A Watch Tells More than Time

What follows appeared as a thread on the message forum. The story is still being reserched and we hope to be able to write the epilogue.



Larrry Southgate



Aug 18, 2011 - 11:41PM

A watch tells more than the time!

What follows is a translation of an article published in a local newspaper , I believe, in Palmanova. I was sent the article in an e-mail from Selvino Ceschia.
I have asked Selvino to let me know the date on which the paper published the article as this is very time-sensitive in order to be able to contact the authors of the article to inform them what, if any, records exist in England, to be able to trace the pilot or the family (if any) of the pilot concerned. The article is very heart-tugging and I thought our Association members might like to read it. I have translated it into English. I have also sent an e-mail to the Royal Air Force Association seeking their views.

This watch, is a memory of a war of
tragedies and of goodness.

My father died a few months ago. He was called Giuseppe Travagin and he was born in Udine in 1910. He was a wonderful father to me and my siblings Guglielmo, Silvia and Franco and his death has left a large gap in our lives and those of the many friends he had in Palmanova, where he lived for many years and where he formed his family. I would like to remember him by telling of a small but significant episode in which he was a protagonist in the long ago 1935 and which, in a certain sense, has not yet had its epilogue.
In those times, as you may recall, there was a lot of misery about. My father was young and vigorous and in search of fortune. He thought he might find it by enrolling in the Blackshirts (note by translator: Italian Fascist Party militants), which was then extolling the African adventure. He did not enjoy recounting to us, his children, the vicisisitudes in which he was involved, the sacrifices, the hardships, the grave risks and dangers. Just this one fact he brought to our consciences, for the crucifix he created and which he carried with him to the end.

One day during a battle in the red-hot desert, a British aircraft was shot down. The pilot managed to escape when the plane crashed and he was taken prisoner by the battalion in which my father was serving. Without going into too much detail and explanation, the Commander of the battalion decided that the unfortunate pilot should be shot immediately and this sad duty was given to my father, the simple soldier Giuseppe Travagin. My father took charge of the Englishman, who could not have been more than twenty years old, whilst the battalion restarted its advance, and took the prisoner behind one of the sand-dunes. He waited a few minutes then indicated to the prisoner to start running away, and fired a shot into the air. The Englishman stopped, turned round for a minute and looked at my father, then ran back to my father and, crying, hugged him. Then, before going on the run again, put his hand in his pocket, extracted a pocket-watch and gave it to my father.

My father remained in Africa for only a few more months, because, following upon a wound he received, he was put into a field-hospital where he also contracted malaria and was then returned home. That watch, he always kept it with him, up until his death, and I now keep it as one of my most treasured keepsakes of my father. On the back of the watch are inscribed some letters and a number : G.S.T.P. 282707 XX.

Every so often my father would murmur – “I wonder if that English Soldier is still alive, and I wonder if he remembers me?”

Naturally, I and my siblings, ask ourselves the same question from time to time, but we also believe that there will be no answer. In any case I thought it might be opportune to let these facts be known, because we have not lost all hope and because we feel it is only right that people should know that even in the most tragic of moments a man can show the goodness that he possesses.
Signed by: Guglielmino Travagin. Palmanova.
So this is the start of a new chapter where research and patience will no doubt, hopefully, bring about a result satisfying both sides.
Larry

Geoff Fleet 262 (Hon. Editor)



Aug 19, 2011 - 11:04AM

Re: A watch tells more than the time!

If it is of interest you will find that this is a Government Issue watch as "GSTP" stands for General Service Trade Pattern. It should also have the "Broad Arrow".

If it is possible to remove the back there should be another number on the movement which will be unique, plus a makers name. This will no doubt be a good quality Swiss maker in which case the watch will be quite valuable.

Whether the RAF could trace the pilot is another matter, of course!

Email  

Harry Dixon



Aug 19, 2011 - 2:26PM

Re: A watch tells more than the time!

I've put the pictures of the watch, copied from the article, at the top of the page.

Email  

Geoff Fleet 262 (Hon. Editor)



Aug 19, 2011 - 3:37PM

Re: A watch tells more than the time!

Following up this interesting story I have had a look on ebay. There are several of these watches listed and depending on age, condition and manufacturer they vary from £22 to £300.

Apparently they are marked GSTP as they were items bought "off the shelf" and not made to a Government specification. Therefore each batch is slightly different.

It is generally thought that the serial numbers and letters denote the manufacturer.

The only one on ebay with the "XX" code was made by Jaeger and is listed at £270.

Email  

Roy Boyles



Aug 20, 2011 - 9:50AM

Re: A watch tells more than the time!

Nothing to do with the watch but Larry's piece says 1935 and a British plane was brought down.
I think the date is more likely 1940 or '41 in WW2. I am pretty sure the RAF was not involved in 1935. Do you remember Haile Selassie ?

michael jordan



Aug 20, 2011 - 12:46PM

Re: A watch tells more than the time!

I read this tale with much interest (as a kid, I red about Orde Wingate's exploits in Abyssinia/Ethiopia - gripping stuff !). Of course, all that was after Italy's Abyssinian war and the present Watch Account...

I had a dig around on the web, to see if there was any surreptitious RAF activity in Ethiopia, during this time.

The closest I can find is the enclosed link : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki
concerning No._5_Wing_RAF, which fielded 4 squadrons in SUDAN at the time... I individually checked the links to these 4 Squadrons.
No explicit mention of any operations in Ethiopia.
Nonetheless, I think it merits more digging, so back to the keyboard...
Have a nice weekend everybody !
mick jordan

Email  

Harry Dixon



Aug 20, 2011 - 2:43PM

Re: A watch tells more than the time!

Thank you for that link, Mick. 5th Wing was certainly not the place to be if you liked a settled life; it was formed, disbanded and reformed at the drop of anybody's hat it seems.

However it was reformed on 26th October 1935 specfically in response to the Italo-Abyssynian war and, comprising RAF squadrons 3, 35, 47 and 207, was based, as you say, in the Sudan. It was again disbanded on 14 August 1936. It seems more than probable that there would have been at least over-flights over the conflict zones if not actual intervention.

The article prompts several questions but the first one must be, "Did the pilot survive?" Your finding the reference to those squadrons gives a good starting point to try to find the answer.

Email  

Larry Southgate



Aug 21, 2011 - 10:16PM

Re: A watch tells more than the time!

Roy, I know you are still fairly young (even at heart!) but I should have thought you would have remembered about Mussolini and his grand dreams of re-establishing the Roman North-African empire. He got his troops to take over Tripolitania, then Cyrenaica, and then decided he would try and overthrow, yes, Haile Selassi. Orde Wingate, as Michael says, had a good time out that way. I have a sneaking feeling that we even had some troops out there on the side of Selassi, so any RAF activity would certainly have occurred. And with Harry's digging out of the info about No: 5 Wing RAF having reformed on 26 October 1935 in response to the Italo-Abysinnia war, but based in the Sudan. Don't forget that in those years we still had a certain interest in events out there because of Kenya, the Sudan, Yemen, Somalia, and also our allies(?) the French had interests so the involvement of British troops and the RAF would certainly not have been out of place.
Larry

Larry Southgate



Aug 22, 2011 - 9:53PM

Re: A watch tells more than the time!

If anybody is still interested, go to Wikipedia and put in Blackshirts. Quite a bit of info there but not of the type I'm searching for.
Larry

mick jordan



Aug 23, 2011 - 3:00AM

Re: A watch tells more than the time!

I’m no specialist, but despite lengthy searching, I have not come up with ANY references to RAF operations in Abyssinia during the 1934-1935 annexation. Most sites simply allude to the fact that Britain despatched additional squadrons to Sudan, Aden etc., & leave it at that.

Furthermore, what does come out of the reading, is the amount of “timidity” on the part of the League of Nations, to react to Italy… Read, “appeasement”: this does not seem a likely context for encouraging British air activity while the Italians were doing their dark deeds… (notably, widespread & systematic chemical warfare…). These days, no doubt, a “no-fly” zone might have been set up…

One could guess at overflights or reconnaissance or other missions – equivalent to today’s “special operations”. One imagines that details of any such business would not have been exactly trumpeted about at the time, not to say were deliberately omitted from official squadron histories… However, this is just surmising. Therefore, more research required in specialist forums…

Otherwise, I took a closer look at the original text, especially at terms like, “in the long ago 1935”. I wonder if, with this expression, the writer is using poetic license or speaking metaphorically? Perhaps it is not meant to be taken as, “in the precise year 1935”: it might relate to a period “associated with” 1935… or “with events surrounding 1935”… (“1935 and all that”…).

In effect, the whole style of the article is factual rather than historic: “One day during a battle”…. Rather than: “after the fall of X-ville in May 1935…”… Also, “My father died a few months ago.” “My father remained in Africa for only a few more months”: very date-unspecific, therefore…
Finally, we do not know when the article was written (how old or recent the newspaper was…).

Given the above, I think it is reasonable to accept that the events did not necessarily occur IN 1935… or that the year 1935 should be taken as gospel, or even that the writer intended this to be so.

Which leaves open the possibility that Roy Boyles is right when he says that these events more likely occurred in 1940 or 1941.

Which in turn makes the following link (and other links like it…) a bit more of a possibility:
http://raf-112-squadron.org/planelosses.html

(For the purposes of example only. (Metemma is in Ethiopia, on the border wiht Sudan).

112 Squadron
Aircraft: Gladiator MK I K7969
Registration: RT N
Pilot: Pilot Officer Harold "Harry" B Kirk, 70808 "B Flight"
Date: 6/11/40

A/C shot down east of Metemma when a formation of an estimated six or seven CR.42s from 412a Squadriglia led by the unit commander Capitano Raffi attacked them from out of the sun., pilot parachuted, became POW.

I checked out the pilot details:
Harold B Kirk, born June quarter of 1921; mother’s maiden name: Aarons; Registratin District: Mile End / GRO reference 1c/640. This would make the pilot age 19, at time of the incident.

It also looks like he survived the war, since the London Gazette has him as 70808, Henry Bell Kirk:
“18th December 1945, Appointments to Commission, General Duties Branch, as Flight Lieutenant, extended service (four years on the active list)”.

I am not in any way saying that this is he; I am just using this link as an example of what might be possible leads towards identifying the Owner of The Watch.

Will continue my 1935 Hunt, regardless (-:

regards to all,
mick jordan

Email  

Roy Boyles



Aug 27, 2011 - 11:10AM

Re: A watch tells more than the time!

four days of silence since the 23rd ! The viewers keep building up, on tenterhooks waiting for the next instalment Was Biggles or Ginger involved in any of this ?

Harry Dixon



Aug 27, 2011 - 7:02PM

Re: A watch tells more than the time!

That's an impressibe bit of digging Mick. We'll see if the RAF Historical Branch come up with anything to shed some light on the matter.

Email  

mick jordan



Aug 28, 2011 - 2:46AM

Re: A watch tells more than the time!

Gentlemen, I am back !

After wading around in The National Archives, I decided to alter my search strings, and went for "Italo-Abyssinian War", and bingo ! it worked 1st time! in the form of a Wikipaedia entry at (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No._64_Squadron_RAF), from which I quote:
"The squadron was equipped with Hawker Demon fighters (...) It was immediately involved in the Second Italo-Abyssinian War carrying out attacks against Italian airfields and providing fighter cover to refuelling bombers at advance airfields. After the crisis had ended in May 1936 the squadron returned to RAF Martlesham Heath, Suffolk (UK), in August 1936 to become part of the UK air defences".
So voilà, it is now official !
The RAF *was* involved in "1935 and all that".

I have a second potential lead also: an online work called "Historical Dictionary of Ethiopia", makes reference to another work by Lloyd, H.P. “The Italian-Abyssinian War, 1935-36: The Operations; Massawa-Addis Ababa”, The Royal Air Force Quarterly, 8 (1937): 357-67.
This might contain some more details.
I will try & look this one up furhter.

Enjoy your Sunday lunches (I'm off to bed...)
best regards to all, from mick

Email  

Harry Dixon



Aug 28, 2011 - 2:57PM

Re: A watch tells more than the time!

Fred has sent me a picture of two Hawker Demons which were the aircraft that our pilot might possibly have been flying. Aeroplanes looked loke aeroplanes in those days. I had a Gloster Gladiator dangling from the bedroom ceiling and I thought it was the most beautiful thing I had seen - apart from Betty Owen but she was in another class.

I've put the Demons in the "Misc." album