John Lawrence Watson

In memory of Margaret McNicoll, wife of Thomas Sime of Braefoot, Duddingston, died 24 December 1916; of Thomas Sime died 19 July 1920; of their daughter Agnes Wright Watson died 16 August 1931

John Lawrence Watson, Lieut. Col., R.A.S.C., son of John Lawrence Watson and Agnes Wright Watson, husband of Margaret Elinor Watson, born 4 July 1911, died 3 May 1944; joined by her 13 May 1996

CWGC: Lt.-Col. John Lawrence Watson, R.A.S.C., service no. 62677; d. 3 May 1944, a. 32; Mentioned in Despatches; son of John Lawrence Watson and Agnes Wright Watson, of Edinburgh; husband of Margaret Elinor Watson, of Fleet, Hampshire.  B.A. (Cantab.).  F 531

John Lawrence Watson was born in Edinburgh on 4 July 1911.  His father, also John Lawrence Watson (1883-1964), was born in Karachi, India, the son of Andrew Bulloch Watson, who was a Church of Scotland Chaplain there for many years.  John Lawrence Watson senior graduated from the University of Edinburgh with an MA with Honours in Classics in 1907 and won the Kirkpatrick History scholarship.  He was appointed a member of the Indian Educational Service and Vice-Principal of the Training College at Allahabad in 1909.  

On 29 January 1910 in Allahabad, Bengal, he married Agnes Wright Sime (1884-1931), only daughter of Thomas Sime, of Braefoot, Duddingston, a linen merchant, and his wife Margaret McNicoll.  Agnes had her first child, John, in Edinburgh, in July 1911, but then returned to Bengal where her second son, Thomas Simon Lawrence Watson, was born on 19 August 1912.  Agnes and the two boys must then have returned on a visit to Scotland as they left London for Bombay on 10 October 1914.

John Lawrence Watson junior returned to Britain to attend school and was a pupil at Fettes College, where he became a school prefect and was an active sportsman, playing rugby, cricket and hockey.  He left Fettes in 1930 and went to Pembroke College, Cambridge, graduating with a BA degree, probably in engineering, before enlisting in the army and joining the Royal Army Service Corps in 1934.

On 1 January 1938 John Lawrence Watson married Margaret Elinor Burnett at the Presbyterian Church in Richmond, Surrey.  She was the elder daughter of Lieut.-Colonel Robert Francis Day Burnett, M.C., who served in the Indian Army, and his wife Eleanor Kennedy.  John Lawrence Watson was stationed in Egypt at this time and their first child, a daughter, Frances, was born in Cairo on 31 October 1938.  The family had returned to England and were living in Fleet, Hampshire, in September 1939 and Margaret gave birth to twin sons, John and Robert, there on 3 January 1942.  

The outbreak of war brought rapid promotion for Watson – Captain in 1940, Adjutant and temporary Major and then in June 1943 substantive Major and temporary Lieutenant Colonel.  The London Gazette Supplement dated 13 January 1944 announced “The KING has been graciously pleased to approve that the following be Mentioned in recognition of gallant and distinguished services in the Middle East”.  The following long list included John Lawrence Watson.  This and other references suggest that Watson spent most of WW2 in North Africa and presumably took part in the vital North African campaigns of 1943.  Sadly the stress of his war service led to him committing suicide and he died at the County Hospital in Farnborough, Kent, on 3 May 1944, after shooting himself in the head.  His death certificate shows that the coroner had recorded a verdict of “Suicide whilst the balance of his mind was temporarily disturbed by reason of ill health (neurasthenia) which developed in consequence of his military duty and military service”.  

Margaret Watson married Alexander Falconer Giles in 1953.  Giles (1915-1989) was a colonial civil servant, who, like John Lawrence Watson, had confusingly been given the same name as his father.  Alexander Falconer Giles senior was Lecturer in Ancient History in the University of Edinburgh from 1915 to the late 1940s and was appointed Deputy Secretary of the University in 1922.  His son served in WW2, being awarded an MBE, before joining the Colonial Service and working in Africa for several years.  He then served as Administrator in St Vincent, West Indies, 1955–62; Resident Commissioner, Basutoland, 1962–65; and the British Government Representative, Basutoland, 1965–66, before settling in Edinburgh where he was involved in various organisations, particularly the Royal Over-Seas League and Toc-H.  Alexander and Margaret had no children of their own but Margaret’s daughter and sons attended school in the UK and regularly visited their mother and step-father in St Vincent.  John subsequently moved to South Africa to farm while Robert joined the army.