Colonel John Watts, MC, MiD**, Royal Army Medical Corps

Discussion in 'RAMC' started by Peter Clare, Mar 8, 2010.

  1. Peter Clare

    Peter Clare Very Senior Member

    Colonel John Watts - Telegraph

    Colonel John Watts, who has died aged 96, commanded an airborne field surgical unit in Normandy and was awarded a Military Cross.


    In March 1944 Watts, then a major, was posted to 195 Airlanding Field Ambulance attached to the Airlanding Brigade. On D-Day he and his surgical team were towed in a Horsa glider across the Channel and landed near Pegasus Bridge. They hitched their trailer to an anti-tank gun and made their way to the advance dressing station of 255 Parachute Field Ambulance in a ch√Ęteau at Ranville.
    One glider party had not arrived, so Watts borrowed an ancient bicycle and set off in search. It was dark, and the pollen-laden air set off a violent attack of hay fever. Challenged by a sentry, he could not stop sneezing or remember the password procedure or come to a halt because the brakes did not work. In desperation, he gasped out: "Friend!" He said afterwards that he was fortunate not to have been shot.

    At first light on June 7 he set up a dressing station in a private house at a village near Ranville and converted the cellar into an operating theatre. He and his team worked flat-out coping with casualties. Over the next two weeks the building received 15 direct hits and the operating theatre was hit twice. Watts continued to operate until all the cases were treated.
    They were close enough to the front line to see enemy infantry doubling across the fields. One German soldier, with a foot injury suppurating from a wound received on the Russian front two years earlier, spotted the Red Cross and broke off from the battle to come in for treatment.
    The resuscitation officer covered the walls of his department with saucy pin-ups and claimed that he used the level of response of his patients to gauge the degree of resuscitation required. The Roman Catholic padre visited the dressing station every day. He arrived on a motorcycle, and the staccato popping of the two-stroke engine always attracted a burst of mortar fire from the Germans, who probably took him for a dispatch rider bearing important messages.
    The padre would enter the dressing station stammering and twitching and giving a lively impersonation of a victim of "battle exhaustion". On one occasion a highly-decorated senior officer, a man with firm views on this "condition", was at the dressing station and was horrified until the casual acceptance of the performance by those around him showed it to be a charade.
    John Cadman Watts, the son of a solicitor, was born on April 13 1913 at Leigh-on-Sea. He was educated at Merchant Taylors before studying Medicine at St Thomas' Hospital. He joined the Royal Army Medical Corps in 1938 and served in the surgical unit of a hospital at Haifa and then a casualty clearing station (CCS) near Jerusalem.
    The following year he moved to a CCS at El Daba, west of Alexandria. Italy had invaded Egypt, and he received a steady stream of casualties. Over the next four years he operated in hospitals at Alexandria, Cairo, Haifa, Damascus and Jerusalem.
    In March 1943 Watts was one of a surgical team in a CCS at Medenine, Tunisia. After the Battle of Wadi Akarit the station handled 1,300 cases. A spell at No 42 general hospital, Suez Canal, was followed by command of the surgical division at No 59 general hospital, Tripoli.
    In September, shortly after the Allied landings at Salerno, the hospital landed and, acting as a CCS, received more than 500 casualties as German resistance intensified. January 1944 found Watts at No 31 Surgical Unit. The weather often made the roads impassable, and he got used to skiing through blizzards at night to give emergency blood transfusions and to setting up operating theatres in the kitchens of isolated farmhouses.
    In July 1944, during the breakout from Normandy, the dressing station was moved to Amfreville; but as German resistance south of the river Seine ceased Watts returned to England, where he underwent parachute training. He served in Holland during the Battle of the Ardennes and, in March 1945, landed by glider at Hamminkeln, near Wesel, during the Battle of the Rhine Crossing.
    Watts unloaded his Jeep under sustained and accurate machine-gun fire, and collected the injured from gliders that had crashed. Many of the survivors were in need of urgent treatment. He drove several hundred miles each day, making sure that casualties were being successfully cleared from field ambulance stations. The citation for the award of a Military Cross covered his actions in Normandy and on the Rhine. His courage, coolness, endurance and skill, it stated, had been instrumental in saving many lives.
    After the war Watts commanded 225 Parachute Field Ambulance in Malaya and Java before taking command of 195 Airlanding Field Ambulance in Palestine. He was twice mentioned in despatches.
    In the Korean War he was senior surgeon at the British Commonwealth military general hospital, Kure, Japan, where he developed a successful technique for treating frostbite.
    He served in Austria and then Cyprus where, for four years, he ran the surgical divisions of the British military hospitals at Nicosia and, subsequently, Dhekelia during the Eoka insurgency. In 1958 he operated on Auberon Waugh, who had been badly wounded in a firearms accident. Watts was appointed OBE at the end of his tour.
    After a spell in BAOR he was appointed Professor of Surgery at the Royal Army Medical College and was awarded a Hunterian Professorship. Following two years at the Royal Herbert Hospital, in 1966 he retired from the Army in the rank of colonel.
    Watts retired from the NHS in 1976 and moved to Suffolk, where he could enjoy his boyhood passion of sailing the tidal waters of East Anglia. In 1955 he published Surgeon at War.
    John Watts died on December 17. He married, in 1938, Joan Inwood. She predeceased him, and he is survived by their two sons and a daughter.
    Another son predeceased him.
  2. Recce_Mitch

    Recce_Mitch Very Senior Member

    :poppy: Colonel John Watts RIP :poppy:

  3. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    74438 S/Capt, T/Major John Cadman WATTS, HQ 6 (Br) Airborne Division

    For Conspicuous Gallantry and Devotion to Duty:-

    Major WATTS landed by glider at HAMMINKELN on 24 Mar 45.
    Immediately after landing they were sniped at close quarters but Major WATTS succeeded in loading the jeep which he used to collect casualties from the neighbouring gliders and in spite of sustained and accurate machine gun fire he succeeded in dressing and evacuating all casualties over the next two hours.

    At RANVILLE on 21st Jun 1944 the MDS was heavily shelled and many casualties were caused, some casualties requiring immediate surgical interference. Major Watts continued to operate till all the cases were finished.

    During this period the building sustained 15 direct hits and the operating theatre was struck twice. By his coolness and skill on this occasion he was instrumental in saving many lives.

    Throughout the whole campaign this officer has set a very high standard of coolness, courage and endurance in many cases under difficult and trying conditions.


    WO 373/56-ir1841

    Attached Files:

  4. Smudger Jnr

    Smudger Jnr Our Man in Berlin

    :poppy: Colonel John Watts R.I.P. :poppy:


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