Adventures of a Motorcycle Despatch Rider in WW I, Part II

September 24, 2017


Watson’s Dry Humor

At one point, Watson relates he was sent with great haste to relay orders not to blow up a bridge. Then he sets off to deliver marching orders to men near  bridge that had been blow up. Watson relates “It seemed to me at the time that the bridge had been blown up very badly. As a matter of fact, German infantry crossed it four hours after I had left it.”

In another episode, Watson tells “how glory may be forced upon the unwilling.” A reluctant recruit is laying low, hoping to avoid being chosen to “volunteer” but his captain spots him and congratulations him for his bravery and tells him he has volunteered. When he arrives at his destination, Watson, in his wry style reports:

“Major Buckle came out of his ditch to see what was wanted. The rifle fire seemed to increase. The air was buzzing, and just in front of his bicycle multitudinous little spurts of dust flecked the road. It was distinctly unpleasant, and, as Major Buckle persisted in standing in the middle of the road instead of taking the despatch rider with him into his ditch, the despatch rider had to stand there too, horribly frightened. The Major said “My God, man, you’re under machine-gun fire.” So that’s what it is, murmured the despatch rider to himself

Moral: Be called away by some pressing engagement before the captain calls for volunteers.”

In another episode he tell us:

“A ride to Corps Headquarters was only dangerous because of the innumerable and bloodthirsty sentries surrounding that stronghold.”

Indeed, Watson’s fellow motorcycle despatch rider Grimes was winged by friendly fire from a sentry returning to base one evening.

A Dark Vision of Things to Come

Presaging the tragedy of the Vietnam War when this strategy found it’s maximum implementation, Watson observes:

“In modern war the infantryman hasn’t much of a chance. Strategy nowadays consists in arranging for the mutual slaughter of infantry by the opposing guns, each general trusting that his guns will do the greater slaughter. And half gunnery is luck. ”

Watson Becomes an Officer

Watson and his comrade despatch riders grew tired of sleeping in wet hay and bumping over back breaking cobbles and struggling through mud day after day and resolved to become officers. They considered gunnery. The gunners operated at comfortable distances from the enemy and often had comfortable billets. But the task required algebra skills that the young dons lacked. What good is an Oxford education then, we might ask?

The calvary, they figured, spent a lot of what would otherwise be free time grooming their horses. And they would likely be the first to engage with the enemy. Worst of all, Watson and his fellow motorcycle riders were poor horsemen. They were wisely daunted by the thought of  falling off in front of our men when they were charging.

The sappers – infantrymen – dug, walked and lived in ditches for much of the war. Besides the clear unpleasantness of the job, Watson quipped that he and his mates had “too great respect [for the sappers] to attempt to comand them.”

W.H.L Watsons Signal Corp served with great distinction, setting the bar for other despatch operations. Their commander said:

“Carrying despatches and messages at all hours of the day and night, in every kind of weather, and often traversing bad roads blocked with transport, they have been conspicuously successful in maintaining an extraordinary degree of efficiency in the service of communications…. No amount of difficulty or danger has ever checked the energy and ardour which has distinguished their corps throughout the operations.”

In the end of his book, Watson is promoted to Subaltern in the motorcycle despatch command.