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Alexander Hunter Watt

Alex Elliott of Tempe, near Phoenix, Arizona, tells the story of his grandfather Alexander Hunter Watt of Rutherglen.


Wounded at the Battle of Arras while serving with the Royal Scots in the Great War, Pte. Watt survived to serve his country again in World War II as a member of the Civil Defence Corps.   

Right, Alexander Watt in civilian dress, photographed towards the end of World War I.


My grandfather was born in Harriet Street, Rutherglen on 11th. March 1895, and was one of nine children. He had a normal childhood and went to the local schools. He was then employed on the Caledonian Railway prior to his enlisting at the age of 19 years and six months. He was medically discharged three years and 86 days later.

During WWII, he was a member of the Civil Defence Corps, and his role was as a “fire watcher.” Throughout the blitz he was stationed on a prominent ridge south of Glasgow, known as Cathkin Braes. Working from an O.S. Map reference trigonometry point, they would radio in to the Civil Defence headquarters the bearing of the fires as they were started by the air raids. Similar watch positions to the north of the city would do the same, thus giving an exact location of the fires, and direction that the bombers were following. Glasgow docks and shipyards, and the Rolls Royce factories were prime targets for the German bombers, as was the iron and steel works where he was employed.

Family photo 1901 reduced.jpg

Left, 'The Watt Family in 1901. They stayed in Harriet Street. My Grandfather is sitting in the front, age 6. My Great Uncle Tom standing behind him owned the greengrocers store opposite the cenotaph when the tenements were there'.

I remember my grandfather as a quiet man with white hair, who after WWI worked in the local iron

and steel works, Colvilles of Cambuslang, until his retirement. He was one of the timekeepers, and as such almost everyone in Rutherglen knew him. I remember as a child I would walk down to the timekeeper's office, and sit with him. The employees collected a brass disc at the start of their shift, and returned it at the end of the shift.

His brother, Tom Watt, owned a fruit and vegetable shop opposite the Cenotaph, on the Glasgow Road before the area was demolished and then “modernized.”

CB Melting Shop c 1941.JPG

My father also worked here at this time, and sometimes the three of us would walk home. Consequently I was also well known, and there was no doubt that when I got up to any mischief, my family would soon know for I was “Sannie Watt’s grandson!” Or May Watt's son, never May Elliott!

Right, the melting shop, Colville's Clydebridge Works, Cambuslang, c 1941.

Image credit: Colin Findlay

I used to go bird watching with him, and we used a pair of German binoculars that he had. I found out in later years that he got them in France. I still have these binoculars at home. He also tried to get me interested in football, but never did, and he used to complain that I was more interested in the trains that would pass by the Glencairn's grounds during the game.

Several years after his death [in January 1963], I went into a local pub for my “first” beer. The next morning my grandmother phoned, telling my parents that I was seen in the bar -- I was still under the legal age at the time.

As is common among his generation he never spoke about the “Great War.” As with our generation, I wish I had been able to talk to him about it, but I was only 15 when he died.

I have both enjoyed and been humbled by this undertaking, and I now have a completely different perspective of his generation, and also of my Father’s, who fought in WWII with the Canadian Army from 1940 till the end of the war.

I am the first of four generations in my family who has not been called to arms to defend my country. For that I am extremely grateful and humbled. I sincerely hope it will remain this way for future generations.


Private Alexander Hunter Watt

  • Enlisted 4th September, 1914 in Rutherglen, Lanarkshire.

  • Posted to The Royal Scots, First Regiment of  Foot.

  • Served in the 13th battalion.

  • Company: Unknown.

  • Army service # 14385 Private.

The 13th battalion was formed in Edinburgh, Scotland on the 15th September 1914, and assigned to 45th Brigade, 15th (Scottish) Division Army K2.


Above, The Royal Scots cap badge

The Great War: 4th. August 1914 - 11th. November 1918

Lord Kitchener launched an appeal at the outbreak of the war for volunteers to build the new armies needed for the struggle ahead. Such was the response that they were allocated into different army groups of 100,000 known as Kitchener’s Armies Nos. 1, 2, 3, & 4, these were soon abbreviated to K1, K2, K3 and K4.

The 13th battalion was shipped for basic training to Aldershot, England in mid September. A divisional parade was held on the 26th September for King George at Aldershot. This must have been an amusing sight, as there was a severe shortage of rifles and uniforms. All available uniforms and rifles had been issued to the K1.


Recruits. Typically the K2 recruits did not receive their uniforms and rifles until prior to their shipping overseas. Obsolete rifles were hurriedly issued to the recruits for training purposes. Due to the large influx of recruits, and their training at Aldershot, some of the troops were moved out to the surrounding villages and towns, as the camp could not accommodate the numbers.


The battalion was billeted in the following towns:

  • Basingstoke, England February 1914

  • Chisledon, England March 1914

  • Bramshott, England November 1914

The 13th battalion was shipped to France on the SE & C Railway Steamer "INVICTA." (cross channel ferry)

  • Port of embarkation:       Folkstone, England 9th July

  • Port of disembarkation:   Boulogne, France 9th July


Alexander Hunter Watt entered the “theatre of war” on 9th July 1915. This was confirmed by researching the Army Medal Roll.

Left, TS Invicta, the troop ship which transported the 13th. Batallion, Royal Scots to action in France in 1915.


Alexander Hunter Watt was wounded during the second Battle of the Scarpe [part of the Arras offensive], in April 1917.

We do know that he lay for two days in “no man’s land” before being brought back to the British front line. We also know that he had lost his army issue pocket knife, as he had told his family that he would have dug out the piece of shrapnel that was in his left elbow, if he had not lost it.



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His service record shows that the 12th May 1917 was the last day of his second campaign. This would be the date that he sailed from France after being medically treated and prepared for the journey back to England for proper hospitalization and treatment.

'The picture [right] is a typical scene of the devastated landscape, and “comforts” created by the soldiers to try and endure the conditions.'


We also know that the Army Doctor in England first thought that he would have to amputate his arm. However my grandfather convinced him to try and save it. A series of eight operations followed. The arm was saved, but was two inches shorter, and had limited mobility, especially at the elbow.


The series of operations would seem to fit into the timeline of leaving France, and the date of the army discharge.

No further information can be found.

Left, Alexander Watt pictured standing to the right of an unknown friend in late 1917 following medical discharge. He is wearing his ex-servicemen's badge on his lapel. The picture shows him wearing a glove on the hand of his left arm which had been left slightly shorter following treatment for his war injury.

This photograph was taken at Mr. B's Studio, 55 Argyle Street, Glasgow.

CHARACTER REFERENCE 11th September 1917, issued at Hamilton Lanarkshire. “Sober, Steady and Trustworthy Man”

Signing Officer: Lieutenant C. F. MacGillivray, Acting for the office Major.

CERTIFICATE OF DISCHARGE # 14385, issued at Hamilton Lanarkshire. Records Office #1, # 2 District. 28th November1917

DISCHARGED 28th November 1917, (Physically unfit due to injury) after serving 3 years and 86 days under the King’s Colours

Signing Officer: Lieutenant C. F. MacGillivary, Acting for the office Major

AW Dischagre Cert.jpg

In October 1918 H.R.H. Princess Mary (Viscountess Lascelles) became the Colonel-in-Chief of The Royal Scots Regiment. I do know my grandfather was there, [at her appointment ceremony] as he had commented to our family that she was a "bonnie lass", and was always proud of her association with "his" regiment. I do not know if he was on parade with the regiment, or was attending as a civilian.

Left, Certificate of Discharge from The Royal Scots for Pte. Alexander Watt dated 28th November 1917. 'The paper is rather fragile now.' Alex Elliott.

 I also did try to identify the second person in the photograph [above left]. The picture was shown in the Rutherglen Reformer in October 1998, unfortunately there was no response.

This research will never be complete, as there are no records of his hospitalization, and why five months were spent away from the battalion at the end of 1915 into 1916. I have been unable to find what company my grandfather was assigned to within his battalion. The "burnt records" are due to be released this winter, (1999) but I do not think they will add any more details to the overall research.


I have tried to be as historically accurate as possible with this research, and as such I believe the stated facts are correct. I have used several books, diaries and military sources to piece together this story. There is a risk of error in this research. I would be grateful if anyone who reads story can assist please do so.

Flander’s Fields

What happened on those fields so long ago

pains my heart, for over the top they willingly did go

Did they plan to die this way, and in this hell?

We will never know and perhaps it’s just as well

I cannot fathom myself as a youth being there.

For the more I learn, the more I know fear,

the noise, the mud, the cold and the dead,

crossing no man’s land among high velocity lead.

My grandfather was there for almost 3 years.

How many nights did he sob, his face washed with tears

his home town lost most of it’s young men,

the ones that returned never to be the same again.

What heroes, what stories we all want to recall

for time has dimmed the sacrifice given by them all.

The fields in Flanders will forever keep them safe

in God’s gracious company they have earned their own place

                                                                                                                                  Alex. J. Elliott

© 2023 Alex J Elliott/Rutherglen Heritage Society.  All images courtesy of Alex J Elliott unless otherwise stated.

The feature above is taken from a longer article by Alex Elliott from 1999 which includes a fuller history of his grandfather's battalion in WWI. It features detailed accounts of the action which the battalion saw and is richly illustrated with annotated maps. Click on the photo below to read that article.

Please do not reproduce any part of that article without consent. The author can be contacted at the e-mail address shown above.


Many thanks to Alex Elliott for sharing with us his grandfather's story. Thanks also to Geraldine Baird for putting us in touch with Alex.

Links and further reading

The Royal Scots website. Complete history of the regiment from its formation in 1633 until its merger into the Royal Regiment of Scotland in 2006. Click here

Rutherglen Cenotaph. A page on Lesley Gaffey's family tree website which provides information on the  WWI soldiers named on Rutherglen's war memorial. Click here

Associated articles on this website

Blog: Commonwealth War Graves Commission tour of Rutherglen Cemetery, November 2021. Click here

Rutherglen Old Parish Church: see section about Pte. James Richardson VC. Click here

Cpl. Robert H. Robertson's 'Dead Man's Penny'. Click here 

Sgt. John Brown Wishart, DCM. Click here

Sgt. William Beattie. Click here

History of Clydebridge Steelworks by Colin Findlay. Click here

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