LEATHERHEAD WAR MEMORIALS - WWII
Trooper Reginald Spencer Watkins
12th Royal Lancers, Royal Armoured Corps
Town Memorial World War II
WATKINS, REGINALD SPENCER
Service Number 5888463
12th Royal Lancers
Royal Armoured Corps
Buried at HELIOPOLIS WAR CEMETERY, Cairo
Cemetery/memorial reference: 1. E. 33.
No information about the circumstances of Reginald Watkins' death is yet to hand.
The 12th Lancers was (and still is as 9th/12th Lancers) one of 'the' units of the British Army. In WW2 it served as an armoured car regiment equipped with the Morris CS9, during the 1940 campaign in France and Flanders, playing a key part in shielding the retreat to Dunkirk. After evacuation (without their vehicles) from Malo-les-Bains on dredgers, they were first equipped with Beaverettes, then, in June 1941, with Humbers.
The Lancers landed in Port Tewfik, Egypt, in November 1941.
12th Lancers Humber Armoured Car, August 1942
Subsequently, the regiment fought as divisional troops for the 1st Armoured Division at the Second Battle of El Alamein in October 1942 and then served as a corps-level reconnaissance unit in the Italian Campaign.
Reginald Watkins died on 29th January 1942, the date of the fall of Benghazi to Rommel in his Second Offensive. A combination of circumstances had allowed the Afrika Corps to receive desperately needed supplies, above all tanks. The Germans cleverly disguised tanks to look like lorries from the air and intelligence that new and improved equipment had been received was evidently not taken seriously. Consequently the strength and quality of the German force was grossly underestimated, leading to expectations of their defeat. Instead of which ...
Rommel's Second Offensive (21 January-4 February 1942) was an unexpected counter-attack that forced the British to retreat 350 miles, from the western border of Cyrenaica to the Gazala Line, and set the scene for Rommel's advance into Egypt later in the year.
Rommel wasn't sure how hard the British would fight to hold onto Benghazi. They had posted outposts at Ghemines, on the coast to the south, Soluq, a few miles to the east of Ghemines, and at Regima, east of Benghazi on one of the roads leading east.
Rommel split his army into three for the attack on Benghazi. The bulk of the Afrika Korps was sent east from Msus towards Bir Gerrari, to make it look as if the main assault was heading in that direction. The bulk of the 90th Light Division and XX Corps were sent up the Via Balbia, to approach Benghazi from the south. Rommel led the third column, a fast mobile assault column, north-west from Msus to try and cut the road east of Benghazi.
The assault column reached Er Regima, east of Benina, early on the morning of 28 January. During the day Rommel pushed west, but an attempt to capture Benghazi in the evening was repulsed. Rommel decided not to risk another attack until the coastal column had arrived. He used his assault force to block the roads east and north of Benghazi. That night a large part of the garrison managed to escape to the east, and on the following day [29th January 1942] Benghazi fell to Rommel's main force. 1,000 prisoners and 300 vehicles were captured in the port.
Rommel then turned east, to push the British back towards Gazala, on the Gulf of Bomba just to the west of Tobruk, where he expected them to make their next stand. A lack of fuel meant that the Afrika Korps had to stop at Bir Gerrari, leaving the pursuit to 90th Light and the XX Corps.
Reginald Spencer Watkins was born on 25 July 1915 and baptised at St Philip's, Battersea on 25 August 1915. The family was then living at 6 Ruskin Street Battersea.
His father was Charles William Watkins, a Railway Fireman, born 21 March 1884 in Southwark. It is not yet known when he died.
His mother was Elizabeth, née Spencer, born 4 December 1880 in Dorking, Surrey; died 8 February 1943 and buried in Leatherhead Parish Churchyard. Elizabeth's family had lived in Lincoln Road, Dorking. She was a Confectioner's Assistant by 1901 when they moved to 33 Rothes Road, Dorking.
Reginald's parents were married at St Martin's Dorking, Surrey, on 12 February 1911. Elizabeth was a 30 year-old Spinster and Charles' address was recorded as 15 Cavendish Grove, South Lambeth, Surrey. In the 1911 Census a few months later Charles and Elizabeth were at the Watkins family home at 6 Ruskin Street Battersea.
A daughter Irene Jessamine was born in 1912, and sons Ronald in 1913, Reginald in 1915, followed by Charles W Watkins in 1920.
In the 1933 Electoral Register, when he would have been about 18, his parents and sister Irene were listed at 8 Queen Ann's Terrace, Leatherhead. In the 1939 England and Wales Register his parents and their youngest son Charles were listed there. Charles snr had retrained as an Electric Train Driver for Southern Region. The press report of Elizabeth Watkins' death in 1943 said that the Watkins had been in Leatherhead for 24 years. The Watkins were no longer listed at No.8 after 1946.
Near neighbours, at 4 Queen Anne's Terrace, were the Haskins. One of the Haskin boys, Kitchener Haskins, born in 1916, wrote a memoir of his Leatherhead childhood. Of the Watkins family he said:
In Number 8 lived Mr and Mrs Watkins and their three children, Rene, the eldest, Reg, the next (my age), and Charlie, about three years younger. And their dog, a ginger brown and black smooth coated Manchester terrier. Unlike Tango, Watkins' dog was never tied up, and would come running down their garden path and stand inside about 12 feet from the shut gate barking and daring you to come in. He gave you the impression that he would have a chunk out of the calf of your leg as clean as a whistle. I never heard that he had actually bitten anyone, but my guess is that no one ever tempted fate.
The dog's barking was the signal for Mrs Watkins to appear and come down the path, scolding the dog who stood rigidly four square at this post, while Mrs Watkins came to the gate to enquire what it was all about.
She, like Rene, had auburn hair and was pretty friendly, but like Rene and Reg, had a little bit of temper. But she would often bring with her one of her homemade rock cakes as a kind of peace offering for the dog's barking. Nearly always it was a request from us, is Reg available to come out to play or go for a walk? Sometimes yes, sometimes no.
Charlie Watkins, the youngest, was nicknamed Pudden as he so liked rice pudding and porridge which could easily be seen when he was wearing a tight fitting jersey. But we all got on pretty famously together.
Rene had long auburn hair, slightly lighter than her mother's. She was a few years older than I and worked in some secretarial job in London, which in those days was a kudos symbol, and could be managed as the fares to London were not prohibitive.
Mr Watkins was a railway train driver, first steam and later on electric. He was a known Communist, a brave and rare stance to take in those days. Because of my upbringing, the reporting in the daily papers, and my tender impressionable age, I thought that Communists were somehow different from other folk, and might at any time produce a bomb from one of their pockets. So it was with some amazement that I found out that Mr Watkins in his blue railway uniform, small peaked cap and carrying his tea and sandwiches in his black tin food bag, with his green and red flags strapped neatly to its sides, was really no different than any other man.
He gave me the impression that he was a placid man, at least he was with all his dealings with the parents and children in Queen Anne's. A genuine smile, a "Hello Kitch" or if he had something else on his mind and could not remember your name, an equally acceptable "Hello Son.” Never heard him rant or rave, Mr. Watkins was O.K. to all us boys.
Rene married a Harold Marshall [sic: m James F Stebbings 1938], and poor Reg was killed in action while serving overseas in the Second World War.
from Looking Back with Love and Laughter in Leatherhead - A young boy's exploits in and around Leatherhead some 60 years ago, Kitchener Haskins (1986)
In the same 1939 E&W Register, Reginald was a Shoe-Shop Branch-Manager living at 13, Drury's Estate, Corby, Northamptonshire. He was single and aged about 24.
So far no press report of Reginald's death has been traced apart from in the poignant report of the funeral of his mother in February 1943:
Surrey Advertiser - Saturday 13 February 1943SUDDEN DEATH OF MRS. C. W WATKINSMrs. Elizabeth Watkins, of 8, Queen Anne’s Terrace, Leatherhead, died suddenly at her home on Monday. Mrs. Watkins, who was 62 years of age. was the wife of Mr. Charles William Watkins, a railway motor man, and they had lived in Leatherhead for 24 years.
Mrs. Watkins was in good health up to a year ago, was a prominent member of Leatherhead Labour Party, and took an active part in the Methodist Church activities. Grief for her son, Pte. Reginald Watkins, of the Royal Lancers, who was killed in action in Libya last year, affected her health.
The funeral, conducted by the Rev. E. Evans, was arranged to take place yesterday (Friday) at Leatherhead Methodist Church, when the family mourners attending were Mr. C. W. Watkins (husband). Mr. Charles Watkins (son), Mr. and Mrs. Stebbings (son-in-law and daughter), Mr. and Mrs. J. S. Spencer, Mr. and Mrs. F. Spencer (brothers and sisters-in-law), Mr. Sydney Watkins (brother-in-law), and Mrs. Matthews.
IN LOVING MEMORY OF
A DEVOTED WIFE AND MOTHER
DIED FEB 8TH 1943 AGED 62
KILLED IN ACTION JANY 29TH 1942
[this grave is in the section of Leatherhead Parish Churchyard between a path and the boundary with the backs of the houses in St Mary's Road]
Reginald Watkins is also remembered on these memorials:
Leatherhead Town Memorial
Leatherhead RBL Roll of Honour, Leatherhead Parish Church
the website editor would like to add further information on this casualty
e.g. a photo of him, his CWGC headstone, and of any further recollections of him
last updated 6 July 20