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Veterans: 17 Mar 2019
Harry Watts promoted Remembrance Day, citizenship and education
KITCHENER — Harry Watts was a proud soldier, longtime volunteer, man of good cheer, and fierce advocate for education and good citizenship.
|Harry Watts talks to students at Wilson Avenue Public School in Kitchener about his war experience in May 2013. - Peter Lee , Record staff |
He died Sunday at 95 after keeping busy for as long as he could, never wanting to waste a minute.
Watts was a Second World War veteran who worked hard to ensure that we honour the sacrifices of others.
In combat he rode a motorcycle, delivering military dispatches across battle-scarred Italy and Holland.
Although he never fired his gun, the enemy targeted him more than once.
In Italy, he dove for cover beneath a tank as shells dropped around him. A German sniper once took aim at him. The bullet sounded like a bee buzzing around his head. He hit the dirt pretty fast.
He saw terrible things but refused to let them sour his optimism, leaving the gruesome parts out of a self-published memoir he titled "The Dispatch Rider."
"There's enough bad stuff out there," he said. "Why dwell on the horrors?"
Watts returned to the Netherlands at age 81 to celebrate 60 years of liberation by Canadian soldiers. On parade, he rode a 1943 motorcycle to the royal viewing stand.
Then he made headlines, breaking protocol and scampering past security to present Dutch Princess Margriet with a gift.
The princess was born in Ottawa in 1943, far from her Nazi-occupied homeland. Watts gave her a book of appreciation made by students of a Kitchener school where he volunteered as a mentor.
One student wrote: "Thank you for looking after our soldiers' graves."
Watts called it his last dispatch. The princess was delighted to receive it.
"I've got a big grin that probably won't go away for a couple of weeks," he said after.
Watts believed that education opens doors. He was a Welland farm boy who quit school at 15 and found doors closed to him because of it.
He could be outspoken, scrapping with the public school board when it closed a school for truant students that was close to his heart.
All he wanted was for young people to reach their potential more easily than he did.
"Give them a little encouragement and there ain't nothing they can't do," he said.
Watts, retired from a bus company, lost his beloved wife Leila in 2005. He refused to let his heartache slow him down.
She was a teacher, artist, singer and mother. They were married almost 57 years.
Two years later, at 83, he displayed his soapstone carvings at a local coffee shop, entered a jam-making contest at the Kitchener Farmers' Market, bought a Vespa-style scooter to tool around country roads, and drove a dogsled across a frozen lake in the Yukon.
Watts spoke often at citizenship ceremonies, proud of the country he fought for and delighted to see immigrants beam and wave the flag.
It bothered him when Canadians couldn't be bothered to vote in elections. And so he did something to fight poor turnout.
He put himself on public display at the Kitchener market, urging people to thank a war veteran by exercising their right to vote for the candidate of their choice.
"I've been so privileged to live in this country," he said. "People have always encouraged me."
Really though, he was the one encouraging us.
Remembering Harry Watts
Visitation 11 a.m. to noon, Sunday March 17
Memorial service to follow at noon
Westmount Memorial Celebration Centre, 1001 Ottawa St. S. in Kitchener
See the CTV News on Harry Watts link:
Jeff Outhit Waterloo Region Record/CTV News/AA
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