WATSON Thomas Raisbeck

Thomas Raisbeck WATSON 1916-1941

4456685 Private T.R. Watson, 1st Battalion, the Durham Light Infantry was lost at sea 23 December 1941, aged 25.  He is commemorated on the Brookwood Memorial, London[1] and the Evenwood War Memorial.

Family Details

Thomas Raisbeck Watson was born 1916 [2] at Evenwood, the son of Thomas and Jane Watson of the Centre, Evenwood and brother to Alice, Ethel, Elsie, Phyllis and Jennie.[3]  Tom was a keen sportsman.

Evenwood Welfare Cricket Club c.1938


Maurice Dinsdale; Joe Stephenson; Billy Atkinson; Tommy Watson; Arthur Hewitson; Jos. Priestley; Tommy Carrick; Mr. Baines (colliery manager) George Daniel (scorer); George Lowson


S. Peacock; Harold Mason; Sid. Bussey; Fred Lowson; George Storey:

Service Details

The service details of Private T.R. Watson have not been researched.

Private T. R. Watson, 1/DLI  

 30 January 1940: The 1st Battalion, the Durham Light Infantry arrived at Port Suez from Hong Kong and in July 1940, as part of the 23rd Infantry Brigade, it moved up the line to Mersa Matruh and prepared defences.  On the 23 July 1940, 1/DLI came under the orders of 22 Infantry Brigade. [4]   The battalion was involved in action in and around Torbruk, including the siege, until the end of the year.

North Africa: Libya, Tobruk [5]

10 June 1940:  When Benito Mussolini declared war on the Allies, he already had over a million men in the Italian Army based in Libya. In neighbouring Egypt the British Army had only 36,000 men guarding the Suez Canal and the Arabian oilfields.

13 September, 1940:  Marshall Rodolfo Graziani and five Italian divisions began a rapid advance into Egypt but halted in front of the main British defences at Mersa Matruh.

9 December 1940:  Although outnumbered, General Archibald Wavell ordered a British counter-offensive.  The Italians suffered heavy casualties and were pushed back more than 800km (500 miles).

22 January 1941:  British troops moved along the coast and they captured the port of Tobruk in Libya from the Italians.  Adolf Hitler was shocked by the defeats being suffered by the Italian Army and in January 1941, sent General Erwin Rommel and the recently formed Deutsches Afrika Korps to North Africa.

24 March 1941:  Rommel mounted his first attack and after a week of fighting he pushed Archibald Wavell and the British Army out of most of Libya.

17 June 1941:  Archibald Wavell attempted a counter-attack but his troops were halted at Halfaya Pass. Three weeks later he was replaced by General Claude Auchinleck.

4 November 1941:  Erwin Rommel was forced to abandon his siege of Tobruk and the following month had moved as far west as Archibald Wavell had achieved a year previously. Aware that Wavell’s supply lines were now overextended and after Rommel gained reinforcements from Tripoli, he launched a counterattack. It was now the turn of the British Army to retreat.

4 December 1941:  British forces under General Leslie Morshead repulsed German attacks on the fortress and Rommel decided to abandon the siege of Tobruk.

7 December: 7.20pm, a British attack was commenced and 3 forward companies encountered stiff opposition but with the assistance of some tanks, the enemy was cleared out of his positions by 2.30am, the next morning (8th).  1/DLI lost 3 officers and 8 Other Ranks killed, 1 officer and 26 Other Ranks wounded.  It is possible that Private T.R. Watson received wounds during this action. [6]

23 December: Private T.R. Watson was aboard SS Shuntien, in convoy TA-5, bound for Alexandria.  At 19.02 hours, SS Shuntien was torpedoed and sunk by U-559 northeast of Tobruk.  The ship carried 70 crew members, 18 gunners and 850 to 1100 prisoners of war.  The master, 47 crew members and an unknown number of gunners and prisoners were picked up by HMS Salvia, (K97) commanded by Lt. Crd. J.I. Miller, DSO, RD, RNR.

24 December:  At 01.35 hours, HMS Salvia was hit by a torpedo from U-568.  All 4 officers and 54 ratings were lost together with the master, 47 crew members and an unknown number of gunners and prisoners from SS Shuntien.  Shuntien was also carrying wounded British servicemen and may have had Private T.R. Watson aboard.

CWGC record that Private T.R. Watson was lost at sea 23 December 1941 which infers he was lost when Shuntien was sunk rather than HMS Salvia.  What is confirmed is that 4456685 Private T.R. Watson was aboard SS Shuntien when she was sunk by a U-boat.  Either:

1] he was sick or had received wounds and was being transferred to Alexandria for further hospital treatment or

2] he was with “B” Company, 1/DLI, escorting German and Italian POWs to Alexandria.

Whichever is correct, he was aboard SS Shuntien when it was torpedoed and sunk.  Some survivors were picked up by a corvette HMS Salvia which turned back to Tobruk only for her to be torpedoed and sunk.  Whichever date is correct is probably irrelevant, Private T.R. Watson’s body was not recovered and he was lost at sea.  Over 40 DLI men lost their lives 23/24 December 1941.  Those men from “B” Company who have no known graves are commemorated on the Brookwood Memorial.  There are 23 DLI men including Private T.R. Watson.[7]

Commemoration:  Brookwood Memorial, London [8]

Private T.R. Watson has no known grave and is commemorated at panel 14, column 1, the Brookwood Military Cemetery is the largest Commonwealth War Cemetery in the UK.  It was laid out in Brookwood cemetery for men and women of the forces of the Commonwealth and America who died in the London area. The Brookwood Memorial commemorates nearly 3,500 men and women of the land forces of the Commonwealth who have no known grave, some died at sea in hospital ships or troop transports, in waters not associated with the major campaigns.


[1] Commonwealth War Graves Commission

[2] England & Wales Birth Index 1916-2007 Vol.10a p.474 1916Q3 Auckland

[3] Details provided by the late Kenneth Walton, nephew of Tom

[4] https://durhamlightinfantry1920-46.weebly.com/1-dli-china-1937-40.html & https://durhamlightinfantry1920-46.weebly.com/middle-east-forces-dli.html

[5] http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/2WWtobruk.htm

[6] Details provided by Kenneth Walton, nephew of Tom Watson

[7] https://durhamlightinfantry1920-46.weebly.com/middle-east-forces-dli.html

[8] CWGC & Find a Grave website