Lieutenant Colonel Vernon Watkins Urquhart

On the 23rd October 2022 the Heritage Working Party of Thatcham Town Council unveiled their fifth blue plaque. This latest plaque was to commemorate Lieutenant Colonel Vernon Watkins Urquhart.

Born in 1877 in West Bengal, India to parents Alexander Shaw Urquhart and Louisa Jane Urquhart (née Watkins), Vernon grew up in a large family and was educated at Christ Church (Newgate Street, London). In 1894 he sailed from Liverpool to New York and remained in america for several years. While there he married his first wife Isabelle Sara Holdsworth and soon had their first child.

In 1906 the family moved back to England. A year later Isabel died. In 1909 Vernon married Ada Maude Lucas. The family continued to grow with more children and by 1911 the family are recorded as farmers living at Lullington Court, Alfriston, Sussex.

In 1915 Vernon was recorded as a serving in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps (RAOC) in France. Alfriston Roll of Honour records all those who enrolled during the First World War and names Vernon. In 1917 Vernon was appointed a temporary Captain of the Army Ordnance Department and in that same year was mentioned twice in Despatches. He became an acting Lieutenant Colonel in 1918 and his rank and role varied over the years. He was awarded the Military Cross (MC) during the war and was still Assistant Director of Engineering Stores in 1920.

The Depot

In February 1940 land in Station Road, Thatcham, that had been a tobacco store for W.D. & H.O. Wills was requisitioned for British Military for use as an Ordnance Depot. In 1942 the depot was taken over by the American forces and it became the largest depot in the country. The depot, at this time was named General Depot 45. The closure was confirmed in 1998, a Beating of the Retreat was held in 1999 and an official closure came in March 2000. The site was developed and is what we see as the Kennet Heath estate today.

Urquhart and Thatcham

Blue plaque for Lieutenant Colonel Vernon Watkins Urquhart.
Blue plaque for Lieutenant Colonel Vernon Watkins Urquhart.

Vernon became the first commander of the Depot at Thatcham. However, this would be a short lived appointment. Several bombing raids took place in Thatcham during 1940. One raid was on 16th August 1940 where the ARP note two high explosive bombs were dropped. It is said that Vernon was in the garden of his house, 141 Station Road, Thatcham, when at 6.05pm one bomb exploded nearby. Metal from the explosion hit Vernon in the chest killing him instantly. His house suffered damage but his wife who was inside at the time and was unharmed.

Although for security reasons the exact location or names were not mentioned, the Newbury Weekly News of 22nd August 1940 reports in this bombing raid there were human casualties, one man was killed and injured two others, one of whom required hospital treatment.

Vernon was buried 3 days later in Shaw Cemetery. Although the Army Roll of Honour (1939 -45) records Vernon having died in 1940 while serving in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps his death was not officially recorded, and no death certificate was issued.