Hidden in a Drawer – Private Ernest Charles Watts, Hampshire Regiment
Over a decade ago, an uncle of mine was renovating a cottage he bought. It was cluttered with various things which needed to be sorted or thrown out. Among the items, hiding in a drawer were campaign medals badges, and documents belonging to a long-forgotten soldier. The items must have been laying dormant here for decades and luckily escaped being thrown out my by uncles vigilant eye. Recounted below is the story of this forgotten soldier of the Hampshire Regiment Ernest Charles Watts.
Ernest Charles Watts was born in Alton, Hampshire in 1877. He enlisted in the 3rd (militia) Battalion, Hampshire Regiment at Winchester on 17 October 1893. He gave his previous trade as a blacksmith. Upon his enlistment he was recorded as 5 foot 9 inches tall, having brown hair and grey eyes. He was noted to have a scar on his left forearm. On 5 December 1893 Ernest transferred to the 2nd (regular infantry) Battalion, Hampshire.
Private Watts served for 8 years in the army and 3 years in the army reserve. Whilst stationed in Ireland Ernest married Mary Delaney, on 7 January 1899 in St Brendan’s Catholic Church, Birr, King’s County (Offaly). Mary was from Whiteford, just outside Birr. Private Watts later served in South Africa during the Second Anglo Boer war and received the Queen’s South Africa medal with the clasps Cape Colony and Paardeburg. Private Watts was discharged on the 4 December 1905 in Exeter. He gave his intended place of residence as 10 St Peters Street, Winchester. The 1911 census records both Ernest and Mary living in Winchester.
With the outbreak of the Great War, Ernest reenlisted on 12 August 1914. Joining the 3rd (reserve) Battalion, Hampshire Regiment, which had been mobilised in Winchester. Private Watts was subsequently transferred to the 11th (service) Battalion, Hampshire Regiment which was formed in October. The 11th battalion was moved to Ireland and was attached to the 16th Irish Division. The battalion moved to Aldershot in September 1915 and then onto France in December.
Private Watts served throughout the war until he was discharged as he was found no longer physically fit for service due to heart problems in May 1918. For his service he received the 1914-15 Star, British War medal and Victory medal.
Ernest and Mary returned to Mary’s native Whiteford. They had no children. Ernest died on 10 September 1932 at Leopardstown Park Hospital, Dublin from heart disease. He was buried in Clonoghill Cemetery, Birr. Mary died on 21 November 1944 aged 62 years.