Man from Biggar family was a hero of both world wars

At the front in World War One, the young Jack Watson (right) with his comrades.
At the front in World War One, the young Jack Watson (right) with his comrades.

The lush grasslands of the farms surrounding Biggar where the bleating of sheep and birdsong are about the only sounds to disturb the peaceful, tranquil atmosphere isn’t the most obvious breeding ground for warriors.

However, throughout the centuries it sent more than its fair share of men to defend Scotland in many ways and on many battlegrounds.

Amongst the most remarkable of that stock was Jack Watson, a man who proved his physical bravery in the First World War and served the nation well with his military brainpower in the next.

The Watson family had farmed land just south of Biggar for over 200 years when one of the family, Jack’s father, decided to pursue a career as different to that of an Upperward farmer as could be imagined – that of a London stockbroker.

His wife, a member of the well-known Edinburgh legal family the Carments, gave birth to Jack just before the turn of the 19th century into the 20th, timing that would make his involvement in World War One almost inevitable.

Indeed, he turned 18 years old just as it seemed the outbreak of that conflict in 1914 was inevitable and, just before it did, Jack joined the army and was sent to the Royal Military Academy.

In February 1917, now a young officer in the 2nd Battalion of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, he reached the front line in France and wihin weeks of arriving had won Britain’s second highest award for valour, the Military Cross.

He was wounded twice at the front but survived that war, something his younger brother David sadly did not, falling in action in July 1918.

As a ‘’regular’’, Jack was not de-mobbed with the vast majority of the wartime army but served on in various parts of the British Empire until he finally retired from the army in 1935. Or so he thought...

It was only a few years after joining his father’s stockbroking business that war came to Europe once again, Jack quickly re-joining the forces.

Now too old for combat duties, he joined the vital backroom staff, planning the nation’s defence against the Nazi onslaught. History placed him in the War Office in London on the fateful night of May 9/10 when, as Duty Officer, he was the first man in Britain to hear the dreaded news that the German tanks were rolling into Belgium.

It was Jack Watson who set the pre-planned response to the invasion into action.

Shortly afterwards he went with the head of the Army to visit the British Expeditionary Force’s commander in France to assess the French Army’s readiness to resist the Blitzkrieg. There were other overseas adventures; to Iceland to inspect its defences, and to Washington to join the British Military Mission there. He was one of the early members of the team planning D-Day.

In 1945 Jack’s second World War came to an end and he, once more, retired from the British Army, this time for good. In the final decade of his life, the former Lieutenant Colonel lived in a place not unlike the area where his ancestors had farmed for generations, Thornhill in Dumfries and Galloway.

It was a well-deserved retirement.

Much of this article was drawn from the Passchendaele centenary publication ‘Crieff Remembers’, available via www.crieffremembers.org.