20 Sandy Bank, but by 1891 they are at 33 Wyre Hill. Joseph Watkins senior is a brick maker by trade, and by 1901 the Watkins’ live at The Common, Abberley near Martley, where Joseph Watkins senior is a brickworks manager. Both his sons John and Joseph have followed him into the trade as brick makers. The brick trade may have proved difficult, for by 1911, the family remains at Abberley, but Joseph senior has reverted to being a bricklayer, Joseph is a labourer, and Charlotte senior and junior are both laundresses.

BL j watkins KT 9 9 16 p7Joseph Watkins was another Bewdley man with prior military experience. He served with the Bewdley Territorials for two years from March 1906 to March 1908. He joined the 17th Lancashire Fusiliers in January 1915 and crossed to France early in 1916. The 17th Lancashire Fusiliers formed part of 104th Brigade of 35th Division. In 1916, the major engagement the 35th Division participated in was the Somme offensive. A recent history of the fighting at Guillemont describes conditions in the front line:

By the 20th July, the 17th Lancashire Fusiliers were in the front line facing Guillemont on the Eastern perimeter of Trones Wood down to Maltz Horn Farm. On the 21st (July 1916) the 17th Lancashire Fusiliers replaced another bantam unit, the 18th Lancashire Fusiliers, in these front lines. A measure of the severity with which the Germans were shelling these positions can be gauged from the casualties which the 17/LFs suffered during the period 21-24 July during which they simply garrisoned the front lines without making any attacks; five officers wounded, 32 other ranks killed, 147 wounded and 2 missing. (Note: Amongst the wounded were the battalion’s commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel A M Mills and his second in command Major Sir HSM Havelock-Allan)[1]

One of the casualties of this shelling was Joseph Watkins. He was severely wounded and was taken to the Casualty Clearing Station at nearby Corbie where he died. He is buried in Corbie Communal Cemetery Extension, Plot I. Row F, Grave 20. he was 30 years of age. [2]

Joseph Watkins’ brother John Watkins, returned from Alberta to join the 3rd Midland Brigade of the Canadian Contingent, served as an Army Veterinary Surgeon in France. The Kidderminster Times also states that another brother ‘Private E Watkins’ served with the Royal Warwickshire Regiment in France. The Watkins family’s unique contribution to the war will be developed in later posts.

[1]  Michael Stedman Battleground Europe: Guillemont Leo Cooper London 1998 p.65

[2]  Kidderminster Times 9 9 1916 p.8; Kidderminster Shuttle 7 10 1916 p.8. The present author’s great-grandfather Private John Heath died of wounds received at Guillemont on the 29th August 1916 while serving with the 14th Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment. He is buried in the same cemetery as Joseph Watkins, in Plot number 2, Row B, Grave number 51.

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