by Ray Dick
Jo Forman of Sault Ste. Marie Branch holds the watch he lost during WW II and a letter from France explaining where and how it was found.
World War II veteran Jo Forman of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., has finally got his wristwatch back, a timepiece he thought was gone forever when he bailed out of his burning Lancaster bomber over the French countryside some 60 years ago.
“I want to let you know how happy I was to get the watch returned,” says Forman, now 88 and a member of Sault Ste. Marie Branch, “and it all started with an entry in the Lost Trails section of the 2002 November/December issue of Legion Magazine.”
“Shot down near Loire, France,” reads the Lost Trails entry submitted by an officer in the Canadian Embassy in Paris. “Family sought to return watch found near crash site.” The name inscribed on the back of the watch was Forman, Clement M. and the identification number R145430.
“My wife (Joyce) saw the notice in Lost Trails,” said Forman, the retired head of physical education at Sir James Dunn Collegiate. “I contacted the embassy, and 10 minutes later got a call from the Frenchman who had my watch. A week later the watch arrived by mail, with an explanatory letter.”
Apparently Jacky Chardon was looking through papers for insurance data to pay a hospital bill for his father, now 78 and in poor health. The father had visited the site where Forman’s plane crashed in a farmer’s wheat field, found the watch, cleaned it and repaired it and then filed it away until his son found it.
“The watch must have fallen out of my flight jacket pocket,” Forman said. He had bailed out of the Lancaster after it had been damaged by a German fighter and landed about 60 metres from the burning wreck. He and Sam Dunseith, who also saw the Lost Trails notice, were the only two of the seven-man bomber crew to survive.
“This was not the watch I used for navigation,” says Forman. “It was one my sister gave me upon graduation from air navigation school in Regina in 1943.” His name and identification number were inscribed on the back.
“I thought it was so kind of them to take all this trouble to get the watch back,” he said in interviews with the local news media. “It’s damn decent of them.”
It was one of the good things that came out of that bombing mission on the night of July 24, 1944, when the young flying officer with the Royal Canadian Air Force based at Faldingworth, Lincolnshire, in England left on his 17th mission. Loaded with 900 kilograms of bombs, the targets were the machine-tool, ball bearing and engine factories in Stuttgart, Germany.
But the bomber, dubbed Luck of the Irish, never made it to Germany and most of his fellow crew members are buried in Orléans, France. French civilians and members of the Resistance took Forman to an evader’s camp in the Freteval Forest. There he remained until liberated by the United States First Army about six weeks later.
And what are Forman’s plans after recovering the long-lost watch? It has “taken a lickin’ but kept on tickin'”, as the old advertisement says. Forman expects to replace a missing pin used to set the time. After that the watch may be placed in a display plaque.