The Schemer

Major General Sir David Watson, D.S.O.
2nd (Iron Second) BattalionWatson

Had he not been colonel he would have received the V.C. for this. Ypres made him a marked man, and it left its mark on him. His friends say that he aged ten years in the ten days, for he and his battalion were in the fiercest part of the fighting.

(F. A. McKenzie, Through the Hindenburg Line, 1918, 10)

David Watson was a sportsman, journalist and owner of the Quebec Morning Chronicle. He was born in Quebec City on 7 February 1869. In his youth, Watson played for the Quebec Hockey Club and became active in the 8th Royal Rifles. Watson, a Conservative Party supporter and friend of Militia Minister Sam Hughes, was selected to command the 2nd Battalion when the Canadian Expeditionary Force assembled at Valcartier.

The 2nd arrived in France in February 1915 and first saw action at the second battle of Ypres in late April. Remarking on the large number of troops wounded and killed, Watson admitted, “They are too embedded in my mind to be ever forgotten.” In recognition for his leadership, Watson was promoted to command the 5th Brigade in August 1915.

2ndWatsonAmong some of his subordinate commanders, Watson was known as an ambitious self-promoter who sacrificed the lives of his men to “gain public notice and repute.” On 11 May 1916, Watson succeeded Lord Brooke in command of the 4th Infantry Division, which arrived in France that summer.

Arriving home in July 1919, Watson addressed a crowd:

And let me here pay tribute to that gallantry of our men, those real heroes of the war, the men in the trenches. Uncomplaining, hard working, cheerful under the most bitter conditions, always ready to carry out the most difficult and hazardous operations, they had made the word ‘No Man’s Land’ a thing of the past…

He concluded,  “I can speak with very deep feelings of emotion, how frequently during periods of depression and anxiety, of the anticipation of such a welcome back.” Resuming his newspaper career, Watson privately confided, “I have returned safe & secure home again. And after what terrible experiences & what fearful hardships & sufferings.”

Watson died in Quebec on 19 February 1922 shortly after the federal Liberal Government forced his retirement from a civil service position. A friend wrote to Conservative leader Arthur Meighen, “I personally do not consider it too much to say that what the Huns failed to do the Liberals succeeded in accomplishing—killing him.”

6 thoughts on “The Schemer

  1. A fascinating guy, Watson. Among other notable things, it was Watson, with Odlum, who saved Currie’s bacon apropos the issue of misappropriated regimental funds at Victoria. Here is an item that appeared in Saturday Night magazine in the wake of Watson’s death:
    Maj-Gen Sir David Watson

    • Hi Alan,
      Thanks for reading! I agree. Watson was a interesting fellow. Thanks for adding the bit about his and Odlum helping Currie. Using personal funds to pay off someone else’s misappropriated expenses to avoid a scandal– Nigel Wright and Senator Duffy were just following historical precedent!

  2. Hi there
    I like your postings on Watson. My grandfather was with him in the 8th Royal Rifles & his ADC for a period in 1916/17. Can you tell me source of this quote? I’ve seen it before but I’ve never seen the original source revealed.
    I quote from your post above [it is never known as an ambitious self-promoter who sacrificed the lives of his men to “gain public notice and repute.”]

    • The quote is from the diary of Lieut. Col. J.W. Warden (102nd Bn):
      The whole entry reads: “I should never have left the Canadians, but for the fact, I could not stand my Brigadier Gen. Victor Odlum any longer nor Mjr Gen. David Watson Div l Comdr. Both very mercenary men & political with Pullens, who used their Comds to make to gain Public notice & repute. Odlum was the most clever schemer of the two. He was working for Watson’s job, & was making balls for Watson to fix an order to make him (Watson) unpopular, & Watson was not smart enough to know it, & fixed the balls, a most incompitant [sic] officer, & Odlum is a most averisious [sic] decoration hunter, as are most of the staff.”

  3. Pingback: The Raid: Fighting around Vimy Ridge, March 1917

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