Pensioner reunited with brother's watch

DOUG Andrews was just a teenager when his older brother was killed in a wartime plane crash - and now, more than 60 years later, he finally has a treasured keepsake to remember him by.

By Richard Smith

DOUG Andrews was just a teenager when his older brother was killed in a wartime plane crash - and now, more than 60 years later, he finally has a treasured keepsake to remember him by.

Mr Andrews, of The Street, Bawdsey, near Woodbridge, has been presented with the watch that went missing when his brother died after a bombing mission over Germany.

His brother, Victor, was only 19 when he died in a RAF Halifax heavy bomber. The plane was returning to Snaith airfield, near York, on March 14, 1945, when it overshot the runway.


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The plane crashed into a railway embankment and Flt Sgt Andrews, of Alderton, near Woodbridge, and the seven other crew were killed.

This was the crew's 24th and final operation together and the tragedy for their families and the rest of the 51 Squadron was especially difficult to bear coming just before the end of the war.

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Mr Andrews, 17 months younger than his brother, was working in the fields in east Suffolk when he was told of his brother's death.

His brother's watch was found soon after the crash and kept for safekeeping by a family. Thanks to the intervention of aviation historians it has now been handed over to Mr Andrews.

He attended a special ceremony at Snaith and was presented with the watch.

Mr Andrews, 79, said: ''The watch means a lot to me and it is a very treasured possession. It is by my bedside and that is where it will stay. I will not put it on because I do not want to lose it.

''It keeps very good time. It has a very small winder and I do not wind it very regularly because I need to be careful with it.''

His mother, Bessie Andrews, had written to the RAF on several occasions to try to get the watch returned to the family, but this never proved possible.

When he attended the ceremony to receive the watch Mr Andrews was so overcome by emotion that he found it difficult to thank the people involved.

''I could not speak. I had gone there thinking I could thank everybody but I could not speak,'' he recalled.

The watch was discovered by Frederick Hardgrave, a farm worker, soon after the crash site had been cleared.

He handed it down his family with the wish that one day it would be returned to the owner's family.

The RAF was told about the find but the Hardgraves were advised not to pursue the matter because it could upset Mr Andrews's family.

But Peter Gulliver, a 60-year-old aviation historian, visited the crash site with another historian and he was told that a watch had been found. Mr Gulliver then visited the Hardgrave family.

Mr Gulliver said: ''They kept the watch until I went to see them at the tail end of last year.

“They were more than pleased to give it to me and I took it to a jewellers and had it repaired. They cleaned the watch and it worked straightaway.

''At the ceremony I presented the watch to Douglas. It was very emotional for both of us, we were in tears.''

Mr Andrews is buried at Alderton and his grave is visited by his brother every fortnight.

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