John Watson (1916-1993)

(The Recommendation mentioned in this Article, was kindly provided by Cunitia Evelyn Wilkinson, a niece in New Zealand of John Watson Tattersfield, and author of the paper on this Website titled “Some Tattersfield Families who Emigrated from England—The Tattersfield Family of Auckland, New Zealand.”)

James Walker Tattersfield and his wife Evelyn Sophie, nee Abbott, emigrated to New Zealand, and were married in Auckland on 5th December 1904. The story of them and their descendants is told in the series “Some Tattersfield Families who Emigrated from England” on this Website.

James and Evelyn had six sons. In 1939, at the outbreak of the Second World War, the two youngest sons, who were unmarried, Felix Maxwell and John Watson, went to England and enlisted in the Royal Navy. Three of their older brothers remained in Auckland, helping to run the family mattress business, Tattersfield Limited.

Felix was to die on 6th October 1942, when a motor torpedo boat he was in was attacked by a German ship.

John went on to survive the War, and in 1943 was mentioned in Despatches.

The whole course of John’s war is not known, but in September 1943 he was a Temporary Sub Lieutenant, Royal New Zealand Naval Volunteer Reserve, aboard H.M.S. Valiant, a Queen Elizabeth class British battleship, built at Gowan in 1913-14.

During the First World War, H.M.S. Valiant had served in the Grand Fleet, and took part in the Battle of Jutland.

In 1941 she was transferred from the Home Fleet to the Mediterranean, and based in Alexandria. During March 1941 she was in the Battle of Cape Matapan. She suffered bomb damage off Crete in May 1941.

On 18th December 1941 H.M.S. Valiant was attacked and severely damaged in her base in Alexandria. An Italian submarine, the Scire, managed to send divers into Alexandria Harbour. They planted charges and sank the battleships Valiant and Queen Elizabeth, and two other ships.The Valiant was recovered and repaired over the next 16 months.

It is not known when John joined H.M.S. Valiant, or how much of the above action he took part in. However, a “Recommendation for Decoration or Mention in Despatches” dated 23 September 1943, names John Watson Tattersfield, Temporary Sub Lieutenant. The Recommendation was first submitted to the Honours Committee, and was signed on 11 Oct 1943 by Vice Admiral Algernon Usborne Willis, Flag Officer Commanding Force “H”.

The “Action or Operation” is described as follows:- “For two days, 15th and 16th September, 1943, H.M.S. “Valiant” operated one mile from shore in close support of our Land Forces, during the landing operations in the vicinity of Salerno. By day, the Ship carried out successful bombardment of enemy positions, and there were frequent air attacks. At sea, off the assault area, by night, the ship was the target for repeated air attacks on two nights. These were successfully repelled.”

The “Specific act or service for which Officer or Rating is recommended” read “For skill, devotion to duty and untiring energy as Fighter Direction and Air Plotting Officer. This Officer’s skilful filtering of air reports enabled the armament to be used with maximum effectiveness, on threatening enemy aircraft. His coolness and efficiency were an example and an inspiration”.

In giving his decision on 31 Oct 1943, Admiral John H.D.Cunningham, Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean, added the single word “Concur”, and signed his name.

Header Image: Not the clearest available image of HMS Valiant, but one for which the date and circumstances are known. Following the Italian Armistice of September 3 1943, the Italian navy was assembled at Malta. HMS Valiant was very busy in the subsequent weeks, covering the invasions both in Calabria in early September and at Salerno on 9th-16th of the same month. Between these two coastal actions, Valiant was detailed to escort a main part of the Italian navy into Maltese waters. This image shows Valiant on September 10, leading the Italian vessels (left image) to their anchorage. Since this occurred just days before John Watson Tattersfield was mentioned for his part in the action off Salerno, we may surmise that he was on board the Valiant when this photograph was taken.   Photograph from the Army Signal Corps Collection in the U.S. National Archives. Public Domain.