Copyright Simon Richards and Newburgh Sailing club 2017
Joseph Watt was born in 1887 in the Scottish fishing village of Gardenstown on the Moray Firth, into the large family of Joseph Sr. and Helen Watt. His father was a fisherman of many years service and his mother was also employed in the fish industry. At age ten his father was lost at sea in an accident, and the family moved to Fraserburgh in Aberdeenshire where his mother remarried. He learned the fishing trade from an early age and served aboard the ''White Daisy'' before purchasing a stake in the drifter ''Annie''.
The war changed life in the community as most of the menfolk volunteered for service with the Royal Navy on the patrol service, hunting for enemy shipping and submarines, often in small drifters and trawlers similar to the ones they sailed in every day. Joe was no exception, being rated a skipper in the patrol service, and marrying Jesse Ann Noble in the days before his posting overseas. Transferred to Italy in 1915, Watt served on drifters in the Adriatic Sea, enduring boring patrol work keeping Austrian submarines from breaking into the Mediterranean Sea. During this time he was highly commended, for his role in the operation to evacuate the remnants of the Serbian Army following their defeat and retreat to Albania in January 1916 for which he was later awarded the Serbian Gold Medal.
Shortly before Christmas 1916, Watt's drifter, the HM Drifter ''Gowanlea'' was attacked by an Austrian destroyer sortie, which was attempting to break the line of drifters and allow submarines to escape into the Mediterranean.
Although hit several times by shellfire, the drifter was not seriously damaged and the crew unhurt. It was however a mild precursor to a major raid planned against the Otranto Barrage as the drifter line was now called.
H M Drifter Gowanlea
H M Drifter Gowanlea -
Four hundred years have sped since first
Britannia ruled the wave,
And histories page is crowded with
deeds glorious and brave.
But none outshine the story fine,
of Austrian cruisers three,
That were faced and fought down by a fishing boat,
The Drifter Gowanlea.
Neath the purple Adriatic night,
our scotch minesweepers lay,
when a squadron of the foe swooped down,
Like a vulture on it's prey.
"Surrender" cried the Austrian chief,
"surrender,no, not me,"
"So there thats flat!",bawled skipper Watt
of the drifter Gowanlea.
Then his crew gave three defiant cheers
as they made their popgun squirt,
why 'twas like ten men in armour,
against one man in a shirt!
The foe's broadside flamed across the tide,
But the drifter what cared she?
With her six pound shot,she answered hot,
did the tiny Gowanlea.
The wheelhouse smashed and her nose sore bashed,
and her bulwarks all afire,
But the flag still flew,and no thought but do
or die was the crew's desire.
A ball came slap through the skippers cap,
"I still keep my head" laughed he,
"and if down we go,then the world will know,
we died game on the Gowanlea".
And bold Fred Lamb served his gun as calm
as if no darned foe was nigh,
til a shell came along,with a deathlike song,
and mangled his leg and thigh.
"That's one spar gone", said Fred with a groan,
"But I've still got my fists you see!"
And he fought his gun til the foe did run,
from the Drifter Gowanlea.
Who were the heroes of the main,
who won such high renown?
A cooper and a Fisherman,
From a quiet Buchan town.
Spirit of Nelson and of Drake!
Spirit of Victory!
Ye are not dead while we've Joe and Fred,
And the Drifter Gowanlea.
Although not a picture of the Gowanlea, this image is representative of Drifters of that time as they would be out of service.
British drifters leaving their base in the Adriatic for stations on the Otranto Barrage
Permission to reproduce the verse of the story of the H M Drifter Gowanlea very kindly granted by The Scottish Fisheries Museum in Antruther.
Photographs reproduced from Wikipedia.
Early life of Joseph Watt in brief reproduced from Wikipedia.
Thanks to everyone for there kind input and assistance in reproducing this article.
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