Hubert Alexander Watson 1897 - 1915

A Name On A War Memorial - St Edmunds Churchyard – Wootton Bridge

A Tribute To Rifleman H A Watson Isle of Wight Rifles 1st/8th Hampshire Service No. 1548

Hubert Alexander Watson was shot and died on the beaches of Gallipoli, Turkey on Sunday 22nd August 1915.

Rifleman Watson was known as “Dink” the attached details were taken from the diaries of Dink’s sergeant, Fred Rayner, with whom Dink had a great friendship.

Dink was born at Knight’s Cross, Briddlesford Road, which is between Wootton Bridge and Havenstreet in 1897 and was aged 18 years when he died.

The Watson’s were a family of 11, Dink had two brothers who served in the Royal Navy during the First World War and survived.

Dink's younger brother George to whom we are indebted for this article, was born in 1905 and died in 2008, aged 103. George lived in Wootton all this life.

Extracts From The Diary of Sgt. Fred Rayner

My story has been composed from notes I made when on the Peninsula, and rewritten on my way from Mudros to Alexandria. But by good fortune I posted the notes to England or they would have been lost forever when the SS. Munnewoske? [Name unclear] was sunk whilst bringing me home.

There are many stories not included herewith, I could tell, although true would never be believed. Some of the things I saw perhaps are better not written, for it would bring no credit to the human race. Nevertheless my experience is one that will live with me until I go where thousands of those lads went.

Three lessons though, were brought home to me,
1. How the animal nature in a man can be liberated, and he can kill, kill, and keep on killing if his own life is at sake.
2. It proved to me how much a man could endure and go on enduring if he thinks his cause is right.
3. It brought out their true qualities, as it did in Dink Watson, who was prepared to, and did give his life for a friend.

My pal was a lad from Wootton, Isle of Wight, Dink Watson by name, and we made our arrangements what to do in the event of either going under! A good lad Dink. The hour arrived, then the first order “Over the side you go” and soon hundreds of dark shadows were making their way down the ladders into small boats the Navy had placed alongside. "Full up, sir" a midshipman shouted, then "Away you go" the answer came, and I found myself in one of a string of boats being towed ashore by a naval pinnace. Sometimes straight, sometimes in a tour we went skimming over the water. The dark outline of the shore began to show up and nothing happened.

We were to make a landing undetected I thought, but I thought to soon. Another 50 yards then hell let loose, a hail of machine gun and rifle fire swept through us. Men slumped across the oars for the pinnace had slipped us. Now it was a case of every boat for itself. The Turks had placed barbed wire just under the water and the boats stuck fast and the soldiers were soon wiped out. My boat was lucky to find a gap through which we passed to the beach and scrambled out.

Our machine guns were to follow us in after landing was made, so I had my section with just rifles. Other boats were getting through and I gathered my section {I had only lost two} and sheltered behind some rocks until we could establish a line to go forward.

Then the firing stopped and with a yell of Allah, the Turks charged. They bore down on us like fiends, and soon I was fighting for my very life. Three more of my section fell, never to rise again. We fought like tigers, sword, butt and everything we had. I found myself in an uncomfortable position but Dink Watson was there to save me. Once my sword jammed tight in a Turk's equipment and I was disarmed. I was kicked in the shins and went down, with a big Turk trying to gouge my eyes out. Then a limp body fell across me; yet again Dink had saved my life.

Then we started to retire and at the same time shells started to rain on us. High explosive and shrapnel took a heavy toll of life and orders came to dig in. Small entrenching tools were all we had and the ground was solid rock, so all we could do was to get what shelter we could until a line was established.

We had gone in about 500 yards; the shore was strewn with dead and wounded. Then some order was restored and we got down in earnest. The line began to take shape and the wounded cared for, as many as possible of the dead were collected and buried in a mass grave on the shore as it was the only place where the ground was soft. The build-up continued, our ships engaging the shore batteries, which eased the shelling on us. To our right and left the battle was raging with a terrifying din. How the battle was going we did not know but there was plenty of action.

Our machine guns had come ashore together with food and equipment and we felt more at home. However the main Turkish force had gone back, but why? We were to find out before many days passed, Johnnie Turk didn't give much away. It seemed that the attack on Anafarta was off for the present. I though, had we gone on, we would have fared better, but others with more brains! than us were running the show, so what we thought did not count even if we had dared say so. Still the fact remained, there we were on a hostile shore, under a burning sun with no shelter, not much water or food, weary and tired after hand to hand fighting, waiting to see what was going to happen next.

Night fell; double sentries watched while men rested, more stores came ashore, together with men and material. However during the hours of darkness the snipers returned and began to take a steady toll of men. As day broke a salvo of shells fell among the landing parties, just one salvo, but what damage it did. It caught a number of mules with their Indian drivers and we could ill afford to lose them, but in war you have to expect anything.

The day wore on and the heat of the sun increased, water was short and men were only allowed to moisten their lips. Then came the orders, we would advance at 4 pm and take Anafarta, somehow we welcomed that order, we were too many in too small a place to suit me. Anafarta was a village roughly 3 miles NW of our position on the side of not to steep-a-hill, but between us and the hill was about two miles of open ground, which we had to cross. It meant that as soon as we started to move forward we would be in full view of the Turks.

We started on time and what a show, the sun shone on our bayonets and they knew everything we were doing. Then it started, HE's [high explosive shells], shrapnel, wiz bangs, field guns and the large guns from the fort in the narrows rained on us and large gaps were torn in our ranks. Before we had gone half a mile my gun section, with the exception of my pal Dink, my No1 and myself were either dead or wounded. I carried the gun of 56 lbs? (weight unclear) but in the heat of battle you do not notice the weight. Men were lying everywhere, but you could not stop, get on, was the order and we did that.

[Break in the narrative]

Picture of Galipoli War Memorial at Hellos, Turkey
Galipoli War Memorial at Hellos, Turkey

I reported what I had seen, and he said it would reach the right quarters. He also told me that Capt. Loader had been killed and there were only seven officers at H.Q. My definite orders to you, Sergt, "Is to hold on whatever happens, for there is must be not retirement". I knew what I had to do, and I intended to do it, but it meant that every round fired would have to count. The night passed on, and there was a strange quiet. No one could afford to relax their watch. Then I hear a movement and saw the outline of a figure coming down the line towards our position. He stopped and spoke to the lads along the way and this was followed by a movement of men.

When he reached my position he said, "Are you the Hampshire’s?" I said no (a lie). Then he said, "I am Capt. Loader of the Hampshire’s, the only officer left, prepare to retire at once". I knew Capt. Loader and knew he was dead and there must be no retirement. He must he guest my thoughts and his hand flew to his side, but it was to late, I fired and he was dead. We dragged him to the gun position and looked him over, there was nothing in his dress or features to say he wasn’t British and I began to wonder. Then Dink said, " watch Sergt." and it was, a gold watch inscribed with words I could not read, yes the man was a Turk.

I sent a runner down the line to stop those who were thinking of retirement and contacted H.Q. Then we dragged Johnny Turk clear of our emplacement and left him there to rot.

The morning broke and still no sign of a counter attack, the sniping resumed and claimed many lads, we dug deeper. Then a tragic incident happened, one, which was to prove a turning point in my army life. There was a cry for help from No Man’s Land and turning round I saw a man running round in circles, he was either mad or blinded, it turned out to be the later. But there was something else, a man running towards the man, and that man was Dink Watson. I saw Dink reach him, and then he fell wounded. No time to think then and I found myself running towards my pal. The fifty yards I must have covered in record time, and he was alive. He said “Sergt. Freddie”, where my strength came from I will never know, but I threw him over my shoulder as if he was a child and started back with a hail of bullets following me. Something hit my side and it pained a little, then a bang on my chest as I tumbled with Dink into our shelter.

Dink was dead, so we could do nothing for him, so now I had a look at myself. A bullet had broken my bayonet off short and driven the steel of the scabbard into my hip tearing the flesh. Another had hit my prayer book, which I carried in my breast pocket and the steel mirror inside had deflected it and saved my life. The mirror was one that Dink had given me.

I was filled with remorse and sorrow, for I had lost a pal. Over his body I swore I would not rest until I had put the sniper in his grave, or me in mine. That evening we carried Dink’s body to the shelter of a large olive tree where we buried him, the picture of his girl I placed in his breast pocket. We recited the Lord's Prayer and heaped large stones to kept the carrion birds away. Marking his grave with a simple wooden cross made from ammunition box, marked with one name Dink.

I crawled away bitter in heart.

Captain Seely was waiting for me when I got back, he had seen all and said he would send his report to the Corps HQ, but I only wanted the sniper.