(Re)Turning Back Time from Whence It Came
On 7th September 1941 Handley Page Hampdens from 44 Squadron, RAF were tasked with attacking the Deutsche Werke submarine yard in Kiel and minelaying (‘Gardening’) in the Frisian Islands.
At 2115 Hampden X2921/KM-Z piloted by 26 year old Sergeant Archibald Allen Watt, took off from RAF Waddington, also aboard were Sergeants J.R.Newcombe, A.D.Wimbush and E.S.Cox. The aircraft failed to climb and crashed in a field near Branston at 2117. The mine it was carrying exploded on impact and the fully fuelled aircraft was destroyed, sadly killing the four crew.
Following the accident the crash site would have been attended by recovery units and cleared as best as possible, returning the site to a condition suitable for its continued use as farm land. Two of the crew, Sergeant Watt and Sergeant Cox were buried in Waddington (St Michael) Churchyard.
On 11th September 1941 No. 5 Group authority was given for 44 Squadron to assume the title ‘No. 44 (Rhodesia) Squadron’ in recognition of that country’s contribution to the war effort; at the time approximately a quarter of the Squadron’s personnel where from Rhodesia. Sergeant Watt was of Rhodesian origin; his parents were Harold and Maud Watt of Bulawayo, Southern Rhodesia. It is probable that shortly before his death, Archibald Watt met the High Commissioner for Southern Rhodesia who visited 44 Squadron at RAF Waddington on 28th August 1941.
Fast forward 66 years to 2007 and Mr Sid Deaton, a member of Washinborough Archaeological Group, set out on a ‘field walk’, a non invasive archaeological practice primarily focused on surface scatter, in fields around Branston. Amongst Neolithic flint and lots of oyster shell fragments, Sid’s metal detector began to unearth shell cases which when cleaned up revealed dates ranging from 1939-1941. He went away and researched crashes in the Branston area, but initially only turned up details of a mid-air collision between two Lancasters in 1944. Luckily, a chance conversation at work resulted in an email that revealed details of a loss which matched both the location and the dates from the shells perfectly.
Sid returned to the site and late one November Sunday; amongst indications of further shells, some twisted airframe and electrical components, his detector signalled something different. After taking several further steps Sid’s curiosity led him to return to the spot to investigate. The find came out in the first spade full; a shiny item instantly recognisable as a watch bezel.
A beautiful inscription on the rear of the watch bezel immediately identified the owner; Sergeant AA Watt. A A Watt from Salisbury Staff 1940 123563 2280 Sid recorded the find with the Lincolnshire Finds Liaison Officer, but attempts to trace the family proved unsuccessful. Another 4 years passed until a Washingborough Archaeological Group article posted on the internet was stumbled upon and Sid was contacted by a member of the RAF Waddington Station Heritage Committee, who realised the significance of Sid’s find to both the Station and to Waddington village.
Subsequent research has yet to fully uncover Sergeant Watt’s service background or record of service on 44 Squadron; the only mention of him in the 44 Squadron Operational Record book is in relation to the accident. Sid Deaton was invited to the Heritage Centre for a visit and brought Archibald Watt’s watch with him. It is hoped that with the agreement of the landowner, the watch will be loaned to the RAF Waddington Station Heritage Centre for display; along with a coin which it is thought was in one of the crew members pockets.
Seventy one years after departing the station, Sergeant Archibald Allen Watt’s watch finally made its return journey to RAF Waddington.
By Sergeant Matthew Griffin