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Watters opposed the British Union of Fascists and in May 1936 "I had a front seat [at the Usher Hall] and my job was to get up and create a disturbance right away by challenging Sir Oswald Mosley, which I did". Watters was arrested and escaped with a fine for five pounds.
Watters served in the International Brigade during the Spanish Civil War and was captured by nationalist troops at Jarama on 13 February 1937. "We were tied by our thumbs with field telephone wire in twos and threes and driven behind their lines by Moorish cavalry using the flats of their sabres". This was the first major engagement of the British Battalion at the Battle of Jarama in February 1937. The British International Brigade force lost about half of its 600 men at a location they called "Suicide Hill".
After his capture at Jarama Watters was sentenced to lifetime solitary confinement. He came close to being executed whilst imprisoned. Watters had volunteered to be shot when a young man was due to be executed and became hysterical. Watters’ brother-in-law, William Dickson (also of Prestonpans), was also killed in Spain. Watters was forcibly repatriated upon being released.
Watters described his motivation for fighting in the civil war thus: "We were afraid of the situation developing, of what was likely to happen to the Spanish government, which at that particular time was carrying through some very good measures so far as the ordinary people were concerned: the eight-hour day, compulsory education for all children, a guaranteed wage and a number of other features that were considered a great advance". p. 33