Private Robert Watson



Robert Watson was born on 7 April 1890 at Race End, Letterkenny, County Donegal, the fourth of nine children of farmer William Watson and his wife Jane Mary (nee Scott). By 1911 he and his brother David were living at nearby Ballyarr and working as farm servants on the property of John Stevenson.

Watson enlisted in the North Irish Horse between 18 January and 16 February 1912 (No.660 – later Corps of Hussars No.71060). He embarked for France with A Squadron on 17 August 1914, seeing action on the retreat from Mons and advance to the Aisne.

On 22 January 1915 the Belfast Evening Telegraph published the following article, with a letter written home by Watson:

Some interesting details of the doings of the North Irish Horse at the front are contained in a letter to a friend in Derry from Trooper Robert Watson, whose photograph taken near the scene of action we reproduce [above]. Trooper Watson, who belongs to Racend, Culboy, Letterkenny, has been in the firing line since shortly after the outbreak of the war. “We arrived in France,” he says, “ about the 20th of August, and had a few days’ rest at Le Havre, during which time we were treated with the greatest kindness by the French people, being given wines and fruits in abundance. Needless to say, the few days we spent here gave us a very good impression of our French Allies. The next place we halted at was Le Cateau. After a few days here we set out about four o’clock in the morning for Compiegne, where we had a very lively encounter with the Germans. With a few exceptions we escaped without a scratch. I was next sent by Lieutenant R. D. Ross, son of Mr. Justice Ross, to assist in guarding a transport belonging to the Fourth Division. Two days later I was obliged to go into action with the Hussars. Here I got lost from my own troop. After about four hours’ hard fighting we retired with thirty killed and a good number wounded. We had all the wounded promptly removed to the nearest railway station and sent to the base at Le Mons. Afterwards I was attached to the Field Artillery for two weeks. During this period we took a field gun and also a Maxim gun after a very hot time, and we further succeeded in capturing a large German transport wagon heavily laden with mutton, which we very much appreciated. A few days later I managed to get back to Mr. Ross’s troop in time to take part in a very lively encounter the North Irish had with the enemy, under Lieutenant Ross. Unfortunately I lost my horse, and had to run three miles holding on to the stirrup of Mr. Ross’s saddle. This was the toughest job I ever experienced. Had it not been for Mr. Ross carrying my rifle and other things for me I would not be alive and well to-day.”

The Londonderry Sentinel also published the letter, with the following addition:

I hope this imperfect account of the doings of the North Irish Horse will interest some of your readers, especially those in Donegal.

Trooper Watson mentions the pleasure which copies of the Derry papers afford the men. "I get an odd 'Sentinel,'" he says, "and it is eagerly scanned by the Donegal, Derry, and Tyrone members of the North Irish Horse."

Watson remained with the regiment throughout the war. One record states that he was wounded and gassed, though the details and date are not known. He was transferred to Class Z, Army Reserve, on 25 February 1919.


Image, from the Belfast Evening Telegraph, kindly provided by Nigel Henderson, Researcher at History Hub Ulster (