Watts was born
the 14th of March 1886
in Maesteg to a typical Welsh coal mining family. From census returns it
appears that he was raised by his grandparents Samuel and Phoebe Jones in Talbot
Terrace, Maesteg but more recent evidence shows he had moved to
remained loyal to his birthplace and never moved from Maesteg. It was inevitable
that he would follow his forbears into the hard, dark and dirty coalmines of the
region and did so probably before the age of 14 following his schooling. David
would initially have served as a dram filler, clearing the stall and roadway or
other manual jobs. He would learn the ropes and assist a senior hewer (possibly
a family friend or relative) before he was given his own section to work in.
Once he showed he could handle the independence he would be responsible for
erecting pit props as he dug further into his own stall with a lad to assist
him. He was certainly a Coal Hewer in 1901 aged 16, a profession that
constituted working long hours in extremely cramped conditions at the coal face.
The day or night shift began long before he began to earn any money. There was
the walk to work, the preparation of going underground and once at the heading
it was common to walk miles before reaching the coal face. He would hack at the
seam using manual tools to extract the coal. Only then when the drams were being
filled did he begin to earn his money. Every day he would face the danger of
flooding, gas, rock falls and if your entire career was in this environment then
face the prospect of the debilitating black lung disease caused by the coal.
profession shaped David’s early years. He was extremely fit and as hard as
nails, just like his peers who he worked alongside. But Dai stood out from the
others, he was good at rugby!
go anywhere else to play rugby when you lived only a short walk from the home
ground. Maesteg initially played their rugby on the cricket ground and it was
later they moved to the
.David would have already been
aware of Maesteg RFC and rugby but we can only speculate if it was something he
was extremely keen on at a young age or was it something he was introduced to
when he was older. There are no records to substantiate when his playing career
began but we do know that when it did his natural talents were to take him right
to the top in his short playing career.
were one of the forerunners of Welsh rugby, established in 1882 (some records
state 1877) and as every South Wales town grew with the demand for coal, steel,
iron and copper so did the demand to watch sport, particularly rugby. Large
crowds were recorded at games and the rivalries between the towns were intense.
The game developed but owing to the physical side of the game it was often
recorded that fights broke out between players quickly followed by the
supporters wading into each other. Those chaotic early days of Welsh rugby soon
gave way to established fixtures and cup competitions. The likes of
were the big boys and other industrial town teams such as Mountain Ash,
Abertillery were never a pushover. By the beginning of the 20th
’ national game was rugby.
priority would have been work and the wages he brought into the home. He would
have been aware that a successful 1905
recorded their first ever win over the conquering All Blacks and won their 4th
triple crown. This was the start of a golden period of Welsh rugby and it is
likely around this moment in time that his playing career had already begun at
the age of 19.
was the beginning of “unfashionable” clubs making a revival in
in contrast to typical strongholds such as
. In “Fields of Praise” the official history of the WRU it states, “the
1910-11 season began with a heartening revival of rugby interest in Maesteg.” I
would like to think that David Watts was a part of this as it goes on to
describe “the super excellence” of their pack. It was in the pack that David
Watts, who developed his strength down the mines, was to play in his position of
had become a formidable team and in 1912 they won the Glamorgan challenge Cup;
however no Maesteg player would get the opportunity to represent his country as
the Welsh national side were an established team with the likes of Jack
Bancroft, Billy Trew and the great Dicky Owen. It was unusual for an
international player to reach double figures for caps in this era, after all
rugby was an amateur sport and a balance needed to be found between work and
rugby. A chance of a cap would always be a possibility to a player from a
successful club team but Maesteg players would be overlooked until 1914 when
David Watts was finally given the nod.
David Watts had the honour of receiving the first international cap whilst
representing Maesteg rugby club. The was a fantastic achievement; Maesteg had
not replicated their cup winning year of 1912 but Watts had remained with the
club and his performances since then were evidence and worthy enough of his call
travelled to Twickenham to make his international bow. On
the 17th of January 1914
introduced 5 new caps including David Watts.
’ entire team only numbered 56 caps.England
were also experimenting and gave debuts to 6 players but were more experienced
with 80 caps in all and had in their team the supreme trio, Poulton-Palmer,
Cyril Lowe and Charles “Cherry” Pillman.
front of a crowd of 30,000 the match was a close affair with
taking the win (10-9) after
gifted them a try with eight minutes to go. The Welsh forwards had taken the
eight to the cleaners and done enough to get the away win and their season up
and running. With
leading 9 – 5 and nearing Willie Watts of Llanelli (No relation to David), a
first and only cap at centre fumbled the ball on the
try line. Cherry Pillman the exponent of wing forward play pounced and scored
the winning try. There were some anxious moments for England as Wales battered
their lines in an attempt to claw back the match but it was all in vain and
England won their first ever match at Twickenham by that single point. Had it
not been for this mistake
’ last season before the start of the Great War would have resulted in a grand
slam. But it was not to be and
went on to complete their second grand slam after their first the previous
Wales’ loss was not all doom and gloom;
they had discovered a magnificent pack of forwards led by the powerful and
intelligent Revd Alban Davies. David Watts was to keep his place among this pack
that remained together for the championship and this pack of forwards came to be
known as the “Terrible Eight” by the end of season.
Wales played their next game on the 7th
of February at
had not won in
in 9 previous attempts and they were thoroughly beaten, metaphorically speaking
too, on this occasion. The final score was 24 – 5. The Scottish captain David
Bain received 6 stitches to a head wound and claimed at the end of the match
“The dirtier side won!”It was a
rough match and the Scottish centre Walter Sutherland spent most of the second
half limping about the field. The Revd Davies continued as captain and leader of
the ferocious “Terrible Eight”. He was asked whether he was ever offended by
the “colourful language” of the other seven to which he replied “I always
wear a scrum cap!”
France arrived to take on
on a Monday afternoon at St.Helens,
in March. It was a totally one sided affair and the Welsh forwards destroyed
the French pack. The speed of the Welsh backs compounded the French efforts and
ran in seven tries resulting in a 31 – 0 scoreline. Unfortunately Watts did
not get on the scorecard but so successful were this pack proving to be that
they were selected en bloc again for the final infamous match against
two weeks later.
game, held at the Balmoral Showground’s in
the 14th March 1914
went down in Welsh folklore and it was the Irish Press post match who dubbed
the Welsh forwards the “The Terrible Eight!” There
have been many tall stories said of the pre match meeting of the Irish and Welsh
packs but the one that appears to hold most water is that the Irish pack visited
the Welsh team hotel the previous night of the match. This was a good natured
visit and the Irish pack leader Doctor William Tyrell told Welsh forward Percy
Jones: "It's you and me for it tomorrow." Jones, a colliery foreman,
smiled and answered: "I shall be with you, doing the best I can."
forward asked: "Can anyone join in?" And so they did! What appeared to start as good natured banter
turned into a full-blooded contest during the match. Jones took several early
knocks, not just from Tyrell but from other members of the Irish pack. At half
time the Welsh pack decided to pay the Irish back and the game descended into
running fist fights and the match is remembered as being one of the most violent
in international rugby. Players
fought when the ball was not near them and some should have been sent off, but
Mr Tulloch, the referee from
, took little notice. It was one of the all-time best punch-ups and Jones said:
"The fun just went on and on."
for the rugby match itself,
commenced in the mud by attempting to play a passing and running match but soon
gave up. Owing to the pitch conditions it resulted in a forward slog that
was described to have been “in the heart of everything the men in red did”.
outscored the Irish by three tries to one and took the match 11 – 3.
was the first ever time a pack had remained unchanged through a home
championship but the “Terrible Eight” would never play complete again.
Bedwelty Jones signed a contract to play league rugby with
and the rumblings of war were on the horizon which put a stop to rugby for the
duration. For the record Tyrell and Jones became firm friends and died 6 months
apart when they were both aged 82. The leader of the infamous eight Revd Davies
in 1976 age 90.
(l-r) Percy Jones, Ted Morgan, Harry Uzzell, Tom Lloyd, David Watts
(l-r) Tom Williams, Alban Davies, Walter Rees (RFU Sec), Bedwelty Jones)
There would be one more appearance for Watts in a
shirt. Following the outbreak of hostilities with
frequent fund raising and recruiting opportunities took place throughout the
. The Barbarians XV put together a team captained by Edgar Mobbs and played
; this was the first ever Barbarians encounter with an international team.
teamed up with 5 of the original Terrible Eight in the forwards, Tom Williams
(withdrew late) and Bedwelty Jones being the only two of the missing. The
Barbarians won the match in
that day 26- 10 but the result was immaterial as two hundred pounds was raised
for the local war effort and 177 men enlisted into the Welsh Guards.
chose to join the army and enlisted in Maesteg. Following his basic training he
was posted to the 7th Battalion Kings Shropshire Light Infantry, part
of the 3rd Division. He had been in a reserved occupation and could
have avoided the killing fields of the Great War but instead chose to go. Could
this have been through patriotism and adventure? Many of his rugby friends had
enlisted including the Reverend Alban Davies who was an Army chaplain with the
Royal Artillery. Alternatively David may have seen this as an opportunity to
leave the rigours of coal mining and in those days there was not much chance of
leaving coal mining if that’s all you had ever done in your life, even for an
international rugby player.
battalion were posted overseas and landed in Boulougne on
the 15th of October 1915
. They saw service in and around the Ypres salient in 1915 and 1916 but were
soon required to move south to prepare for the
offensive. The regiment were in reserve on
the 1st of July 1916
and it was only two weeks before they were required to move up the line and
take their part in the offensive to capture Bazentin Ridge. The war diary
records the following.
14th of July 1916 “The Attack”
advanced towards German trenches and were held by barbed wire. Remainder leaped
into shell holes and consolidated along road 200x (sic) from German trench.
we were informed the 2nd Royal Scots were bombing along German
trench on our left which had been taken. At
Battn again charged and captured both 1st and 2nd
trenches and also 250 prisoners”
official war history of the Regiment recorded the following;
night assembly and deployment of the assaulting battalions went without a hitch
on the 13th of July the battalion was in position in No Mans Land
waiting for dawn. The objectives were the enemy front trench and support line
running through Bazentin le Grand, a distance of 1,500 yards. Owing to the
undulation of the ground the enemy trenches were not visible. At
there was a brief preliminary bombardment, lasting 5 minutes, which was very
short, and caused a number of casualties amongst our own men. Unfortunately the
attack ran into exceptionally strong, and quite uncut, wire about 600 yards from
the front enemy trench. Not one man of the first wave succeeded in getting
through this wire, of which there were two rows, each ten to twenty yards deep.
The succeeding waves of attack closed on first and the enemy had an easy target.
After vain attempts to penetrate the wire, the remnants of the
attacking force fell back to the shelter of the sunken road about 200 yards
from the enemy trenches. About 11am. The remnants of the battalion attacked
again and assisted by bombing parties from the flanks, succeeded in cutting
their way through the wire, reaching the enemy trenches”
officers were either killed or wounded. 147 other ranks killed outright, 278
others wounded (16 of which subsequently died) and 16 men were missing.
–LE – GRAND (At right)
Nobody knows what part of the day David was killed or how he died. His service
record was destroyed in the second war, there are no witnesses to his death and
the war diary does not list him individually. David was a corporal and comes
under the diary term “other ranks”. David Watts was killed in action aged
30, his body was never recovered from the battlefield.
life was fraught with danger, from the young age as a coal miner, eventually
becoming one of the many whose ultimate sacrifice was a fruitless and wasted
gesture being killed hundreds of miles from home.
name is recorded on the Thiepval memorial to those who have no known grave of
battles. His name also appears on the memorial stone at the Millennium Stadium
and most proudly at
, Maesteg where his photograph resides above the bar in the members lounge. One
place it is missing from is in EHD Sewells RugbyFootball Internationalists Roll of Honour book,
it is inexplicable why his name is not present.
life and rugby career was cut short by the war, it would have been likely that
he could have added to the 4 caps he received in the season of 1914, there
should have been more seasons for Maesteg he played with pride for club at the
very least. It is quite right to take for granted that his friends in that
terrible eight would never have forgotten him and nor shall we.
Championship 1883-1983, Collins-Willow Books