Lest We Forget: World War I

Here is a poignant reminder of how the young boys of a hundred years ago were eager to join up, not realising the full horror of what was to happen.
Ernest Watts, fined for playing football in the street as recorded on page 2, appears to have been a ‘delinquent child’. He was sent to a Truant School in Bridgend for non – attendance in 1914 before fraudulently en- listing in the army in May of 1915, when he told a recruiting sergeant at Maesteg, that he was 19 years old when he was in fact still 15. As Pte. 37102. Watts, he joined the 3rd (Service) Batt: Welsh Regiment. After completing his initial training he was sent to France on 2/10/1915. He suffered three hospitalisations because of ‘Trench feet,’ a severe fungal infection caused by the waterlogged conditions on the battlefields.

His army ‘crime sheet’ shows him to be of ‘poor character’ and he was given detentions amounting to 52 days for absconding (not deserting) from duty several times. He was eventually dismissed from the army on 7/3/1916 after writing home to his father, William Watts, to get him sent home. His father’s letter to the army is quite touching and reveals Ern- est’s immaturity.

Dear Sir,

My son is Private Ernest Watts, 37012. ‘A’ Company, 3rd Platoon, 2nd Bat- talion, the W elsh R egiment. C/o British Expeditionary Force (France)

H e was only 15 years of age in May last and has been in France for over two months, he has now written to me appealing to have him home on account of his age.
I have also received a letterfrom one of his comrades stating how excited he was and that every time the enemy fires, he puts his head into view.

I enclose his Birth Certificate. I quite understand the need of our country, but hope if you can grant me this favour of giving him his discharge, and that you will cause him to do H ome S ervice until he is older.
An early reply would be thankfully received.

I am Sir.
Yours faithfully William Watts.

In all Ernest Watts served 306 days, 52 of which were spent in deten- tion. He was awarded the 14-15 Star, Victory medal & the British War medal for his services.
There is one other reference we have for Ernest: whilst he was in France he wrote in January 1916 to the wife of a missing Garw soldier ( Pte 19695. Wallace King ) reassuring her that her husband had been taken prisoner and not killed. Sadly he was misinformed as Pte W. King is listed on the G.V.H.S. Roll of Honour. We will publish this letter in the near future.

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