Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 15, No. 7. May 1, 1952
The Gordon Watson Scholarship . . . — In Memory of a Great New Zealander
The Gordon Watson Scholarship . . .
In Memory of a Great New Zealander
One of the facts that most distinguishes the University of New Zealand from its old-world counterparts is Its paucity of endowments. Big bequests from wealthy New Zealanders for things academic are ram Thus the Senate's announcement early in December of Miss Evelyn Watson's £11,000 bequest was a major event.
Miss Watson was for sometime a lecturer at V.U.C., and was well known in Wellington organisations of the Church of England. She bequeathed an estimated £14,000 to institute a scholarship for graduates with a Master's degree to study over-seas for 2 years, in questions of international relationships, and social and economic conditions. The holders will spend the first year at a British, the second year at a European. Asian or American university.
This generous scholarship is to be called the "Gordon Watson Scholarship" in memory Miss Watson's nephew, a brilliant V.U.C. graduate, who was killed in Italy, April, 1945,
He studied at V.U.C. from 1930 to 1934, graduating M.A. with honours in English and Latin in the latter year. But not only was he a first-class scholar—he was also an all-round student—fond of tramping in the hills, keen on chess, a writer of extravaganzas, a poet, and a leader of College political thought.
The ivory tower was never for Gordon Watson. He was continually active in student organisations always broadening the vision of his acquaintances, turning their attention to the real world of which the college should be an integral part. Is the V.U.C. Free Discussions Club, he influenced students against scabbing in the Seamen's Strike of 1934. and being "specials" against the unemployed. He fought for academic freedom against the victimisation of progressive staff-members. He edited the socialist newsletter "The Student"—"exposed" by "N.Z. Truth" in an article headed "New Zealand Universities Hotbeds of Revolution!" He waited in a deputation on the German Consul to protest against the phoney Reichstag Fire Trial. (While the deputation was being heard, the Swastika on the flagpole above was mysteriously replaced by a Red Flag). He brought the dynamic of Marxism into student discussions of their academic work. He helped form Labour Clubs in all the colleges.
In her memoir of Watson at the beginning of the memorial volume "Gordon Watson, his Life and Writings," Mrs. Elsie Locke describes him at this time:
"I first met Gordon Watson in September 1933, when arrangements had been made for students associated with the efforts to form Labour Clubs at Auckland University College and Otago University to meet these militants of Victoria who were in the van. 'Ah, Watson—that's the man. I had been told at Auckland. I can see him yet as he came through the doorway into the home of some friends, with that keen look ot interest and Inquiry on his genial face, assured, unconcerned with himself, more in a hurry to learn from others than to lay down his own point of view. There was nothing 'impressive9 in the way he halted, with shy informality, until he was introduced to the newcomers. Plainly, everyone present looked to him with unforced devotion and confidence.
"To him in particular is due the fact that left-wing opinion did not remain vague and formless, but was led into active channels. The Socialist Club' of Victoria College ... is a lineal descendant of that band of militants' which aligned itself with the working class during the depression and [unclear: thew] down the challenge of 'The Student.'"
Leaving varsity in 1935, he spurned the "successful" careers offered to the man of intellect by a capitalist environment. His extraordinary gifts he devoted to the New Zealand working class, first as editor of the Friends of the Soviet Union magazine, and later as National Secretary of the New Zealand Communist Party, and editor of the "People's Voice." He was still a full-time Communist Party worker when he joined the Army in 1941, and fought first in the Pacific and then in Italy. Never a man of sterile theory, l; always believed in testing his ideas in the fire of practice. At Faenza, on April 17, 1945, he gave his life fighting against fascism, the avowed enemy of all that he believed in and cherished.
The Company Commander of the 27th Battalion wrote of him: "Under my command, Gordon Watson conducted himself in a fashion worthy of the best New Zealanders, acquitted himself well in action, and was killed in hand to hand combat ... His personality, automatically made him a leader among his actual platoon, mates, and the willing spirit and discipline that existed in his platoon was undoubtedly due in part to his presence.
"Possibly a greater tribute than any of his officers could write was accorded by the shock and deep regret registered by his death on all his acquaintances, not only in our unit, but everywhere that he was known, and that among men who were unnaturally accustomed to death. I felt at the time that a great New Zealander had been lost, and I wished too late that X could have known him even better."
The veteran Socialist and respected educationalist, F. L. Combs, wrote these words of Watson: "Single-minded, high-minded and fearless, he attained a higher Intellectual and moral standard than any other man it has been my privilege to know. He deliberately espoused a cause that meant the forgoing of what most would have regarded as a career, and accepted as all in the day's work the heavy material and social penalties for so doing. More, the rougher the going, the more steadfastly did he adhere to what he believed was the truth. And he was a very good judge of the truth."
A fellow-soldier described the simple reaction of an Italian partisan who had fought alongside him, when he heard of Gordon Watson's death: "Then Giuseppe's remark, made very softly in his own tongue—'Ma suo lavoro continua—But his work goes on.'"
And his work docs go on.
The Gordon Watson Scholarship, left by his devoted friend and aunt who disagreed with him on some questions, is a fitting tribute to this man.