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WATSON, John Kennedy (1913-2006)

WATSON, Dr John Kennedy (1913-2006)

'Jock' Kennedy has the distinction of having been born on a ship in the harbour at Massam in Korea on 23 February, 1913 where his father was a missionary. He later took up the family calling towards medicine and practised succesfully as a General Practitioner in Perth for over 50 years.

'Jock' was the eldest son of Reverend Robert Darling and Amy Elizabeth nee Beard, who at the time of his enrolment at Geelong College were living at The Manse, Mia Mia. He and his two younger brothers Donald and David were educated at Geelong College as boarders where 'Jock' was enrolled from 10 February, 1926 until December, 1932. Prior to his enrolment he had attended Mia Mia State School.

With a talent for sport, John won the Geelong College Cup, an athletics trophy given to the best all-rounder. He was also a member of the 1st Rowing VIII from 1930 to 1932 and the 1st Football XVIII from 1930 to 1932. He was Captain of Athletics (he won the 440 yards at the Combined sports in 1931, coming equal 1st in 1932), and was a School Prefect in 1932. It was this sporting ability that earned him a scholarship to Aberdeen University, where he studied medicine. The Pegasus of December 1937 noted: 'Jock Watson passed his examinations at Aberdeen University last July and was doing dispensary work before taking a well earned rest in August. He witnessed the Scottish Tennis Championships and also tried his hand at fishing on the Tweed before settling down to the dispensary work. He managed to win the University quarter mile and won a handsome watch as first prize for the same distance at the Lochaber Games, where he met the late Mr Ramsay McDonald. Jock was selected to accompany the Scottish running team which was leaving for Paris later in August.' Pegasus of June, 1939 further noted: 'Jock Watson is expecting to pay a return visit to Australia within the next six months. His academic studies have been completed and he is at present working in Aberdeen under Dr Anderson, physician to the King in Scotland, his present headquarters being the Royal Infirmary, Foresterhill, Aberdeen.' While studying for his medical degree, he managed to break the university's record for the 100 yard sprint. He graduated MB BCh in 1939.

In January, 1943 Pegasus noted 'Jock' Watson's movements, as recorded by his compatriot Alan Hardy: 'A big Scotchman from our squadron and I were at the Continental a few nights ago. The Scotchman, pointing to an officer at another table said, 'I know that chap - went to the Aberdeen University with him'. He went over and brought him back to our table. It was Jock Watson, now a doctor at a British hospital. We had a good yarn; he had been up to Tripoli looking for Matt. Wright and Lindsay Hassett.'

'Jock' Watson (courtesy Watson Family)

'Jock' Watson (courtesy Watson Family)

'Jock' Watson was a newly graduated doctor in Aberdeen when war broke out, and joined the British Army. He was deployed initially to North Africa then later to Bangalore in India. He served with the No.l Indian Advanced Blood Transfusion Unit in Bangalore and Mysore. His family hold letters that he wrote to his parents while in India, which indicate that he sent regular financial instalments home to help with the education of his younger brother, David, as his father, a minister of religion, probably had a low stipend. Pegasus of July, 1942 reported: 'Captain Jock Watson RAMC is attached to a hospital in Bangalore, India'.

His daughter, Jane de Vries, recalled that 'Jock' was a natural raconteur and at times not averse to embellishing the truth a little for greater effect. She related the following stories, reflecting his more light-hearted memories of war service, the first two of which were set in North Africa: 'He remembered the troops being lined up on the parade ground and berated by the CO for not tying the front flaps of their tents securely in order to prevent pilfering by the local inhabitants. The very next day when they all assembled for their customary roll call and day's briefing, the CO appeared dressed, not in his usual uniform, but in his night attire. The bemused troops checked out his tent and all was revealed. The flap at the front of the tent was securely fastened but a neat section had been cut from the back of the tent - and the contents, including his uniform, stolen while he slept! The second story concerned fighting the Italians in North Africa; he swore it was true but in hindsight it sounds suspiciously like an Italian joke: The British had been pursuing the Italians for several days. One day they were awakened much earlier than usual with the news that a group of Italian soldiers had been spotted over the next sand dune. The British advanced warily, expecting some savage close combat. When they topped the final ridge there was no one in sight. The encampment was still there with breakfast, still piping hot all laid out ready for the invaders to enjoy! The events inspiring the third story took place in India: He was called in to help with the difficult delivery of a child for one of the Sultan of Mysore's wives. All eventually went well and the Sultan (intending to demonstrate the magnitude of his gratitude) apparently presented Dad with a magnificent elephant. Not wishing to offend the Sultan, Dad expressed his profound thanks but explained that when he eventually came to go home an elephant would be rather tricky to pack in his luggage! The story ended happily for all concerned when the elephant was replaced with some very beautiful rugs.'

Pegasus of June 1948 again noted: 'Dr Jock Watson (1932), who returned to Australia last August after many years abroad, was a visitor to the College early in June. He took his medical course at Aberdeen, and served with the British Army in the Middle East and Burma.'

After the war, he returned to England and worked as a GP in a hospital in Bedford, England where he met Daphne Appleyard, the daughter of Herbert and Gertrude nee Withey. Herbert Appleyard was director of a family-owned leather tanning company in Leeds.
After marrying Daphne in 1947, Jock returned to Australia by sea, as ship's doctor. Shortly after arriving, he was appointed director of the Blood Transfusion Service in Perth. He then built and established a private clinic in South Perth with three other colleagues, where he practised for the remainder of his working life.

In 1956, he was widowed when Daphne died in the polio epidemic that year. 'Jock' left work to raise his two small daughters, Judy and Jane. He remarried after a journalist friend introduced him to Cecily Reeve-Tucker, a young widow with three children of her own. The family of seven soon expanded to nine with the arrival of their own children, Richard and Sarah. Many happy years passed with Jock involving himself in many projects, such as a chicken farm; a plastics factory; taking out a lease on Penguin Island, south of Perth; fishing when he could find the time; and working in a very demanding medical practice which he loved.

Cecily died of a heart attack in 1994 and this left Jock living alone, which was a difficult time of adjustment, made worse by a stroke a couple of years later. He was forced to retire at the age of 84. He lived the final nine years of his life at a much slower pace and died in Perth on 18 March 2006 at the age of 93.

His two brothers, Donald McRae Watson (1914-1993) and Robert David Watson also boarded at College. All three brothers became medical practitioners.

Sources: Based on an edited extract from Geelong Collegians at the Second World War compiled by James Affleck. pp535-537 (citing The Pegasus; Australian War Memorial; National Archives; Watson Family Recollections; Photo Jane de Vries). Last updated 26 Aug, 2014.
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