Staff-Sergeant Charles Rollett Watkinson
Unit : No.3 Flight, "B" Squadron, The Glider Pilot Regiment
Army No. : 809931
Awards : Distinguished Flying Medal
Staff-Sergeant Ron Watkinson joined the Army in 1931, and saw active service with the Royal Artillery on the North-West Frontier in 1937. He was due to be demobilised on the day that war was declared on Germany, but was posted to Gibraltar instead. In 1942, he had applied to join the RAF as a crewman, but transferred to the Glider Pilot Regiment and learned how to fly.
At Arnhem, he was the first pilot of a Horsa glider, Chalk No.878, carrying a 75mm Pack Howitzer, Jeep, ammunition trailer and four men of No.2 Battery, 1st Airlanding Light Regiment, with the Second Lift on Monday 18th September. Towed by an Albemarle of 297 Squadron from Manston, the Horsa was hit by flak over the city of Middelburg, located on one of the islands off the Dutch coast, and an aileron was damaged. Watkinson wrote:
"Hit with flack near Middelburgh, which cut the aileron control wire and air pipes, making ailerons and most of instruments, including the Air Speed Indicator useless. No person injured, but a fair number of holes in fuselage and load."
"I regained as much control as possible, without ailerons, but the glider continued to swing, pendulum fashion, behind the tug. Kept in contact with the tug pilot, who suggested we turn around and make our way back to the English coast, to "ditch". I declined and said, "If we can go back, we can go on"."
"We carried on towards Arnhem for about another 20 minutes, when the tow rope broke. The glider was easier to control in free flight, but the landing gear would not jettison, (found out later that the locking wires had not been removed), we had no airspeed indicator or altimeter and the flaps were not working, as well as the ailerons."
"I managed to get it down close to a farm, near the village of Dinteloord [or Fijnaart], in the province of Brabant. The nose wheel broke and came into the cockpit, but no-one injured."
"A host of Dutch men and women came out to greet us, (none spoke English). After embracing us we all set to to unload the glider. We then had problems, the flack had buckled the metal troughs that the wheels should have run in and the glider was at an awkward angle. This meant that the jeep, gun and trailer had to be virtually lifted out, and this was achieved, mainly due to Dutch brawn. After getting all the gear out it was found that the hitches on the jeep, gun and trailer had been damaged by the flack. It was at this point, whilst we were trying to improvise some means of connecting our equipment, that we were attacked by German troops. We put up a fight and whilst doing so, we broke the dial sight, dismantled the breech and threw them into a dyke. My 2nd Pilot, Arthur Jones, was severely hit and one of the Gunners took a bullet through his face and we were captured whilst attending their wounds."
"The Germans took the wounded into the farmhouse and let us talk to them, before the remaining four of us we marched off to Dordrecht and then P.O.W. camps."
"After the war, I visited Arthur Jones step parents and found out that he had died of his wounds the next day and was buried in the Dinteloord Cemetery."
"In April 1946 I received the Distinguished Flying Medal. I have not been able to visit Holland since and have often yearned to return to Dinteloord, to see Arthur's grave, to see the grand Dutch folk who helped us unload and looked after Arthur's grave."
The Gun crew were:- Sgt H.P. Clarke, Driver Joe Spence, Gunners Donald Ackerman & Jeff Tyson.
Staff-Sergeant Watkinson was interrogated at Dulag Luft before being sent to Stalag Luft VII. He spent the remainder of the war here until liberated by the Red Army. After his return to Britain he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal in recognition of his efforts to control his damaged glider:
During the airborne operations at Arnhem in September 1944, this non commissioned Officer was pilot of a glider. On approaching the Dutch coast the aileron control of the glider failed, but despite the intense anti-aircraft fire and the violate swinging of the glider. Staff Sergeant Watkinson and the tug aircraft pilot succeeded in controlling the combination for a distance of 40 miles towards the landing zone. Finally owing to the great strain, the towrope parted. Then with outstanding skill this non-commissioned officer made a masterly forced landing without causing injury to his passengers. It was entirely due to the skill, courage and cool determination of Staff Sergeant Watkinson that a fatal crash was avoided and his passengers landed uninjured within reach of our troops.
Parts of his crashed glider was salavaged and were displayed at Seppe Flying Museum in 2004. Watkinson became a civil servant after the war, but continued to fly with the RAFVR. He died in Lincoln in 1994.
My thanks to David Watkinson for his assistance with this account.
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