Thanks for finding my watch!

By Richard SmithA FORMER American serviceman has met for the first time the man who had found his watch that he lost more than 60 years ago during a bombing raid while based in East Anglia.

By Richard Smith

A FORMER American serviceman has met for the first time the man who had found his watch that he lost more than 60 years ago during a bombing raid while based in East Anglia.

Jim Hoel, 83, travelled more than 4,000 miles from the USA to Kirton, near Felixstowe, at the weekend to thank Peter Cooper for helping to reunite him with his old watch.

The watch has great sentimental value for Mr Hoel as he was given it when leaving his work with a bank in Chicago to join the Air Corps in the American army during the Second World War.


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He had only been with the bank for a year, but they valued his service and wanted to thank him before he joined the war effort.

Mr Hoel was allowed to visit a jewellers and choose a watch. He selected an expensive model, a Swiss 17-jewel chronometer by Gallet which, in those days, was valued at between $50 and $60.

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But the watch was lost when Mr Hoel flew from Rougham, near Bury St Edmunds, on a low-flying mission and his Marauder bomber ditched in the Maass river, near Rotterdam.

Two out of the six-man crew died, but Mr Hoel survived uninjured and managed to swim ashore, only to find his watch was missing.

"It had a strong metal strap on it and I was surprised that it had come off. That was the last I knew about it," said Mr Hoel.

No-one knows what happened to the timepiece, but pensioner Herbert "Tiny" Baxter, from Kirton, was given the watch by his mother after he completed a tour of duty in north Africa and Europe.

One theory is that his mother used to live in Bredfield, near Woodbridge, where prisoners of wars and refugees lived and that someone found watch in the plane and kept it until they came to Suffolk.

Mr Baxter had the watch for many years and Mr Cooper, his neighbour, of Falkenham Road, was interested in the watch, which had the inscription, JR Hoel, 2200 Grey Avenue, Evanston, ILL, on the back.

This referred to Mr Hoel's parents who lived in Evanston, Illinois. It aroused the curiosity of Mr Cooper, who got permission from Mr Baxter in 2003 to identify the owner and tracked down Mr Hoel in just a week.

The watch was sent to Mr Hoel and when he opened the parcel it brought back many memories of his wartime exploits.

Mr Hoel was a prisoner of war at Stalag Luft 3, the prison that became famous in The Great Escape film, and he dug one of the tunnels before being transferred to another camp.

He flew to England at the weekend with his son Gil, 53, to thank Mr Cooper for all his efforts. "This was the chance of a lifetime and to be able to learn about the human drama of the whole war," said Gil Hoel.

Mr Cooper added he was thrilled to meet Mr Hoel on Saturday, who had become a close friend through e-mails and telephone calls. "We have become like blood brothers," he said.

richard.smith@eadt.co.uk

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