When our father died in a vintage aircraft accident in 1995 instinctively my brother, Giles, and I clung onto whatever we could that reminded us of him. We were both in our early twenties when he died in the practice air display. I remember the day as if it was yesterday when I had to travel to Malden police station in Essex to pick up his belongings from the crash following a call from a junior police sergeant.
Two weeks earlier I had planned my escape from the Royal London Hospital with Giles. Having broken over 20 bones in the accident I had been in a bad way. After a number of unforgettable experiences in the hospital, that included finding the odd deceased renal patient in the bathroom, and more positively a daily hand massage from a rather lovely Australian nurse, I was then diagnosed with MRSA and placed with other infected patients in a rather depressing isolation ward. This isolation (with a number of very old and sorry-looking fellows) proved very tough indeed and I was quickly on the phone to Giles plotting my ward break. I discharged myself and went back to Norfolk to recuperate.
It was one of the hardest things I have ever done. I just wasn’t prepared at all. The sergeant passed me a cardboard box with my fathers belongings picked up from the field where the accident had taken place. Inside the box were his leather jacket, a single shoe and his old watch. Remarkably his Seamaster was still working. It was very emotional picking up this watch that I knew has seen so much of life. I immediately started to remember the countless times I had seem him wear it. The last of these was a week before the accident when he had just taken delivery of a Battle of Britain Memorial Flight MK19 Spitfire.
He had quite remarkably won the auction after the actual winning bidder was exposed a few days later as being a compulsive fraudster who went around the auction circuit winning large auctions only to be exposed as not having any funds. After a few very desperate and embarrassed calls from the large auction house, they tracked down my father and the Spitfire was his. The Spitfire had never been rebuilt and been in continuous service with the RAF since it has been built in 1944.
Grounded, to be place on the civilian aircraft register, the Spitfire was due to be flown by our father the following week – a few days after the accident.
Every time I look at his watch the memories flood back to me. It was these memories that prompted us to produce a watch for Bremont that could be purchased with quite a remarkable history attached. We wanted to produce a beautiful hand made mechanical watch, limited in numbers, that had something quite special built into it. A watch limited through the rarity of the materials involved rather than through a desire to impress.
After months of design consultation and prototype design, we finally perfected the Bremont EP120. We had chosen one of the most famous Supermarine Spitfires in existence, the MkVb Spitfire run by the very special Stephen Grey and his Fighter Collection at Duxford. A highly accomplished display pilot and owner of arguably the most impressive collection of vintage warbirds in the world, Stephen (a display friend of our father) very kindly let us have an original part of this astonishing aircraft recovered during restoration a few years ago. This aircraft is affectionately known as EP120 after its registration.
EP120 was built at Castle Bromwich, and entered RAF service in May 1942 with 501 (County of Gloucester) Squadron at Ibsely in Hampshire. Whilst in the hands of the Ibsley Wing Leader, Wing Commander ”Pat” Gibbs, she claimed her first kill; a Do17. There are Spitfires in existence with wartime combat record, however Spitfire Mk Vb EP120, at seven kills represents a real combat proven fighter.
The aircraft then provided air cover for the withdrawal of forces involved in Operation ”Jubilee”, the disastrous Dieppe raid, flying three sorties to protect the shipping convoy taking troops and equipment off the beach at Dieppe. The third sortie was flown by Wg Cdr Gibbs, who saw a number of skirmishes with FW190’s before three Dornier Do-217’s were sighted south of the convoy. Gibbs was able to bring EP120 onto the tail of one of the Dornier’s and open fire with cannon and machine guns before himself being attacked by an FW190. Gibbs shook the FW190, dived to sea level and met the rest of Yellow Section before heading home and being credited with the kill.
EP120 was damaged in July 1942, but after repair she was allocated to 19 Sqn at RAF Perranporth. At this time, the RAF”s Spitfire Mk Vb fleet was being upgraded in an effort to combat the new Focke Wulf FW190, which was superior to the Spitfire MkV. The squadron flew to Digby and exchanged its Spitfire Vb”s on the 22nd April 1943 with the Canadian 402 (City of Winnipeg) Sqn, and it was here that EP120 was re-coded AE-A. As EP120 arrived, so did a new squadron commander, Malta veteran Sqn Ldr Geoffrey Wilson Northcott DSO, DFC and he adopted EP120 as his own personal aircraft.
Northcott scored his first victory after five days as 402 Sqn’s CO. Flying EP120, Northcott made his first kill against a Bf109 that was defending a German convoy from attack by Beaufighters off the Dutch coast. The 2nd of August proved to be another eventful day both for EP120 and Northcott, when 402 Sqn was tasked with providing cover for another Beaufighter strike against a German convoy operating around Den Helder. Later that day, six Bf109’s were spotted to the north-east; and 402 Sqn and sister unit 412 Sqn were called up. Northcott flying EP120 was able to bring down two Bf109’s in this action using 30 rounds of cannon ammunition and 300 machine gun rounds. This action earned Sqn Ldr Northcott a bar to his DFC. Northcott scored another four victories with EP120 during 1943.
The desire to produce a watch that could have a rightful claim over some of this incredible history was magnetic. Following inspiration from the original clock inside the cockpit of EP120, we set to work using an incredible selection of artisans in Switzerland to literally integrate parts of this emotive aircraft into the timepiece that we felt would do both the watch and the aircraft justice. The watch was to have the Time of Trip chronograph dial at 12 o’clock made from the aircraft aluminium, a robust black DLC scratch resistant case and a beautifully adapted rotor used to wind the mainspring also made from original EP120 parts. Throughout the development our craftsman had to ensure that these new parts would not adversely affect the workings of the timepiece, and where paint on the newly acquired parts was to be used in the watch, Stephen tracked down the original primer used during the original restoration a small yet significant detail.
It certainly has been an incredible journey that has meant a tremendous amount to my brother and I, and with the watches (120 naturally) being made available in October of this year, we feel that we have done the best we could have to honour a truly special man and an extraordinary aircraft.
More information on the Bremont watch company can be found online at www.bremont.com.