Roy Theodore Watts (1913–1938) – trade unionist and Sussex Brigader
Roy Watts was born at home, at 35 Alpine Road, Hove, Sussex, on 13th September 1913, the son of a hairdresser’s clerk. After school he went to work for the Portsea Island Mutual Co-operative Society. He was an active member of the Shop Assistants Union (NAUSAWC), and was elected Vice-President of the Southern District Council and represented the Portsmouth Branch on the Executive Committee of Portsmouth Trades Council.
Watts left the ILP’s League of Youth to join the Young Communist League where “one of his many and varied activities in the working class movement was addressing meetings on Southsea Seafront in the summer of 1936”. He also enjoyed sport being the Chairman of the Portsmouth & District Clarion Cycling Club and a “well-known swimmer, holder of several trophies”.
Watts’ first taste of direct action against fascism was throwing leaflets over the balcony of a local theatre being addressed by Oswald Mosley, leader of the British Union Fascists. He was rough-handled down the staircase by Mosley’s “stewards” and his coat ripped in the process.
Roy Watts moved to Leicester in 1936 and was working as a salesman in the furniture department of the Leicester Co-op High Street store when he left for Spain.
Watts arrived in Spain on 14th February 1938 but was taken to hospital with a fever. On discharge he went to Albacete for a crash training course.
In a letter to the Secretary of the Leicester branch of the Shop Assistants’ Union quoted in the Leicester Evening Mail on 5th April 1938, he wrote: “The fight of the Spanish workers is also our fight, and because the peace of the world is at stake, I am happy to be able to show to the Spanish people, by way of example, that although our Government has hindered them, we in the working class are solid in support. Victory for the Spanish people means democracy and peace shall advance and flourish throughout the world.”
Watts served in the British Battalion infantry, and anti-aircraft unit, and was transferred to the Brigade Transmissions Unit on 22nd June 1938. His final battle was described by Peter Kerrigan, a leading British Communist and Daily Worker correspondent in Spain, in a letter to British Communist leader Harry Pollitt dated 27th September 1938. “The irony of it is that this last action took place on September 23rd, the day after Dr Negrin’s speech at Geneva which announced the repatriation of the volunteers…..One bomb dropped on a small house where our transmissions were, and killed Joseph Harding of Middlesbrough and Roy Watts of Leicester along with two Spanish comrades. When the bodies were dug out all were dead.”
News of the withdrawal of the International Brigades must have been high on the agenda when Leicester Communist Party met in the Secular Hall on the evening of the 5th October 1938, so it must have been devastating to learn from the Chairman that he had been told an hour before the meeting started that Roy Watts had been killed. Certainly it was all the more shocking for his girlfriend who “when the massage was read Miss Rowe was greatly distressed, and was taken home by fellow members of the Young Communist League”.
Tributes to Watts were recorded in Challenge, paper of the YCL, for October 22nd 1938 and the Portsmouth Evening News for December 21 1938.
Pauline Fraser with thanks to Stuart Walsh and Alan Lloyd.