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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Watson, John Alexander (1891–1980)

by Neville Lindsay

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

John Alexander Watson (1891-1980), grocer, insurance agent and army officer, was born on 25 June 1891 at Ballarat, Victoria, only son and youngest of four surviving children of Alexander Watson, a miner from Scotland, and his Victorian-born wife Susan Harriet, née Moizer. His father died when he was young, and John moved with his mother to West Brunswick when she remarried. After leaving school, he entered the grocery trade.

On 19 June 1915 Watson enlisted as a driver in the Australian Army Service Corps, Australian Imperial Force. He was then 5 ft 9 ins (175 cm) tall, with a sallow complexion, hazel eyes and dark brown hair. In 1916-18 he served with the 5th Divisional Train in Egypt and on the Western Front, attaining the rank of corporal. Discharged in Melbourne on 15 July 1919, he went into business as a grocer. At the Methodist Church, Coburg, on 6 December 1924 he married Florence Grace Kendall Francis. He lost his business during the Depression and was employed by the Australian Mutual Provident Society as a collector.

Having joined the Citizen Military Forces, Watson was commissioned lieutenant in the 4th Divisional Train in June 1926. He rose to captain in 1929 and major in 1934. As part of a new wave of Militia commanders, he was promoted lieutenant colonel and appointed to head the 4th Divisional A.A.S.C. in March 1939. On 1 May 1940 he transferred to the A.I.F. as the commander of I Corps Troops Supply Column. Arriving in the Middle East in February 1941, he was given command of the 9th Divisional A.A.S.C. in March. During the siege of Tobruk, Libya (April-October), he led the logistic-support organization, comprising nearly 2500 troops and a thousand vehicles, with 'energy and resourcefulness' and was appointed O.B.E. (1942). For his zeal and efficiency at the battle of El Alamein (October-November 1942), he won the Distinguished Service Order. He was twice mentioned in dispatches. His soldiers knew him as 'Dadda', a father figure who was both uncompromising in the standards he set and always mindful of their welfare.

Back in Australia in February 1943, Watson was promoted temporary colonel next month. He was successively deputy-director of supply and transport, II Corps and (from April 1944) I Corps in New Guinea and on the Atherton Tableland, Queensland. In June he became D.D.S.T. at Advanced Land Headquarters, which moved from Brisbane to Hollandia, Netherlands New Guinea, in November and to Morotai, Netherlands East Indies, in March 1945. Evacuated ill in May, he was appointed temporary D.D.S.T., Victoria Lines of Communication Area (later Southern Command), in July. From August 1946 he worked with the executive officer of the Committee of Review of Interim Army Strengths. His appointment terminated on 5 February 1948.

Watson returned to the A.M.P. as an insurance agent. After retiring, he and his wife played golf, wintered in Queensland and maintained their long connexion with the Coburg Methodist Church. He was also an active Freemason. Remembered by his family as a 'dapper little gentleman', he was fastidious about his appearance, and a stickler for good manners and correct speech. He died on 1 March 1980 at Heidelberg and was cremated; his wife and their two daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • H. Fairclough, Equal to the Task. Par Oneri: The History of the Royal Australian Army Service Corps (Melb, 1962)
  • N. Lindsay, Equal to the Task, vol 1 (Brisb, 1992)
  • private information.

Citation details

Neville Lindsay, 'Watson, John Alexander (1891–1980)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 24 November 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

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