Two Caterpillar Club Pins to Sgt. Watson RAF
Two Caterpillar Club Pins to Sgt. Watson RAF - First pin is gold with two ruby eyes, weighing .9 gram, engraved "SGT. J.A. WATSON" on the reverse, 3.8 mm x 19.3 mm. Second pin is silver gilt with two red glass eyes, weighing 1 gram, impressed "SGT J.A. WATSON" on the reverse, 4 mm x 19.6 mm. Ruby eyes were indicative of a pilot that bailed out from a plane in flames, thus the "fire red" eyes. Extremely fine. In cardboard box of issue, marked in black ink "Presented by IRVING AIR CHUTE OF GT. BRITAIN LTD." on the inside lid, 26.5 mm x 39.5 mm x 11.7 mm, lid separated from box at the hinged edge, box fine. Accompanied by a digital file with seven pages containing his General Questionnaire for British/American Ex-Prisoners of War and Operations Record Book of No. 76 Squadron for February 1944 from the National Archives. Footnote: 1586049 Sergeant James Arthur Watson was born on December 26, 1923. He enlisted with the Royal Air Force on October 10, 1941, stating his trade as that of Lorry Driver. Watson was with No. 76 Squadron, Bomber Command and was scheduled for a nighttime attack on Berlin on February 15, 1944. He was in Halifax V LL.140 "A", one of nine Halifax aircraft to depart on that mission, with a crew of six others: Flight Sergeant D.A. Eaton, Flight Sergeant R. Neal, Flight Sergeant G.K. Wilson, Sergeant J.C. Harding, Sergeant E.B. Upton and Sergeant R.S. Becker. The flight records indicate that the plane had gone missing, as it was noted that "This aircraft was airborne from Holme-on-Spalding Moor at 17.30 hours, since when nothing has been heard. It has therefore been reported missing." In the actual report of No. 76 Squadron's Summary of the Attack on Berlin, it stated that "Owing to the Squadron being re-equipped, only nine aircraft were ordered for this operation, and these took-off as scheduled, but only seven are known to have carried out the attack. One aircraft returned early, with the Artificial Horizon u/s., while another failed to return, and has since been reported missing. Over the target 10/10th. Cloud prevailed, consequently sky markers were used by the P.F.F. These appeared to be accurately placed, and the attack was carried out from an average height of 20,000 ft. The result of the attack could not positively be estimated owing to the cloud, but it was obvious from the glow reflected thereon, that many fierce fires were burning, The attack was carried out by a very strong force, and appeared very concentrated." Watson's aircraft was shot down and he parachuted to safety from the disabled aircraft but was captured at Schwerin by German forces. He was taken prisoner of war and subsequently imprisoned at four locations: Dulag.Luft at Frankfurt (February 18 to February 23, 1944), Stalag.Luft 6 at Heydekrug (February 29 to July 1944), Stalag.Luft 4 Gross Tychow (July 1944 to February 6, 1945) and Stalag.XI B at Fallingbostel (March 29 to April 26, 1945). He received the appropriate lectures before he left at No. 76 Squadron by Intelligence, in how to behave in the event of capture, along with lectures in escape and how to avoid re-capture. After he was captured at Scherwin, he received routine interrogation at Dulag.Luft at Frankfurt and was later treated and hospitalized for three months for a bout of appendicitis. He returned to England after the war, settling in St, Anns Chapel, Gunnislake, Cornwall. Since he parachuted to safety with a Irvin manufactured parachute, he was eligible for a Caterpillar Pin. These pins were awarded (on request) from parachute companies to pilots who successfully bailed out of airplanes. It was called "hitting the silk". Parachutes were made of silk, caterpillars make silk, and most of the pins were shaped like caterpillars. Real ones such as these are very rare. The Caterpillar Club is an informal association of people who have successfully used a parachute to bail out of a disabled aircraft. After authentication by the parachute maker, applicants receive a membership certificate and a distinctive lapel pin. It should be absolutely clear that the nationality of the person saving his life by parachute and ownership of the aircraft are not factors in determining qualification for membership. Anybody who has saved his life by using a parachute after bailing out of a disabled aircraft is eligible. The requirement that the aircraft is disabled naturally excludes parachuting enthusiasts in the normal course of a recreational jump. The Irving Air Chute Company was formed in Buffalo, New York in 1920 by Leslie Irvin, the world’s first parachute designer and manufacturer. Legend has it that "Irvin" was inadvertently changed to "Irving" by a secretary who mistakenly tacked a "g" on the end of the name, and the company never bothered to correct the mistake until 1970. Two years later, Irvin's company instituted the Caterpillar Club in 1922, awarding a gold pin to pilots who successfully bailed out of a disabled aircraft using an Irving Parachute (although Leslie Irvin is credited with inventing the first free-fall parachute in 1919, parachutes stored in canisters had saved the lives of observers in balloons and several German, Austro-Hungarian pilots of disabled military aircraft in the First World War). Irving Air Chute had become the largest parachute manufacturer in the world and by 1939, 45 foreign countries were using Irving parachutes, including Germany, which had confiscated an Irving plant and bought its patents in 1936. During World War II, Irving parachutes alone saved over 10,000 lives. The name "Caterpillar Club" simply makes reference to the silk threads that made the original parachutes, thus recognizing the debt owed to the silk worm. Other people have taken the metaphor farther by comparing the act of bailing out with that of the caterpillar letting itself down to earth by a silken thread. Another metaphor is that caterpillars have to climb out of their cocoons to escape. "Life depends on a silken thread" is the club’s motto. In 1922 Leslie Irvin agreed to give a gold pin to every person whose life was saved by one of his parachutes. At the end of World War II, the number of members with the Irvin pins had grown to over 34,000 though the total of people saved by Irvin parachutes is estimated to be 100,000.