Private Kenneth Harry Watkins
82521 15th Bn., Durham Light Infantry who died on 27 May 1918
Kenneth Harry Watkins was born in 1899 in Castor, Northamptonshire. His parents were Harry and Ada (nee Winch) Watkins who had married at St Knyeburgha’s Parish Church, on 22 August 1998. The couple were to have a further 3 children by 1911 and Harry’s profession as an agricultural labourer and carter meant that the family moved frequently. Mona Helen Maud (1901) was born in Ailsworth, Northants, Ralph (1903) was born in Deene and Stanley (1909) was born in North Luffenham. The family lived in numerous houses around Rutland, Leicestershire and Northamptonshire as Harry followed the farm work. In 1917, when Kenneth enlisted, they were living at Nether Broughton near Melton Mowbray. At the time of Kenneth’s death they had moved to Buckminster near Grantham.
Kenneth’s parents finally settled in Oadby at the end of the war. Harry Watkins died in 1929 but Ada and two of Kenneth’s siblings were still living at 61 Regent Street in 1939.
Oakham market square circa 1910. The Post office beyond the Buttercross served as the local recruitment office where Kenneth enlisted
Kenneth attested, aged 18 years on 9 July 1917 at Oakham, Rutland. At the time he was working as a groom and lodging with a Mrs Roberts in North Luffenham.
He was given the service number 94509 and joined the 85th Training Reserve Battalion of the Prince of Wales Own (West Yorkshire Regiment). On 21 August he transferred to the 9th Battalion and was posted to Scotton Camp, Catterick for basic training. On 1 November 1917 with his training complete, Kenneth transferred to 52nd Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment and was billeted at Ashford. It was here that, on 30 January 1918, he was confined to barracks for 7 days for ‘Improper conduct in the ranks. Talking and laughing on parade.’
On 2 April 1918 Kenneth embarked for France where he became a replacement draft in the 15th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry. The battalion had suffered heavy losses on the Somme during April. Kenneth was allocated service number 82521 and joined his unit in the field on 2 May.
Men of the 15th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry in training. Photograph from the Durham County Record Office collection
In late April 1918 the Durham Light Infantry were stationed near Rheims but were to face a massive German attack on 27 May. The Allied lines were completely over run forcing a retreat. The 15th DLI lost 450 men killed, wounded or missing during 2 days of fighting. Among them was Kenneth Watkins.
On 4 July Ada Watkins took delivery of a letter that had been sent to the family’s former address in Nether Broughton, near Melton Mowbray. It informed her that Kenneth had been missing in action since 27 May. Ada replied, requesting that any further news be forwarded to her at Buckminster near Grantham.
By the time the Imperial War Graves Commission had formally recorded Kenneth’s death as 27 May 1918, the family had moved to Regent St, Oadby. However they chose to remember Kenneth on the war memorial at Nether Broughton. He also appears on the village Roll of Honour.
Kenneth’s body was never recovered and he is Remembered with Honour on the Soissons Memorial along with 4,000 officers and men who have no known grave.
War Memorial at Nether Broughton
Roll of Honour listing all serving men of Nether Broughton. Those who lost their lives are ringed in black