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Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Manitoba's WWI Fallen: Vaughn Watt of Birtle

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War, I am working on a series of blog posts and radio shows that will look at some of the Manitobans who died in action. For more about this project and links to other posts, follow this link.

Image: September 5, 1918, Winnipeg Free Press

Lance Corporal Vaughn* David Watt was the only son of David and Jenny Watt of Birtle, Manitoba. the Watt family moved from Woodstock, Ontario to farm. They relocated closer to town when father David got a job as a grain buyer, then manager, for United Grain Growers. Mother Jenny was was a driving force in the Home Economics Society and the Manitoba Women's Institute, becoming its first secretary in 1910 and went on the become president of the national organization in the 1920s.

(* In most instances, his name is spelled Vaughan. That includes newspaper references, the Birtle history book and his Soldiers of WWI and Virtual War Memorial entry. If you look at his attestation papers, however, he clearly signs his name Vaughn and there is even a place where his name is written and the "a" clearly crossed out ! Most letters to the family from people who knew him use Vaughn. I will use the latter.)

Top: Birtle Recruiting Office ca 1915 (source)
Birtle ca. 1910 (source)

Growing up with his two sisters, Vera and Nell, Vaughn worked on the family farm, he also had a job at the bank, (most likely the Union Bank on Main Street), and played in the the Birtle band. At the time he enlisted in 1916, he was 24, single and listed his occupation as a farmer near Regina.

He was promoted to Lance Corporal in May 1918 and died on August 9, 1918 in the Battle of Amiens, just three months before the First World War ended. A friend or relative responding to a note from Jenny Watt provided some details of his death. Watt was shot through the heart and “died quite suddenly” and the friend lamented that he was unable to retrieve the body.

Watts' remains were eventually recovered. His is buried in the Rosieres Communal Cemetery Extension in France.

September 5, 1918, Winnipeg Free Press

On the evening of Sunday, September 1, 1918 a memorial service was held at the Union Church of Birtle, (now Birtle United Church), for Watt and Herb Walker, another a local farmer and musician who was killed on the same day.

http://www.umanitoba.ca/libraries/units/archives/canada_war/watt/website/Photos/Photo1_VD_Watt_fob-in.shtml

A century later, it is hard to get inside the mind of a soldier on the battlefield, less so with Watt. The Vaughan David Watt fonds at the University of Manitoba contains letters and cards home to his family and other written memorabilia. Much of it has been digitized, some inluding audio versions.

Sources:

Vaughan David Watt fonds University of Manitoba

A view of the Birdtail - A history of the Municipality of Birtle p 426

Canadian Virtual War Memorial page Veterans' Affairs Canada

Attestation papers Library and Archives Canada

Vaughan David Watt Canadian Great War Project

Watt and audio version of his letters home are also featured in this episode of West End Dumplings - The Radio Edition. Check out the podcast !

This soldier's history has been pieced together using a number of sources. If you have additional information or would like to point out a factual error, please do so in the comments below or by email at cassidy-at-mts.net.

© Christian Cassidy 2014

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