The Battle of Britain (4)

The Battle of Britain was Nazi Germany’s first defeat. It was brought about by the famous “Few”.

In the picture above the pilots are running towards their Hurricanes, formidable fighters which claimed 60% of the Luftwaffe aircraft shot down. Here is the most beautiful aircraft ever built:

Even as a little boy, I was fascinated by that magic sounding colour for the underneath of a Spitfire, “duck egg blue”.

I used to teach at Nottingham High School. Two of our Old Boys fought, and died, in the Battle of Britain.

One of them was Arthur Roy Watson. He was born in Basford, a district in the north of Nottingham. Originally the family lived at 193 College Street in Long Eaton, a suburb to the west of Nottingham. College Street runs roughly north to south in Long Eaton. Here is his house, now divided into two semi-detached houses:

College Street’s southern end is on Derby Road more or less opposite Trent College where a propeller from Albert Ball’s aircraft is on display in the library and the original cross from his grave in France is kept in the college chapel:

Did young Arthur ever go to see these important relics? Did they inspire him?  I have already written about the famous World War One fighter ace and the various escapades he found himself involved in. Here he is in his days at Trent College, after his expulsion from Nottingham High School and the King’s School, Grantham:

After living in Long Eaton, the Watson family then moved to 48 Carisbrooke Drive, a leafy suburban road that overlooks the old High School playing fields at Mapperley Park:

His friends in the squadron called him “Watty”, “Rex” or “Doc” because that made him “Doctor Watson”. Here he is standing by his Spitfire. He was just 19 when he was killed:



Filed under Aviation, History, Humour, Nottingham, Politics, The High School

24 responses to “The Battle of Britain (4)

  1. What a sad tale. Was he a bit of a character then, being expelled from two schools?

    • Well from what I’ve read, he was basically a naughty boy, We have some reminiscences in the school archives by a pupil who knew him, and the person who supplied them clearly saw him as very disruptive. I also read in a biography that Ball ran away from one school and was caught in the boiler room of a trans-Atlantic ship, shovelling coal, well on his way to the USA. Basically, he was a spoilt and over indulged child of a very rich plumber and builder. He didn’t like to follow other people’s rules and I believe that was the reason he always fought alone in the air battles of WW1. He refused to do what he was told to, basically, and didn’t want to be part of a group effort when personal glory was there to be had.
      My experience of teaching in a public school from 1975-2013, incidentally, is that boys like Ball are very rare indeed. I can’t think of anybody who was ever as blatant a rule breaker. Or if they were, they were better at it!

  2. Such a young age to die. Thank you for sharing.

    • Yes, that is the pointlessness of war. Such wonderful talent and potential that is snuffed out before it has a chance to cure diseases, reduce global warming and make the world a better place.
      On this occasion, these young men did make the world a better place because they stopped Hitler, a man who would have conquered the world given half a chance. And he would certainly have helped his Japanese friends to conquer India and provide them with wealth and slave labour.

  3. You can buy the Airfix kit in ALDI for £3.99. The box includes the glue and the paints.

    I once had a girlfriend who lived on College Street, Long Eaton.

    • Thanks for that. It’s along time since I last built an Airfix Spitfire! I’m really glad that you recognised the name “College Street”. At the moment I’m trying to write a book about the ex-High School boys who died in WW2 and I have deliberately included all the old addresses of the people I’m describing. I’m hoping that that will allow the young readers of today to realise that history is all around them, but that nobody has told them where to look.

  4. Thank you for bringing the human element into this story, John. What a horror to know that a 19-year old kid you grew up with died in this war. I really loved your first sentence which drew me right into this post.

    • Thank you, Amy. As always you are very kind. War is a shocking waste of human resources and it sadly seems to be getting more common rather than being something rare. I sometimes think that every single country in the Middle East is fighting somebody. They would do a lot better to stop all that stupidity and to consider having piped water with taps and a sewage system. And you can’t go on for ever blaming foreigners. Most African countries are fighting civil wars and there are few, if any, Western forces there.

      • John, I could not agree with you more. As I’ve said before sadly I know what happens when a man (woman) is exposed to the severe violence of war. You would THINK humans by now would learn from history to know war is not the answer, but rather LOVE is. Even as a mere child I did not understand this world and have felt deeply somehow that this world is truly not mine. I doubt any of us will live to see people finally understanding Love is what is important and we do all have the ability to sort out our differences without fighting.

  5. the most beautiful aircraft ever built: Now that’s something that would take a lot of rebutting.
    Nineteen! I often wonder what the future of England would have been if none of the teenagers and twenty year olds had survived.

    • Why it’s not even close! And please don’t suggest the Boomerang, although, granted, you may have a point about the Mosquito.
      In my opinion, Europe’s biggest disaster was World War One with millions of young men killed to no purpose and universities emptied of their students. Jesus College, Cambridge in 1920 still had no returning rowers at all. And when a Cambridge college runs short of rowers, that’s serious. A bit like England and chips or Australia and…….well……I’ll leave it to you to fill in what should go there.

      • I hope I’m not at cross purposes here. I’ll put it simply 1. I believe the Spitfire is the most beautiful aircraft ever built. 2 The Mosquito is in a league of its own and the two should never be compared.
        3. I agree that WWl was the most disastrous and the most purposeless. and WWll was more evil in many ways.
        My mother lost her father in WWl and a brother in WWll so it isn’t just of academic interest.
        And I still have students come up to me in the street and tell me how must they remember my literature lessons on Wilfred Owen and the poets of WWl. and I’m often tempted to write a post on the topic.

      • I think we’re both on the same side here! I wasn’t arguing with you in the slightest and I would agree about Nos 1-3.
        And I think it would be a great idea for you to do some blog posts about WW1 poets, especially any who were specifically looking at things from the Anzac point of view. You could also look at any less well known war poets. I came across an Irish one who was killed at the Somme I think, and one other English poet who was fully in favour of the war as a glorious adventure. Sorry, I’ve forgotten his name too! But people would like an Australian viewpoint, I’m sure they would.

  6. The College Chapel seems an apt place for the cross

    • Yes, I often wonder whether it is possible to visit the chapel and to look at the cross. I can see why that would be difficult for a school, but it’s a pity if it’s beyond the ordinary public.

  7. Chris Waller

    A very sad story. I wonder if the rebellious younger Watson ever imagined his life would end so soon and so tragically. I hesitate to say it was a waste of a life because the moral justification for Britain’s role in the Second World War was beyond question, but as you say, one wonders what all those lost might have otherwise achieved.

    • I would have expected that Watty thought that death was for everybody else but not for him. In Bomber Command it was certainly a basic belief that “Death was something that happened to other people” and I expect that Fighter Command was pretty much the same. Young Watson did make the very best of his nineteen years, living life to the full, with cricket and rugby and lots of sport. In the Officer Training Corps, he was in the Band and he was the man with the big drum. Accounts say that he got 100% value for money from the drum and from the leopard skin that you wore when you were banging it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.