WWII German pilot’s military-issue watch a historical highlight at Fellows, Aug. 8

Circa-1942 A. Lange & Sohne German military issue pilot watch head, est. £7,000-£10,000. Image courtesy of Fellows

Circa-1942 A. Lange & Sohne German military issue pilot watch head, est. £7,000-£10,000. Image courtesy of Fellows

BIRMINGHAM, U.K. – A World War II watch found in a drawer in Coventry, England, could sell for more than £7,000 (about $12,160) at Fellows on Monday, August 8. Absentee and Internet live bidding will be available through LiveAuctioneers. The military watch, worn by a German Luftwaffe pilot in WWII, was discovered by a family while sorting through their late father’s possessions. The family had no idea that the watch existed, let alone its value.

William Albert Holyoake, known to his friends and family as Bill, rarely spoke of his time overseas in WWII. He never told them about the watch head that sat hidden in a drawer, among other German military keepsakes, for 75 years. It was only after he passed that his family discovered treasures locked in his desk drawer that he had put there on his return to England in 1947.

The A. Lange & Sohne Beobachtungs-urhen (B-Uhren) watch head has a type B dial, luminous hour markers, and a stainless steel case. It is estimated at £7,000-£10,000. Image courtesy of Fellows

The A. Lange & Sohne Beobachtungs-urhen (B-Uhren) watch head has a type B dial, luminous hour markers, and a stainless steel case. It is estimated at £7,000-£10,000. Image courtesy of Fellows

Valued at £7,000-£10,000 (about $8,500-$12,160), the A. Lange & Sohne German military issue pilot watch head was made circa 1942. It is housed in a stainless-steel case, numbered FL23883, and it has a signed manual wind movement, numbered 211219.

A. Lange & Sohne produced 6,904 Beobachtungs-uhren (B–Uhren) from 1940 to 1945. The aviation watches made in this time are sizable – this example is 55mm (slightly larger than two inches). The watch has a type B dial with luminous Arabic numeral hour markers. The watch’s large size and luminous markers made it a very useful piece for German aviators, especially when flying at night.

Pilots would set their watch to the standard time of the German Naval Observatory after receiving a signal beep from the airbase. For their missions, accuracy was of paramount importance to the Luftwaffe. Pilots were issued a watch before each mission and returned it on completion. They weren’t held as part of their uniform, so few were retained after the war and passed on. For this reason, they are in scarce supply and therefore valuable.

Period photo of William Albert Holyoake, a Briton who joined The Royal Engineers as a sapper (a soldier who fixes bridges and roads, and places or clears mines) during WWII. At some point during his service, he acquired the A. Lange & Sohne watch head. Image courtesy of Fellows

Period photo of William Albert Holyoake, a Briton who joined The Royal Engineers as a sapper (a soldier who fixes bridges and roads, and places or clears mines) during WWII. At some point during his service, he acquired the A. Lange & Sohne watch head. Image courtesy of Fellows

William Holyoake enlisted for military service on August 30, 1944 in The Royal Engineers and was assigned to the 15th Field Park Squadron as a sapper, a soldier tasked with fixing bridges and roads, as well as placing or clearing mines. It was from his time in Central Europe during and in the aftermath of WWII that he acquired various items of interest.

As a young man, Holyoake had apprenticed at Alfred Herbert Ltd., one of the world’s largest machine tool manufacturing businesses at the time. After his WWII service, he returned to his hometown of Coventry to work as an engineer at The British Aerospace group (a successor to the companies Armstrong Whitworth and Hawker Siddeley). He worked on multiple military projects, such as the Avro Vulcan bomber and Hawker Hunter jet fighter aircraft, which was used by the Red Arrows display team. In his later life, he volunteered as a woodworking and metalworking tutor, sharing his skills with people with visual impairments.

Briton William Holyoake picked up the watch head while serving as a sapper with The Royal Engineers in WWII. On returning home in 1947, he deposited it in a drawer and never mentioned it to his family. Image courtesy of Fellows

Briton William Holyoake picked up the watch head while serving with The Royal Engineers in WWII. On returning home in 1947, he deposited it in a drawer and never mentioned it to his family. Image courtesy of Fellows

Watch Cataloger Kain Holroyd said, “From the initial contact with the Holyoake family, this consignment has taken so many positive turns. We were firstly not aware to which of the four German B-Uhren brands this particular watch head belonged. Opening the case back to find that it was an A. Lange & Sohne was one thing, but to have such a story to go with the watch head as well as photos of Mr. Holyoake was the cherry on top. It was an enjoyable experience and I look forward to it achieving a great price in the August 8 Luxury Watch Sale.”

 

The current rate of exchange is £1 = $1.21.

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