James Sidney Watson
Date of birth: 9.6.1917
Date of death: 1993
Area: South Elmsall
Regiment: Royal Air Force
Family information: Husband of Jean Watson of South Elmsall
Rank: Flight Lieutenant
Service number: 146647
James Watson worked in the laboratory at Frickley Colliery. Mineworkers were classed as being in a reserved occupation and were exempt from conscription into the armed forces, but by 1941, with the war continuing and no sign of an end to hostilities, Jim volunteered for service in the Royal Engineers. He was turned away because of his job in the mining industry. Determined, he tried again, and was successful in enlisting as aircrew in the RAF.
After 22 weeks training he was deemed ready for operational training and posted to 20 O.T.U. (Operational Training Unit) Lossiemouth on 1st August 1942. Jim became a member of a Wellington crew, with Pilot Sgt. Johnston.
20 O.T.U. had more accidents than any other O.T.U. in Britain. Training inexperienced crew meant accidents were sure to happen, but numbers at Lossiemouth were much higher due to the harsh weather and rugged terrain.
On one occasion Jim’s aircraft, Wellington R1225 left Bogs of Mayne airfield near Elgin at 20.10hrs. They flew from Scotland over Cape Wrath and entered a huge dark thundercloud at around 6,000ft. The aircraft began to pitch about due to the severe turbulence and glow with St Elmo’s Fire. Being bombarded with large hail stones and experiencing severe turbulence the aircraft went into a steep dive and it required the strength of both pilot and bomb aimer to pull back on the control column to avoid plunging into the sea. They estimated that they were over the Isle of Man and changing course they arrived over Carlisle, avoiding the city’s balloon barrage. Eventually they sited the signal beacon at Aberdeen and set a course for Elgin landing at base with barely twenty minutes fuel left, being airborne for seven and a half hours.
In November 1942 they were posted to 1658 H.C.U. (Heavy Conversion Unit) Riccall for conversion to Halifax bombers. Pilot Sgt. Johnston went on a raid to Strasburg. Sadly, the aircraft never returned, so his former crew was split up to help to form other crews. On the 17th November 1942 Jim joined the crew of W/O Bernard (Bunny) Clayton, an experienced pilot who had completed thirty-one operations while flying Wellingtons. He was to become one of the most skilful pilots in Bomber Command.
The crew were posted to no.51 Halifax Squadron based at Snaith. Their first operation, January 15th 1943, was an attack on the U boat pens at Lorient.
They completed 17 operations with Bernard Clayton at number 51 squadron.
In July 1943 Clayton was invited to join the elite 617 squadron and was able to take his old crew with him. Shortly after, Jimmy was promoted to pilot officer. At 617, they began training in methods of low flying and precision bombing. Their first raid on 15th July was in a Lancaster bomber to Italy, a long distance flight over the Alps, refuelling for the return in Algeria.
As bomb aimer, Jim would man the nose turret during the flight to and from the target, watching out for night fighters. On approaching the target he would lie down over the bomb sight in the nose of the aircraft and concentrate on getting the target into his sights.
In early December selected crews including Jimmy’s began practicing for operations with the Special Operation Executive (SOE), in preparation for arms drops to the French Resistance, operating below 1000 ft and on nights with a full moon. They flew many, many missions.
His last mission with 617 Squadron was 25th June 1944. Jimmy was then posted to No. 54 base on the 26th July 1944, where he served at Woodhall Spa as the Squadron Bombing Analysis Officer.
His DFC award was published in the London Gazette on 30th June 1944. The award was not for one specific heroic deed, but for a succession of extremely dangerous missions.
In all Jim flew 53 certain operations (possibly several more unrecorded) with 617 Squadron.
While reminiscing about Jim in later years, his former crew mates remember him as a superb bomb aimer with a broad Yorkshire accent which caused some amusement among his colleagues and especially when he spoke to Leonard Cheshire’s American wife who had some difficulty in understanding him.
In 1945 Jim retrained as a catering officer and was posted to a number of different stations throughout England. His next posting was something of a great leap as he went to HQ Air Command South East Asia, which was at Kandy, Ceylon (Sri Lanka.) He stayed for 17 days before being posted to 322 Maintenance unit, Chakeri, (Cawnpore) India on 5th November 1945. He was now a Flight Lieutenant.
He was finally demobbed from Hednesford Staffordshire 6th July 1946 but remained on Voluntary Reserve until 1st July 1959 when he relinquished his commission.
James Sidney Watson was born in Blundell Road, Moorthorpe, South Elmsall in 1917, the only child of James Henry Watson. Jim had been studious at school, first attending Moorthorpe Middle School and, then, having passed his exams, he went to Hemsworth Grammar School. Unfortunately, Jim had to leave school early to help to support his family, as the mine where his father was employed, was reduced to working a three-day week. He obtained a position in the laboratory at Frickley Colliery where they took air and dust samples from the pit to measure air quality. He also attended the local technical school to improve his qualifications and qualified as an analytical chemist.
On his demobilization, Jim returned to his job at Frickley Colliery, but he was determined to gain advancement so he resumed his studies. He met Jean his future wife in 1947. Jean’s father was a shaft man at Upton Colliery. Jim and Jean were married on December 16th 1950 and they lived with Jean’s mum for a while. By 1952 Jim had been promoted to the post of ‘over man’ and they moved to no.10 Vickers Avenue, South Elmsall.
Jim continued his studies and gained his under manager’s certificate and in 1954 he was appointed as under manager at South Kirkby Colliery, moving on to personnel manager until his retirement in 1972.
He died in 1993. He was a very private person and told Jean very little of his service experiences, although he kept in touch with RAF friends through the 617 squadron aircrew association.