Warrant Officer Eric Watts RAFVR
Eric (otherwise Ricky) Watts joined 211 Squadron as a Sgt Beaufighter pilot just before Christmas 1944, with his Nav/W Sgt Harry Morrell. The two men met at 79 OTU, Nicosia in 1944. Finding they were both from the Wirral in Cheshire, they decided to crew together.
With six operations already in Ricky’s log book, at the end of January 1945 the two were promoted to Flight Sergeant. By the time the Squadron stood down from operations on 8 May 1945, he had carried out 24 operations. Almost all of them were with Harry Morrell in the rear seat, for a total of 120 hours flying on interdiction operations against the Japanese road, rail and river supply system.
The two crewmates were later to rise to Warrant Officer rank and convert on to the de Havilland Mosquito, remaining with the Squadron for the Operation Bibber deployment to Bangkok and final disbandment there in March 1946.
Ricky recalled with particular pride having served under the command of Squadron Leaders Dagnall and Martineau. Harry Morrell’s own brief reminiscences appeared in the Imperial War Museum book, The War In Burma, in 2002. Harry passed away in 2007 at Bebington, in the Wirral.
W/O Ricky Watts and his Nav/W W/O Harry Morrell (Walters collection)
The caps indicate Warrant Officer rank. Ricky on the right. At St Thomas Mount, the boys found a good tailor nearby, as Monty Walters recalled. Their splash-out on new uniforms and flying overalls was the subject of a number of informal crew shots, on a day sometime between July and November 1945.
Ricky first got in touch with me in July 2009, after he spotted the 211 Squadron site and the page for Monty Walters who, like Tommy Taylor, was a particular chum from at least as far back as their time at 31 General Reconnaissance School (Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island). Needless to say, the two are now in close touch and have spent some considerable time most helpfully nutting out identities and places in various 211 Squadron photographs.
Course 95A Pilots, 31 GRS Charlottetown 14 June 1943 (Walters collection)
Personnel names from the rear of Monty’s print:
Front row: none known
Middle row: Jock Stewart, Johnny Shelton-Smith, Eddie Whitehorn, n/k, n/k, Monty Walters, Tom Taylor
Rear row: n/k, Alec Storer, n/k, Ray Wood, Ricky Watts, Vic Treasure, n/k
Another close friend was Alfie Wythe, as were Corky Webster, Bill Wilkes and Geoff Lowcock—three of the four Squadron airmen sadly lost in the two flying accidents during their conversion to the Mosquito.
Having spent some time taking in this on-line account of his old Squadron and many friends of 1943 to 1946, in July 2010 Ricky was moved to reminisce a little more about those days. With his kind permission, what follows is a transcript of his email to me. Additional notes of mine are shown in the usual way, [thus].
July 2010: Ricky reminisces
“The war gave me the chance to fly which I loved. I was introduced to aeroplanes by Alan Cobham's Flying Circus which used to visit our village in the Wirral in the early thirties when as kids we could meet the pilots when they arrived in their aeroplanes.
Later in the war I was lucky to be accepted for training in the RAFVR. I was also lucky not to be posted to Bomber Command but after flying training in Canada on Harvards I was sent to the Middle East for operational training on Beaufighters in Cyprus, a somewhat awesome experience going solo without any dual in this fearsome monster.
[10 Course Pilots, 79 OTU Nicosia, Cyprus 1944 (RAF official via R Watts)
The 79 OTU Beaufighter ops course immediately before that taken by Monty Walters and Ron Kemp in late 1944.
From left to right, front: Sgts Watts, Thomas, Moss, Treasure, Purnell.
Middle: F/Os Shearer, Bock, Corner; Sgt Fitzpatrick; F/O Montague Browne; Sgt Wilson.
Rear: Sgts Seaton, Buck; F/O MacDonald; Sgts White, Wilkes; W/O Downing.
Sgts Fitzpatrick, Seaton, Watts, Wilson and F/O Montague Browne were all posted to 211 Squadron. Though he had once got away with a collapsing Beaufighter cockpit seat on take-off at Nicosia, the Canadian JE Fitzpatrick was lost with his Nav/W F/Sgt Lock in LZ399 ‘V’ on 8 February 1945. Sgt Bill Wilkes was lost while flying as 2nd Pilot with Geoff Lowcock in the fatal accident to Mosquito HR554 on 29 June 1945.]
From there to Shallufa in Egypt to train in air firing with cannons and RPs. The latter was a dangerous manoeuvre requiring a very tight turn to avoid debris and risking a high speed stall which resulted in quite a few fatal crashes.
And then to Ranchi in Behar, India for more weapon training and on to the Squadron on Christmas Eve 1944 in time for the extraordinary seasonal celebrations. What an occasion!
First op on New Year's Eve 1944 on interdiction duties at low level over uninviting country.
[Squadron Operations Record Book:
31.12.44 Day. Time up 10:35. Time down 15:20.
Aircraft “Z” F/O JV White, W/O Andrews.
Aircraft “J” Sgt Watts, Sgt Morrell.
Attacked river communications between Henzada and Prome destroying 1 sampan and damaging approx. 45 sampans and kisties. 1 basha destroyed & 4 damaged.”
The two aircraft returned safely once their ammunition was exhausted, having also dropped 1,000 leaflets each near Taungup and on the Arakan Coast.]
We had a short break for when the pilots took turns in the navigator’s seat doing RP practice as a squadron at Ranchi. The back seat was a very scary place to be! But I got some very illustrious names in my log book like F/O Bruckshaw, F/O Wood, F/O Russell and F/O Montague Browne (as they were
And then back to Ops which we managed to survive without doing too much damage to HM's aircraft but some to the enemy.
Outdoor shower, Chiringa 1944 (Watts collection)
A nice off-duty moment for the lads at Chiringa, with their alfresco shower.
Back row: Probably Vic Broome; probably Tug Wilson, shirtless; possibly Ray Wood, shirtless; Ricky Watts shirtless.
Middle row: probably Harry Morrell; Georgie Price; Tommy Taylor shirtless.
Front: Unknown in white shirt; Sammy the bearer, in bush shirt with dog.
Operational activities finished with a squadron attack on gun emplacements (Operation Dracula) at Rangoon in support of landings by the army. There was no opposition, the Japs had evacuated but we were detailed to repeat the attack the following dawn. The weather was atrocious and we were unable to get through and our leader, the CO, ordered us back.
Following a tornado which blew half the camp down we were stood down and withdrew to Yelahanka near Bangalore to re-equip with Mosquitoes.
Mosquitoes, Yelahanka June 1945 (own collection)
[In the original rather dense, soft, copy print, the aircraft serials were tantalisingly hard to read in the clag. The leading aircraft seems to be RF653 ‘D’, known from other records to be held on 211 Squadron charge. The machine in the background seems to be RF759 ‘G’, which turned out to be a known 1672 (Mosquito) Conversion Unit aircraft. Together, these hints strongly suggested that the shot was taken during the Squadron’s conversion to Mosquitoes with 1672 CU at Yelahanka, around June 1945.
On further enquiry among the lads it turned out that RF653 ‘D’ was the aircraft in which Flt Sgt Eric Watts took his first Mosquito solo—on 16 June at Yelahanka. Also flown in July at St Thomas Mt and January 1946 up from Don Muang by Monty Walters.]
Unhappily the Squadron suffered two accidents in which two of my best friends were killed. Bill Wilkes was second pilot to Geof Lowcock when he lost control during a fighter affiliation excercise and dived vertically from height into a hut killing some forty people.
Corky Webster hit the ground during a formation bombing display. He was number four to dive. I was number five and was very close behind when he hit the ground.
Soon after that we moved to St Thomas's Mount near Madras to work up for the invasion of Malaya but the atom bomb was deployed and the war was over and and after Harry and I took part in the Victory fly past over Madras, the Squadron moved to Akyab to await deployment to Don Muang, Bangkok.
Flightline, Don Muang (Walters collection)
Ricky Watts in the shade of the flightline, at Bangkok in late 1945 or early 1946.
Meanwhile Harry and I took an aeroplane to Bangkok for servicing and awaited the arrival of the rest of the Squadron. We did a bit of formation flying to impress the natives and some air testing. On one occasion I ferried our Flight Sergeant Fitter, F/S Davey to Comilla, Barrackpor, Akyab and back to Don Muang to pick up spares. About eleven flying hours—no navigator! We took part in the Fly Past for Lord Louis Mountbatten and the King of Siam and then we took our aeroplane to Singapore for disposal. Quite a sad affair.
On 5th March  I joined 684 Squadron. I did little flying with them but another of my Flight Sergeant friends F/S Butcher found an old Beaufighter which was unserviceable. I've no idea where it came from but he made a spare hydraulic part for it from a piece of old tyre using a home made lathe and after a making a short test flight I flew it with a navigator called W/O Willams and four passengers to Singapore where it was declared unserviceable due to problems with a tyre and the tailplane.
I was to bring back Wing Commander Newman DFC & Bar [RNZAF, CO of 684 Squadron from November 1945 to April 1946 and an accomplished Mosquito pilot] and he was dejected when I told him the aircraft was u/s, because he wanted to be at a party in Bangkok that night. He suggested that as captain of the aeroplane I was legally entitled to sign it as serviceable. A W/O doesn't argue with an eminent W/Cdr, so I did. The weather was awful and for four and a half hours he stood in the well behind me without any complaint.
He was a great man and I was very proud to have been of service to him. The aeroplane was taken out of service. There was also a Harvard doing nothing which Monty and I played with a bit. And then it was time to go home to demob and the start of sixty one years of happy married life.”
[Considering the problems snagged by the groundcrew not all that serious, Ricky signed the Beaufighter’s Form 700 and off they went. Newman had been sufficiently impressed with Ricky’s flying in poor monsoon weather that, at the later Bangkok “do”, he “shot a line” about their trip, as a gesture!
The date of their flight was 19th April 1946, just before Wing Commander Merrifield DSO DFC took the PR Squadron over. Merrifield, too, had lustrous Mosquito flights to his credit, having claimed the transatlantic record in a PR Mark 34 in September 1945.
The aircraft of Ricky’s adventure with Newman, Beaufighter X RD155 of 684 Squadron, also saw service with 81 Squadron and with 171 PR Group Courier Flight. As was often the case, it took some time before the aircraft was formally struck off charge, on 16 October 1946.]
A photographic footnote
From his home in the UK, Ricky was soon in email touch with his old mate Monty in Queensland. The two have added much to the 211 Squadron story, putting names to faces for a number of formal and informal group photographs.
In RAF service, Ricky was one who had no personal camera. Remarking cheerfully that the photographs he does have in his album had come from Monty and others, many of which he had seen among the pages of the website, from his own collection came the fine Pilots group shot of 10 Course at 79 OTU Cyprus, to match Monty’s of 11 Course.
It was a pleasure to mark Ricky’s 90th birthday on 8 July 2012. The Watts family organised a splendid affair: despite pretty ordinary weather, off they all trooped to the RAF Museum Cosworth for a tour of the Museum followed by a happy lunch with family and friends in the Museum’s Refuel Restaurant.
“Yours truly shooting a line” July 2012 (Watts family)
The tour included a good look at the Mosquito B.35 (ex TT.35) TA639 in the aircraft hall, which was only grounded in 1966. Ricky kindly sent me this photo of the occasion, with his own characteristically jaunty comment and this thoughtful reminiscence:
“I well remember flying my plane to Seletar hoping that the glue would last that bit longer. I still feel sad when I remember all those beautiful craft waiting there to be scrapped.”
I knew Ricky Watts for just over four years. A grand chap, he was genuinely modest about his war service as a Beaufighter and later Mosquito pilot. Very pleased to see the story of his old Squadron and be back in touch with old Squadron mate Monty Walters, Ricky soon kindly added several great shots to the photographic record. He also passed on plenty of “gen”: about faces and places in various other photographs, and about the practice of leaving parked Mosquitoes with some flap extended.
When we had known each other about a year, I was much moved to receive from him a long and deeply interesting email, reminiscing at length about flying, his Navigator Harry Morrell, and their posting to 211 Squadron. Ricky’s writing had an easy flow and telling content about the adventures and the sadnesses of over sixty years before. All this he was kind enough to let me use, as the main part of this page.
As his evident pleasure in his 90th birthday “do” suggests, Ricky kept in excellent health almost to the end. We were last in touch as recently as the Northern Spring of 2013, when I was belatedly able to give him news of the passing of his old crewmate Harry Morrell back in 2007; and the recent death of Messrs Browne and Bruckshaw. In late November, however, Ricky became seriously ill. In excellent hospice care for his final weeks, he died at peace in the early morning of Monday 16 December 2013 aged 91, attended upon by son Bill and daughter Gill. Bill very kindly emailed me the sad news later that day.
It was a privilege and a pleasure to know Eric (Ricky) Watts, a grand chap who had a remarkable life. Although his tour is at long last now complete, he will not be forgotten.
211 Squadron Operations Record Book TNA AIR 27/1303
E Watts personal correspondence, photograph collection
ME Walters personal correspondence, photograph collection
DR Clark photograph collection
Australian War Memorial photograph collection
Halley RAF Aircraft PA100—RZ999 (Air Britain1992)
Sturtivant RAF Flying Training Units Since 1912 (Air Britain 2007)
Thompson HL New Zealanders with the Royal Air Force (Volume III) at NZTEC
Thompson J The War in Burma 1942—1945 (Pan 2003)
www.211squadron.org © D Clark & others 2016
Site created 15 Apr 2001, last updated 11 Nov 2016. Page created 24 Dec 2010, last updated 19 Dec 2013
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