Lieutenant Colonel E.J. Watt
240th (Renfrew) Battalion
I would prefer to assist in organizing Bombing squadrons composed of men of 45 years of ago & over who could qualify as aviators.… Teach us to fly and drop Bombs. Just as soon as we are competent and capable send us to France, give us machines and bombs and say ‘This is your machine, there are your bombs and there’s the enemy country so go to it and if you come back, there are plenty more bombs. And I herewith volunteer to take the first machine across and knock H– out of enemy infantry & country.
(E.J. Watt to defence minister, 26 Sept 1939)
Born in Lamarck, Ontario on 4 July 1884, Edgar John Watt was a stove and furnace manufacturer with twelve years’ experience in the 42nd Regiment. Although denied a posting as second-in-command of the 130th Battalion for lacking field officer qualifications, by June 1916 he had been given command of the 240th Battalion. Former 42nd Regiment commanding officer, fifty-three year old Lennox Irving, came out of retirement to serve as Watt’s second-in-command.
During summer 1916, Watt and Lennox struggled to gather volunteers for the 240th from the counties of Lanark, Renfrew and Frontenac. With less than 400 men, the 240th sailed for England where it was broken up for reinforcement drafts to the 38th (Ottawa) Battalion.
Although deemed “a splendid organizer,” Watt was struck off strength to Canada in September 1917. After the war, militia department auditors investigated deficiencies in the battalion accounts. Lennox Irving defended his fellow colonel and felt that the militia district headquarters was prejudiced against Watt. “I think it is a shame,” he wrote, complaining about the department’s insistence on “exact payment of shortages under the abnormal conditions of war.” By 1920, officials dropped the matter as Watt was reportedly broke working as a labourer. After failing to report for several years, he was retired from the militia in 1925.
On the outbreak of the Second World War, the fifty-four-year-old former colonel offered his services “in any capacity, rank and location” to the defence minister. Watt suggested recruiting an air squadron of middle-aged and older men like himself to train as pilots to carry out essentially suicide bombing missions against the enemy. The defence department appreciated the offer but politely noted, “circumstances as yet have not rendered further action necessary.”
Watt died on 16 April 1943. Three of his sons served as captains in the Canadian Army. Two died one month apart during the liberation of Western Europe. Thirty-year-old Captain John Arthur Watt of the Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders was killed in France on 17 September 1944. Thirty-three-year-old Captain James Stewart Watt Essex Scottish Regiment died in action in Holland on 21 October 1944.
Militia personnel file, 6345-1: https://heritage.canadiana.ca/view/oocihm.lac_reel_t17534/2234