Joseph Watson was born 17 July 1894 in Heighington, the son of Frank Edwain Watson, a goods guard on mineral trains, and his wife Ruth, of 13 Gladstone Terrace, Shildon. A County Council school pupil teacher aged 16 at the time of the 1911 census, Watson attended Bede College 1912-1914, and went on to work as a Certificated Assistant Teacher at New Shildon Council School. During his time at Bede College he was captain (stroke) of the 1913-1914 rowing team. He joined 1/8th DLI on the outbreak of war, and in December 1914 was a Lance Corporal in B Company, stationed at Sunderland Road Schools in Gateshead. He entered France with the battalion on 19 April 1915, and had been promoted to Corporal by the time the Battalion was ordered up to Gravenstafel Ridge as part of the Second Battle of Ypres on 24 April 1915. 1/8th DLI had entered France only five days before, and Robson was among that half of the battalion ordered to reinforce a front line defensive position at Boetleer Farm, north east of Ypres. Wounded in the fighting on 25 April, he was captured but wrote home with “cheery news” from a German Field Hospital four days later. However, he died of his wounds on 10 May. Of his actions on 25 April, particularly with regard to his supervision of an orderly retirement under intense pressure from the enemy, showing “courage, determination, and soul”, several accounts were published the Bede magazine.
Of Joseph Watson' stubborn holding to the last, of the section of the trench entrusted to him, witnesses have spoken with admiration; and the courage which shewed itself in the letter he sent home when he lay in a German Field Hospital wounded to death deceived us into thinking his wounds could not be severe. Of his suffering as he lay wounded on the ground a brave Bede man was a witness and gave his life to aid him. The information reaches us from one of our men who is a prisoner. As Watson lay wounded on the ground he called for water, and a bottle was thrown to him but unhappily fell out of his reach. This J.H. Atkinson saw, and leaving his shelter went amidst the flying bullets to give his fallen comrade the water which he needed, but gave his life in the attempt. The scene recalled Zutphen and Sir Philip Sydney to the man who saw the deed and tells the story. We are not sure that the brave effort does not even surpass that historic act of unselfishness.
Bede magazine, December 1915
Our portion of the trench was in three sections. In the right section were Joseph Watson, Andrew Ellwood and others … Further away on our left the trenches had been heavily shelled, and the men in them were forced to retire to seek shelter on our right. Our orders were to follow them to their new position, when all had passed. I remember some of these men coming into our section of the trench; some were wounded, some were unnerved by the terrible experience they had undergone, others on the other hand were quite cool. It was at this time that R.H. Robson came in frightfully wounded. He was immediately cared for by the men in the left section. We took as many of the scared men as possible into our dug-outs, and Joe did the same. Afterwards at great personal risk he began to direct the retirement. His difficulty was with the men shattered by the ordeal through which they had passed. Dazed and shaken many were crouching in places where they were still exposed to the enemy's fire. One by one he urged, and directed and encouraged these men, passing them on into the next section. It was a difficult work as they were in a bad state. When all had passed he directed me to follow, and I cannot remember that ever I saw him again. … [T]here remains with me absolutely clear, the never to be forgotten picture of the hero doing his duty in the face of all dangers, never flinching, and thinking only of others, and of the Glory of the British Arms.
T.H. R[eid], a Bede College contemporary of Watson’s, in Bede magazine, December 1915.
Watson was buried first in Ledeghem German Military Cemetery, but later exhumed and reburied in Harlebeke New British Cemetery, West-Vlaanderen in Belgium. His name is honoured on the Bede College 1914-1918 Cross, Plaque, and Roll of Honour, and at New Shildon All Saints' Churchyard.