WATSON, Leonard Jack
(Service number 6/2798)

Aliases Len
First Rank Private Last Rank Private


Date 27 July 1897 Place of Birth Waimataitai, Timaru

Enlistment Information

Date 17 April 1915 Age 17 years 9 months
Address at Enlistment Care of H. Man, Claremont
Occupation Farm worker
Previous Military Experience 2nd South Canterbury Regiment - 2 years; still serving
Marital Status Single
Next of Kin William WATSON (father), Marchweil Street, Timaru
Religion Church of England
Medical Information Height 5 feet 5 inches. Weight 126 lbs. Chest measurement 31½-34 inches.

Military Service

Served with NZ Armed Forces Served in Army
Military District

Embarkation Information

Body on Embarkation 6th Reinforcements
Unit, Squadron, or Ship Canterbury Infantry Battalion
Date 14 August 1915
Transport Willochra or Tofua
Embarked From Wellington, N.Z. Destination Suez, Egypt
Other Units Served With
Last Unit Served With Canterbury Infantry Regiment, 1st Battalion

Military Awards

Campaigns Balkans (Gallipoli); Western European (Somme)
Service Medals 1914-15 Star; British War Medal; Victory Medal
Military Awards

Award Circumstances and Date

No information

Prisoner of War Information

Date of Capture
Where Captured and by Whom
Actions Prior to Capture
PoW Serial Number
PoW Camps
Days Interned
Liberation Date


Date Reason

Hospitals, Wounds, Diseases and Illnesses

Post-war Occupations


Date 25 September 1916 Age 18 years
Place of Death Somme, France
Cause Killed in action
Memorial or Cemetery Caterpillar Valley (New Zealand) Memorial, Caterpillar Valley Cemetery, Longueval, Somme, France
Memorial Reference
New Zealand Memorials On Memorial wall, Timaru; Waimataitai School War Memorial; St Mary's Anglican Church Timaru Memorial

Biographical Notes

Leonard Jack Watson, known as Len to family and friends, was the seventh son of William Albert and Ellen (née Cullen) Watson, of 141 Bealey Street, St Albans, Christchurch. Born on 27 July 1897 at Timaru, he put his age up so that he could enlist in April 1915. Along with his siblings, Len attended Waimataitai School, Timaru.

In December 1913 young Len was one of a large number of cadets who appeared before the court on charges of failing to render personal service required of them under the Defence Act. He was not one, however, who gave novel and hitherto unheard of excuses. Rather he said that he had been in the country for some time, and he was exempted in the meantime.

Leonard had been serving with the 2nd South Canterbury Regiment (Territorial Force) for two years when he enlisted on 17 April 1915, aged just 17 years and 9 months. He was indeed in the country – working as a farm hand for Mr Man at Claremont. It would appear that his medical examination was not initially completed, probably on account of his age; then before anything more happened Len had left for the front, never to see home again.

Leonard (2nd Regiment) was one of 123 men who joined 500 men from the south already on the train and left from the Timaru Railway Station in mid-April 1915, en route for the front. The Mayor wished them the best of good fortune and complimented them on the manly stand they were so freely taking in going to help to break the sway of one of the greatest despots who had ever lived. He wished them all a safe and speedy return, before the train steamed out of the station to the accompaniment of cheering and good-bye messages.

He embarked with the 6th Reinforcements on 14 August 1914 for Egypt. There and in France he engaged in the usual youthful behaviour – absent from roll call, absent from camp (resulting in seven days confined to barracks and one day’s pay), and absent from parade and roll call. He initially joined his battalion at Mudros, then he went on to Alexandria, and after a stint on the Dardenelles, embarked for France in April 1916. On 1 August 1916 he was attached to town major staff for Fire Brigade duties for nine days before rejoining his unit.

It was on the night of Thursday, 12 October 1916 that Len’s father received the word that his son Leonard Jack Watson, of the Sixths, had died. He was the second son to make the supreme sacrifice, and aged only 18 years, by which time he had experienced both Gallipoli and the Somme. He had come through the Gallipoli campaign unharmed, only to be killed in action at the Somme on 25 September, aged 18 years.

Len was well known in the Claremont district where he was a town boy working on a farm. He was one of many ex-pupils who had gone or were on their way to the front and whose names appeared on the Waimataitai School “Roll of Honour” drawn up in August 1915. At the school on 16 February 1917, the headmaster recorded with regret the death in France of “another old Waimataitai boy, Private Leonard J. Watson.” It was decided that a letter of sympathy be sent to Mrs Watson.

Leonard was a brother of William Winter Watson who had died of wounds in May 1916. In September 1917, another brother George Albert Watson appealed his call-up. Of the seven sons of military age, two had been killed, two were in Australia, one had been turned down, another was in the second Division, and George himself had enlisted, been turned down, and had married. George was given time and did eventually enlist, but saw no overseas service.

His mother, father, seven surviving brothers and two sisters inserted an In Memoriam notice in the Timaru Herald in 1917, 1918 and 1919 for Leonard, reading:.

“Killed in action say the cables,

That is all the tale they tell

Of the brave young lad who loved us,

Of the lad we loved so well.

How the life was sped we know not,

What the last word, look or thought,

Only that he did his duty,

Died as bravely as he fought.” (1917)

Leonard is remembered on the Caterpillar Valley (New Zealand) Memorial, Caterpillar Valley Cemetery, Longueval, Somme, France; on the Timaru War Memorial Wall, the Waimataitai School War Memorial; and St Mary's Anglican Church Timaru, Memorial. His medals (1914-15 Star; British War Medal; Victory Medal) were sent to his father who had moved to Christchurch.

A young man too young to vote, too young to appreciate the value of making a will, too young to die, but not too young to go into battle and lay down his life for others.


Auckland War Memorial Museum Cenotaph Database [07 November 2013]; N Z Defence Force Personnel Records (Archives NZ Ref. AABK 18805 W5557 0119690) [10 December 2015]; CWGC [08 November 2013]; Timaru Herald, 9 December 1913, 19 April 1915, 30 August 1915, 13 & 14 October 1916, 14 March 1917, 17, 25 & 26 September 1917, 25 September 1918, 25 September 1919, 16 September 1920, Press, 14 October 1916 (Papers Past) [10 November 2013; 04 April 2014, 16 August 2014; 11 December 2015]; NZ BDM Indexes (DiA) [04 April 2014]

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Researched and Written by

Teresa Scott, SC branch NZSG

Currently Assigned to


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