ENTERTAINMENT

The heartbreaking 80-year-old son finds a WWII Hampden bomber flown by his RAF hero father's squadron


This is the moment when John Watts first saw the bomber plane flown by his father's squadron during World War II and got closer to the man he had never met.

John Watts grew up without ever having the opportunity to meet his father – a World War II hero pilot who died eight months before he was born.

But after years of research, John – now in the eighties – tracked down a bomber plane that flew in his father's squadron and brought him closer to his father.

By June 1940, RAF Wing Commander Joseph Watts was a skilled and excellent pilot who had flown in several key campaigns and was exhausted after seeing how many of his friends had lost their lives.

In his element flying, Watts knew that commanding a Hampden bomber was extremely dangerous and that it was unlikely to survive the war.

By 1940 the war had raged across Europe for months, and Hitler had found his way through Holland, Luxembourg, Belgium and France.

Wing Commander Joseph Watts was a skilled World War II pilot and was on his way back to base when his plane crashed when his wing hit the steel cable of a barrier balloon

A Hampden bomber like the plane used by John's father Wing Commander Joseph Watts

A Hampden bomber like the plane used by John's father Wing Commander Joseph Watts

& # 39; The Flying Suitcase & # 39 ;: The cramped Hampden bomber was fast and nimble – but little legroom

The Hampden bomber was a twin-engine RAF and was often referred to as the "flying suitcase" because of the cramped conditions in the crew.

The aircraft was designed as a fast and agile "combat bomber" and therefore had a fixed Browning machine gun in the upper part of the fuselage and a curved Plexiglas nose with a Vickers machine gun.

The aircraft's slim and compact fuselage was quite narrow and wide enough for only one person.

The navigator sat behind the pilot and access to the cockpit required folding down the seats.

Once in place, the crew of four men had almost no room to move and were usually uncomfortable during long missions.

Son John, recalling his mother's stories, said, “Only once in her presence did he actually collapse after a particularly terrible night.

“I think that was the raid on Kristiansand when half the squadron was lost and of course he was the commander.

"Twelve of them went out, six of them came back, friends too, of course, and you know how close those crews were."

Watts paid attention not just to his own crew, but to the entire squadron, which John said was exhausting for him.

His mother often described how he came back from missions and collapsed on the sofa before leaving immediately when he woke up.

Throughout 1940, Squadron 144, to which Joseph Watts belonged, was used in night bombing raids over Germany.

John was lucky enough to hear his father's voice in the archives of a news interview.

Three months before his death, Wing Commander Watts was asked about a mission over Sylt – a north German island that became a fortress during World War II.

During the mission, its crew "blew up the mine plane's cave with their own explosives medicine".

When asked if he had a good trip, Joseph Watts told the reporter: "One of the best we've ever had because this time we got to do something."

On his last mission, Watts set out from Hemswell, Lincs, to assist the British armed forces aiming at rail communications.

Joseph Watt, pictured at the age of 19, has been described as a "roaring person who roared into the room".

Joseph Watt, pictured at the age of 19, has been described as a "roaring person who roared into the room".

Joseph's son John Watts, 80, never met his father and waited his entire life to find a way to connect with him. John managed to track down a Hampden bomber that was flying in his father's squadron and was overwhelmed with emotion when he saw it being restored in a hangar

Joseph's son John Watts, 80, never met his father and waited his entire life to find a way to connect with him. John managed to track down a Hampden bomber that was flying in his father's squadron and was overwhelmed with emotion when he saw it being restored in a hangar

John described it as the most obvious thing to be able to say hello to his father after he died

John described it as the most obvious thing to be able to say hello to his father after he died

John, pictured with the Hampden bomber from his father's squadron, says his father lived through his mother's stories for him and described him as "a wonderful, bright, happy spirit."

John, pictured with the Hampden bomber from his father's squadron, says his father lived through his mother's stories for him and described him as "a wonderful, bright, happy spirit."

On the way back to base, the wing of his plane hit a barrier balloon near the Felixstowe docks and crashed into a mill. All four men on board were killed.

& # 39; June 1940 & # 39 ;: a poem by Norah Watts

A reminder of the shoulders

Carry lightly, bravely,

The tunic blue.

The roar of the squadrons was already booming

At our last farewell.

For food? Sylt?

The marshalling yards in Ham?

Cologne?

Or death?

The joking voice

The delicate closure

Not changed a bit.

His heart beat warmly against mine

For seconds longer.

The strong hand gathered and pressed me firmly against the dear, familiar blue Serge.

Hold it especially tight

The atom in me on the

We pinned such hope and love

A brother or a sister?

I watched the beautiful back

Walk with grace and speed.

Never look back

June smelled fragrant in summer.

I watched him down the hill

My life contained

Under this tunic.

The feed cap was lightly in position;

The four-line cuff.

Before early summer

Over the Belgian bridges

He was fighting desperately with his crew

For England.

And died.

His son John was born eight months later to his wife Norah, who was ordered by Joseph not to attend his funeral because "there would be nothing to say goodbye to."

John speaks to History Hit and says, “He was always a wonderful, bright, happy ghost to me because our mother conjured him up all along.

“He lives for me through all these wonderful stories. He was that great, roaring person yelling into the room and taking over. & # 39;

John says his mother never fully recovered and lost "the love of her life." She managed to turn her back on the RAF and his side of the family when Joseph was killed.

She also wrote many poems about the war and the grief that followed.

He added, “I have turned all of my teachers, male ones, into fathers. I had very good relationships with my teachers, I was lucky.

"And they understood because they were all the war generation and were ready to be pretty fatherly, I think."

John says the fact that his mother turned her back on Joseph's family is a big part of his search for answers and that despite 80 years since his father's death, the grief is "always there".

After Joseph's death, the family immediately moved from Lincolnshire to London.

John's search for answers led him to the RAF Museum in Cosford, where he had managed to track down one of the few remaining Hampden bombers only to find out that it was actually flying in his father's squadron.

Describing why he wanted to see the plane, John said, “I think it has to do with what my father means to me and what it's like not to have a father.

“It has to do with this very strange situation, knowing someone very well and being very proud of them, but not having any tangible connections to them, apart from the little mementos and all my mother's stories.

"It's not entirely closed, but I've wanted to see it all my life."

When he entered the hangar and saw the plane for the first time, John was overwhelmed with emotion.

He put his hand on the pilot's seat and said, "This is the next one I'll ever be to my father." It was comforting to know that he died doing something he loved.

& # 39; He loved it – he was in his element. He was really a speed dealer.

"He was the opposite of his son who was sitting here, very technical, very good at math and an all-round athlete, and he just loved the speed," said John.

Describing the experience as "very moving," he added, "It's next to be able to say hello to your own father."