In one of the latest auctions held in Buckinghamshire, a so-called Rolex of Great Escape hero was sold for almost £200,000.
The timepiece belonged to Flight Lieutenant Jack Williams who was one of the 76 Allied prisoners who escaped from Stalag Luft III by crawling through a 336ft tunnel in 1944.
All but three of the men were later caught by the Germans and, under the orders of a furious Adolf Hitler, 50 of them were selected for execution including Fl Lt Williams.
The night before the break out, that was immortalised in the 1963 Steve McQueen film the Great Escape, the RAF officer gave his expensive Rolex to another PoW with instructions to return it to his family in case anything happened to him.
Sergeant Donald Wilson kept to his word and after the war visited his dead comrade’s parents John and Bertha in Ewell, Surrey, and gave them the poignant timepiece.
The black-face Rolex chronograph was kept by Mrs Williams who gave it to her only son’s third cousin in the 1980s because he reminded her of the airman.
The unnamed owner wore it on his wedding day and on a visit to the Stalag Luft III memorial. In 1984 the watch stopped working and was serviced by Rolex free of charge when they realised its historic past.
He sold it today at Bourne End auctions in Buckinghamshire for a whopping £165,000. With all the fees added on the overall price paid by the winning bidder was £194,700.
During the Second World War Rolex realised that captured British airmen often had their wristwatches confiscated by the Germans.
So they offered to send them a brand new one, with payment deferred until after the war.
Fl Lt Williams took advantage of the offer and placed an order for a top of the range Rolex chronograph watch that was sent to him at Stalag Luft III in Sagan, Poland in a Red Cross parcel.
Martyn Perrin, of Bourne End Auctions, Bucks, said: “Most of the watches Rolex sent to captured airmen were standard models where as Jack Williams’ one was a top of the range Rolex chronograph.
“He played a prominent part in the construction of the escape tunnel, hence his relatively high number in the queue.
Fl Lt Williams joined the RAF in 1940, went into Bomber Command and was posted to 107 Squadron in Norfolk.
He flew Douglas Boston light bombers in the war but on April 27, 1942 his was shot down near Dunkirk by German fighter planes.
He bailed out of the stricken aircraft but was quickly captured. After being interrogated he was sent to Stalag Luft III.
In 1943 plans were being made to build three escape tunnels called ‘Tom, Dick and Harry’ at the camp. His role was that of a ‘penguin’, secretly dispersing tons of soil dug from the tunnels through special pouches under his clothing.
In a letter home he told his family he had taken up gardening at the camp, which probably helped him hide the excavated soil.
In March 1944 tunnel Harry was finally complete and Jack drew lot 67 in the queue to escape.
He fled through a pine forest but was captured and shot by the Gestapo on April 6, 1944. Like the other 49 executed PoWs, his body was cremated.
Along with the watch, today’s auction also included an air mail post card sent from his cousin, Sheila Klasen, to the prison camp with a ‘return to sender’ stamp on. The card was dated April 27, 1944, three weeks after he had been killed.
Twelve months after the Great Escape the rest of the prisoners at Stalag Luft III were forced marched westwards by the Germans due to the advancing Russians from the East.
Sgt Wilson took with him Fl Lt Williams’ Rolex although it was very lucky to survive intact especially has he had to dive for cover to avoid being hit by friendly fire from RAF Mosquitoes on one occasion.
The man who sold the Rolex watch for almost £200,000 will use some of the money to pay off his children’s university fees.
The watch was bought by a British-based collector of military memorabilia.
“The watch will remain in the UK and has been bought by a very serious military collector.”