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.
Among 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.”