WATSON Robert Layton 1887 – 1917


32872 Private Robert Layton Watson, 2nd Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry died of wounds 17 June 1917, aged 29.  He is buried at Bethune Town Cemetery, France[1] and is commemorated on the Witton Park war memorials.

Family Details

Robert Layton Watson was born 1887, at Bardon, North Yorkshire[2], the son of James and Annie Watson.  There were at least 8 children:[3]

  • John bc.1886 at Bellerby
  • Robert born 1887 at Hauxwell, Bardon
  • Alice bc.1890 at Hauxwell, Bardon
  • Frederick bc.1892 at Corsham
  • Annie bc.1894
  • Frank bc.1898 at Hudswell
  • Thomas bc.1900 at Hudswell
  • Mary bc.1905

In 1891, the family lived at Hackforth near Bedale where James worked as general labourer.[4] In 1901, James Watson was recorded as a farmer own account, at Brooks, Hudswell near Richmond, North Yorkshire.[5]  In 1911, there was a 23 years old Robert Watson working as a, “horseman on a farm” for William Barker, farmer at Violet Grange, Middleton Tyas, North Yorkshire.[6]  In 1913, Robert L. Watson married Gertrude Wilson at Bishop Auckland.[7] They had a son, Robert Andrew Watson born 29 May 1913 at Witton Park.  The family lived at 19 Low King Street, Witton Park.[8]

Military Details

11 December 1915, aged 28 years 3 months Robert Layton Watson attested, joined the Army Reserve and was allocated service number 32872.[9]  30 May 1916, he was medically examined at Sunderland and the following details were given – he worked as a labourer, stood 5’11” tall, of good physical development and joined 23 (Reserve) Bn., Durham Light Infantry.[10] His religion was Church of England.[11]

Private Robert L. Watson was mobilized 30 August 1916 and posted to 3/DLI then to the BEF Base 14 October 1916, when he entered France.  He was then transferred to 2/DLI in the field 4 February 1917.  Private Robert L. Watson was wounded (shell wound, fractured right thigh) 16 June 1917 [12] and died of wounds received in action 17 June 1917 at 33rd Casualty Clearing Station.[13] He served with D Company.14]

DLI Cap Badge

Private Robert L. Watson served for a total of 1 year 189 days, 247 being in France.[15]

The 2nd Battalion, the Durham Light Infantry was a regular army unit and came under the orders of the 18th Brigade, 6th Division. 10 September 1914, the Division landed at St. Nazaire and proceeded to the Western Front where it remained throughout the war.  It arrived in time to reinforce the BEF on the Aisne before the whole army was moved north to Flanders.  Up to June 1917, the Battle Honours of the 2/DLI included Aisne 1914; Armentieres 1914; Hooge 1915; Flers-Courcelette, Morval, Le Transloy, Somme 1916; Hill 70.  By 1917, the 18th Brigade comprised:

  • 1st Battalion, the West Yorkshires
  • 11th (Service) Battalion, the Essex
  • 2nd Battalion, the Durham Light Infantry
  • 14th (Service) Battalion, the DLI
  • 18th Brigade Machine Gun Company formed February 1916
  • 18th Trench Mortar Battery joined April 1916

Over the winter of 1916 into the spring of 1917, the 6th Division occupied positions at the La Bassee sector and on the Loos Salient.  The month of March and early April 1917 were notable for raids and counter-raids, considerable artillery and trench mortar activity which:

 “gave place to more or less continuous fighting consequent on the withdrawal of the enemy opposite the right of the Division after the successful attack by the Canadians at Vimy.” [16]

In June 1917, 2/DLI was at Loos-en-Gohelle between Bethune and Lens in northern France. At this time nightly shelling and sporadic raids upon the opposing trenches was the order of the day.  The battalion war diary for the month of June included the following:[17]

2: The battalion moved to Les Brebis into the Brigade Reserve.

3: At night, the battalion relieved 14/DLI in the Brigade front between Boyau 51 and Boyau 63, completed by 1.45am on the 4th.  A Company held the right front; B Company left front; D Company Reserve Line; C Company relieved company of 14/DLI garrison of Loos.

4: Hostile artillery – casualties 2 ORs killed, 2 ORs wounded.  Loos shelled between 10pm and midnight.

5: Enemy artillery active – casualties 2ORs wounded

6: Enemy artillery active – casualties 1 OR wounded

On the night of 6/7 June a raid was launched upon the German lines with the object of bringing back prisoners in order to gather intelligence.  A party of about 35 men was lightly armed, some with rifles and machine guns, some with flares and some armed with “Knobkerries”.  The German barbed wire was shelled to break a gap but the enemy was expecting the raid and retaliated with artillery and machine gun fire. The raiding party was pinned down in No Man’s Land and did not get through the wire.  Casualties were initially reported as – 1 officer wounded, 6 ORs killed, 15 ORs wounded, 3 ORs wounded at duty a d 1 OR missing. 

The commanding officer’s reported:

“The dash of the men was excellent in every way and though the raid was a failure it was a gallant attempt.” [18]

Later research records that 7 Other Ranks were killed in action 7 June 1917 including Private W. Heaviside from West Auckland and another 3 men died of wounds 7 and 8 June 1917. [19]  Private Robert L. Watson was not in the raiding party.

The War Diary continued:

8: Artillery both our own and the enemy was hostile throughout the day.  No casualties.

9: The day passed quietly.  Our patrols were active during the night.  Casualties – 1OR killed 7 ORs wounded.  The man reported missing on the 7th was recovered and his body brought in.

10: Intermittent shelling.  Casualties – 1 OR killed

11: Our artillery was active.  Casualties –  1OR wounded.

12: Quiet day. Casualties – 1 OR wounded.  Relieved by 1/West Yorkshire Regiment.

13 – 15: Out of the line.  Moved to Maroc with HQ at Les Brebis.  Casualties 1OR killed and 1 wounded.

16 June:

“The Battn. rested during the day.  At night the whole Battn. was employed on digging out the front line between Bayaux 46 and 52.  Casualties 1 OR killed and 4 ORs wounded.”

Private Robert L. Watson was wounded on this day, suffering a shell wound to his right thigh.  He died of his wounds at 33 Casualty Clearing Station 17 June 1917.[20]

17: The Battalion rested all day.  At night it finished the work between Bayaux 46 and 52.  Casualties 2 ORs killed and 6 ORs wounded.

18: Battalion bathed during the day and at night relieved 1/7th Sherwood Foresters in trenches.  Casualties – 2 ORs killed.

The action continued in a similar manner until the end of the month with the enemy shelling using “minewerfers” and aerial darts and retaliation from British gunners.  Later research records that between 1 and 30 June, 2/DLI lost 1 officer and 53 Other Ranks killed in action or died of wounds including Private Robert L. Watson who died of wounds 17 June and 4 others killed in action on that day.[21] This was the nature of warfare in the Loos Salient sector.  Between 2 March and 25 July 1917 there were 4,884 casualties as a result of “Raids and attacks, Hill 70.” [22]

Awards and Medals

Private Robert Layton Watson was awarded the Victory and British War medals.[23]

Medal Roll Card Index


Private Robert Layton Watson is buried at grave reference VI.F.14, Bethune Town Cemetery, France.[24]

Effects and Pension

Private Robert L. Watson made out his will 10 March 1917, giving the whole of his property to his wife Mrs. R. Watson, 19 Low King Street, Witton Park.[25] His wife Gertrude Watson received his effects[26]and pension.[27]


Robert Layton Watson was born 1887 in North Yorkshire of farming stock but appears to have moved to Witton Park in search of work as a labourer.  In 1913, he married Gertrude Wilson at Bishop Auckland and they had 1 son.  Robert Watson enlisted in December 1915, was mobilized August 1916 and entered France in October 1916 joining the 2/DLI in the field in February 1917 in the Loos sector.  He died of wounds, shell wounds to the right thigh, 17 June 1917 at no. 33 Casualty Clearing Station, aged 29.  He is buried at Bethune Town Cemetery, France.  Private Robert L. Watson left a widow and 1 child.


[1] Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC)

[2] England & Wales Birth Index 1837-1915 Vol.9d Leyburn 1887 Q4.

[3] 1891 & 1901 census and & Army Form Statement of the name and addresses of all the Relatives of the above named deceased Soldier…that are now living

[4] 1891 census

[5] 1901 census

[6] 1911 census

[7] England & Wales Marriage Index 1837-1915 Vol.10a p.355 Auckland 1913 Q1

[8] Army Form B.2512 Information supplied by recruit

[9] Army Form B.2512

[10] Army Form b.178 Medical History

[11] Descriptive Report on Enlistment

[12] Army Form B.103 Casualty Form – Active Service

[13] Military History Sheet and Statement of the Services

[14] Army Form B.2090A Field Service

[15] Military History Sheet and Statement of the Services

[16] “A Short History of the Sixth Division” edited by Major General T.O. Marden

[17] War Diary of the 2nd Battalion, the Durham Light Infantry for the month of June 1917 Note: this is not verbatim but an abridged account

[18] Detail provided by the late Mike Heaviside, 2 Moor View, Cockfield

[19] Soldiers Died in the Great War

[20] Army Form B.103 Casualty Form – Active Service

[21] Officers and Soldiers Died in the Great War

[22] “A Short History of the Sixth Division” edited by Major General T.O. Marden Appendix I.

[23] Medal Roll card index and Roll dated 3 May 1920

[24] CWGC

[25] Army file

[26] UK Army Register of Soldiers’ Effects 1901-1929 Record No.550760

[27] Pension card index