Indigenous Australian, Alfred WATTS, 41st Infantry Battalion
Recently widowed, Norman Alfred Henry WATTS volunteered to serve for his country in August 1916. Formerly employed at the Ebbw Vale Brickworks, Ipswich he was the son of Englishman Withers Cazalet Watts and Torres Strait Island woman Violet Inglebee Blakesley, who’s family was from Tutu (Warrior Island).
Watts trained at Bell’s Paddock Camp, Enoggera before embarking on board HMAT Kyarra in November 1916 with the 5th Reinforcements for the 41st Infantry Battalion, bound for England. After spending the best part of the 1916/1917 winter in England, Watts embarked for France in June and joined his unit in the field in July 1917 at Messines.
Alfred Watts pictured top right, Salisbury Plain, 1917, prior to sailing for France. Image: The Queenslander Pictorial, 21 July 1917
Watts was promoted to Lance Corporal in September that year, but shortly after was severely wounded in action, during the Battle of Broodseinde, 5 October 1917.
Initially treated by the 3rd Australian Field Ambulance, he was taken to the 10th Casualty Clearance Station, where it was decided he should be evacuated to England. There he was admitted to Winchester Red Cross Hospital to be treated for the gun shot wounds to his right side and chest.
Fragments of metal were lodged in his chest, and penetrated his right lung, still seriously ill, Watts returned home to his family in Southport in 1918. In 1920 he married Laura Elizabeth Simmons, and had one child. Alfred Watts, never fully recovered from his injury and died in 1924, he is buried at the Toowong Cemetery, Brisbane.
Violet Watts (nee Blakeley) married Withers Watts in 1884 and had Alfred in 1885 in Rockhampton. They moved to Echuca in 1885 where they had Vivian (1887), Lillian (1890) & Percy (1893 died in infancy). Withers Watts left his family in 1893 after being charged with fraud and took up a different life in Katoomba, NSW as a ‘music and art teacher’ but falls foul of the law several times.
Left destitute Violet returned to Queensland. She is recorded as living at Amity Point, North Stradbroke Island, and her daughter Lillian was enrolled at the Myora primary school. In 1896 a warrant for arrest is issued for Withers for deserting his family, and Violet asks that her children be sent to Deebing Creek Aboriginal Mission.
In 1897 Withers Watts fled from Australia and is soon after found to be living in San Francisco, claiming to be a doctor. He later remarried, and had several children, and died in Chicago in 1916, the same year his son Alfred sailed for England to serve for his country.
Violet later married Herbert Goodson in 1900, a farmer from Southport, and it appears they had a happy life together, for over 30 years. When Herbert died Violet put an ‘In memoriam’ message in the newspaper every year until her death, after which her daughter Lillian put a message each year for her.
Newspaper articles …
The Brisbane Courier 4 April 1918 p.7
Queensland Times 6 April 1918, p.8
The Daily Mail 8 November 1920, p. 6
The Brisbane Courier 7 March 1924, p. 4
South Coast Bulletin 4 March 1932, p. 6
Read more …
Service record: WATTS, Norman Alfred Henry
Embarkation roll: 5th Reinf. 41st Infantry Battalion
Unit Diaries: 41st Infantry Battalion
One of the soldiers featured in SLQ’s HistoryPin Collection
View the whole Collection: Indigenous enlistment
Queensland’s Indigenous Servicemen Digital Story and Oral History
Many thanks to Theresa Jennings, California and Valerie Davies, England who generously shared their research into the Watts family
Marg Powell & Des Crump | QANZAC100, State Library of Queensland