Friday, November 11, 2011

The Pocket Watch

“The Pocket Watch”
- written by my father-in-law

I first met Charles a few years ago at a motorcycle show in the town of Sidney, Vancouver Island. I was introduced to him with the assumption I would be able to answer his questions regarding motorcycles. Charles was a most delightful man of 80 years or so, and he was most keen to find out if motorcycles could back up (reverse). During the war he was told by his senior officers that motorcycles were not able to back up and that Charles was incorrect by saying they did. I assured him they could and told him about a 1942 Military Zundapp with sidecar that was in my driveway a week prior that had backed out. He seemed very happy to hear this. I sent him some information and photos on the related subject. He called me to express his appreciation, and as he seemed to have an interest in motorcycles, I invited him over to see my collection. Over a cup of tea he related this amazing story to me and told me why he was so keen to find out if motorcycles could back up.

It was 1940 and Charles found himself in Belgium during the Phoney War. The Germans were moving in. Charles, along with the other Territorial Volunteers, were all inexperienced - he informed me he had only fired six rounds from his rifle. I believe Charles told me there were about fifteen hundred men in his group, which was probably a brigade. They were travelling through the woods when they heard the sound of tanks approaching on a nearby road. The officer in charge ordered the men to let them pass as they had no hope of surviving an encounter with them. Ahead of the tanks appeared motorcycles with machine guns attached to the sidecars. As they were passing, one of the soldiers shot a motorcyclist. The machines stopped, then backed up and turned their machine guns on the Brits, they were backed up by the tanks. They lost a lot of their men and the surviving Brits were forced to retreat through the woods. Charles told me they were walking single-file alongside a built up section of road when he saw Stukas attacking something on the road ahead. He said the first one came screaming down followed by two others. The leader misjudged and crashed into flames followed by two others that followed him in. The Brits cheered. Whoever was in charge then decided they should stay clear of the road and that they should cross a field to take shelter in the woods. Charles said it was a “poor idea” and when asked “why?” “Look at the sheep” he said, they were looking into the woods which indicated to Charles there were probably Germans hiding in the woods. Charles had grown up on a farm and knew the habits of animals. A few of the men agreed with Charles and refused to go as well. Those that did not listen to Charles were mowed down by machine gun fire halfway across the field. Only a handful of men survived and were left to struggle along through pouring rain, then they came upon a little village. They asked the town folk if it would be possible to give them shelter. The town folk were kind to them. With warm fires going the men removed some of their clothes to dry which they had first decided not to do as the Germans were very close. Charles had kept his clothes on and had his gun by his side when at approximately 2:00 a.m. he heard a noise outside. Running out the door he saw a German coming around the side of the house, he fired at Charles but missed and Charles escaped to the woods where he hid and spent the night alone. It was the last he saw of the other men. On his own and heading in what he thought was the right direction, he came upon a British depot where they were destroying all of their equipment so it would not fall into the hands of the Germans. Charles pitched in and one of the jobs he was given was to destroy a large number of Rolex pocket watches by driving a carrier over them. He contemplated keeping a few of the watches and felt he shouldn't, but put five of them in his pockets before destroying the rest.

Charles was evacuated through Dunkirk and the journey back to Britain went without event. Two of the rescued watches that were hidden in his pocket became wet while Charles waded out to the rescue boat. Upon his return to Britain and when he was able to, Charles took them to a watchmaker to have them repaired. The watchmaker asked if he was interested in selling two of the watches, which he did, This gave Charles enough money to marry his sweetheart. Not long after his return England, he became quite ill and ended up in hospital. Charles happened to be in the wrong place at this time because the hospital took a bomb through the roof. Once again, fate was on his side as Charles ended up as one of the few survivors and was literally blown right out through the window on to the lawn. The explosion severely damaged his lungs which gave him trouble for the duration of his life; fortunately, he did not receive any other injuries. After this incidence, he was unable to go back into the Fray but was kept busy with various jobs through the help of his commanding officer.

Before the war Charles was a shoemaker of the highest calibre and was sought after to make shoes for officers and their wives while in the military. After the war, his commanding officer called Charles in to his office to say his health made it unsuitable for him to remain in the military, he helped to find him a job with a relatively new German company that specialized in pest control. He loved the job as it took him all over England and introduced him to many interesting people. Upon retiring, he emigrated to Canada with his wife and daughter. Charles and I eventually met and became good friends. One day when I visited him he showed me a letter from the company he had worked for. The wording said "As it is becoming more expensive to live we feel it is about time to increase your pension". I found this most impressive. Charles told me it was the third time they had done that and he was very grateful for this.

Charles was left with a couple of very special mementos — two of the Rolex watches. He was aware of my great interest in his life story and very kindly presented me with one of the two watches; the other he kept, the one he had given to his father. He also asked that I not mention his surname as he felt, after so many years, it was wrong that he had taken the watches.

Whenever his father would show the watch to a friend, he would say "This is the watch my son stole from the King".


Canarybird said...

Nice start Michey! I'm looking forward to seeing those interesting stories you told me about, as well as Richard's adventures. I will follow you when you add that feature to your sidebar. Hugs. xx

Anna at the Doll House said...

What an amazing story.


Anna at the Doll House said...

Thank you for visiting and Happy New Year.

I have just become your newest follower.


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