JOHN WATTS and MARTIN SOILLEUX-CARDWELL
(Motto of 25 Squadron RAF)
This is a story of two young men who spent three months of their lives together. They were born on different continents. One was the son of a soldier, brought up in a family of 10 children; the other was from a comfortable background. One survived and lived a long life. The other died young and never went home. Their paths crossed in the final year of the First World War. By the time they met they were both experienced and effective officers.
Archibald Roy Watts joined the Queens Own Cameron Highlanders as a boy of 15 in 1906. His father was a career soldier who served for nearly 30 years. He followed his two elder brothers into the Regiment. His younger brother followed him in turn.
At the outbreak of war in 1914 his battalion was serving in India. They quickly returned and by December they were in France, moving up to Ypres later in the month. He was wounded in January 1915 and returned to the UK. By April he was back in Ypres. He fought at the Battle of Loos in September 1915, where he was wounded again. His battalion was reduced to four officers and 200 men. He fought at the Somme. He took part in the attack on High Wood, in which one company of his battalion was reduced to 12 men. In December 1916 he was commissioned. He fought at Arras, where he was awarded the Military Cross. His battalion lost 412 casualties. He fought at Passchendaele, where his battalion lost 296 men. By the end of 1917 he had seen a lot of his friends and colleagues killed or wounded. It was time to find a different kind of war.
Bryant Luttelus (Bob) Lindley was the son of James Bryant Lindley CMG and Mrs Mary Lindley of Barkly House, Claremont, Cape Province, South Africa. His father was the general manager of the Equitable Life Assurance Company in South Africa who listed his pastimes in "Who's Who" as "hunting, shooting, fishing" and who had trained and practised as a lawyer in the United States before returning home to South Africa. His mother was American, the daughter of Henry Sheldon Leavitt of New York.
Bob Lindley's background was one of privilege and comfort, with close family ties with the Turf Club and the Western Province and Cape Town Cricket Clubs. He was educated at St Andrews College. He enlisted in the Royal Flying Corps on the 11th April 1917. His family were intensely proud of him. He wrote to them regularly, telling them of his life in Europe.
The two men were to meet at the beginning of April 1918, on the formation of the Royal Air Force. They were members of "A" Flight, 25 Squadron RAF. The squadron had been formed in September 1915 and originally equipped with FE 2b fighters. On the 16th June 1916 one of its members shot down the German ace Max Immelmann. In the summer of 1917 it was re-equipped with DH 4's and assumed its role of high altitude bombing and reconnaissance missions in Northern France and Belgium.
During the German Spring offensive of 1918 the squadron had engaged in low-level attacks against infantry and artillery, but the DH 4 was not really suited for this. It is probably a mark of the desperate measures of these times that they assumed this role. In any event 25 Squadron moved its base on no less than three occasions during March 1918, from Serny to Villers-Bretttoneux, to Beauvois and then finally to Ruisseauville, where it was to remain until October 1918.
The commanding officer of the 25 Squadron was Major Chester Duffus. He was a Canadian, born in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He had a distinguished record, having served with 22 Squadron, flying FE 2b's. He had shot down five enemy aircraft. In 1916 he had been awarded the Military Cross. He was 26 years old.
By April 1918 Lieutenant Lindley was an experienced pilot with many hours flying DH 4's.The aircraft had been first introduced on the Western Front in March 1917. It was specifically designed for daytime bombing and then extended its role to include long range reconnaissance. It was fitted with a 375hp Rolls Royce Eagle engine, which gave it a maximum airspeed of 143 mph. Its loaded weight was 3472 lb. It could carry two 230lb or four 112lb bombs. The Observer operated a ring mounted Lewis gun and the pilot a forward firing synchronised Vickers machine gun mounted on the frame. The one major operational draw back was the siting of the 500-gallon fuel tank between the observer and the pilot, which not only made communication difficult but also provided a tempting point of fire for enemy aircraft.
|The experienced pilot and the professional soldier flew together on the morning of 25th April 1918, a reconnaissance raid. 17 exposures were taken. The weather was poor and the flight was long, some 4 hours and 10 minutes. They were obliged to land at Flexenghem to refuel, and returned to base in very low mist. Lieutenant Watts would later recall his frantic attempts to attract his pilot's attention whilst looking for a suitable place to put down the aircraft.||
The next flights together were on 3rd and 4th May. The latter was a photographic reconnaissance, during which they encountered heavy anti-aircraft fire and were attacked by 7 enemy aircraft, one of which was forced down. This was the beginning of their formation as a team. They were to fly together on a further 35 occasions by the 22nd June. On the 8th May they took part in a bombing raid on Le Cateau. Further bombing raids were carried out on Peronne on 10th May (when no photographs were taken because of camera jam), Tournai 0n the 15th May, Sulnoye on 20th and 31st May, Mouchin Aerodrome on the 23rd May and a dump at Varsennaere on the 25th May.
The remaining days of the month were far from idle. During a photographic reconnaissance sortie on 4th May, they encountered anti-aircraft fire and were attacked by 7 enemy aircraft. Again on 16th May 4 enemy aircraft attacked them. Laconically Lieutenant Watts' log reports " returned; gun broken".
Over the next 31 days Lieutenant Watts made 29 flights. 27 were with Lieutenant Lindley and of those 21 were operational sorties. A total of 66 hours 10 minutes flying time is recorded in Lieutenant Watts' log, of which only 8 hours and 35 minutes were non-combat flying.
June 1918 started well for Lindley and Watts. Lindley was awarded the Military Cross. The citation reads "for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in recent operations. He carried out several very successful long-distance reconnaissances and bomb raids under adverse weather conditions and during low bombing and machine gun actions he did most brilliant work. Throughout he showed great gallantry and skill".
He and Lieutenant Watts were able to demonstrate this gallantry and skill again during a particular raid, which took place on 2nd June. The target was a Chateau at Trelon, due north of Hirson, close to the Belgian border. Of equal interest to the attackers was a train, which was in a private railway siding next to the chateau. This was believed to be the German Imperial Train. The attack could have been a concerted attempt to assassinate the Kaiser.
At 4.50 a.m. 12 aircraft, including "A" flight's machine "D" piloted by Lieutenant Lindley with Lieutenant Watts as his Observer, took off from the squadron aerodrome at Ruisseauville. The squadron commander, Major Duffus, led the formation. Flying in single file they arrived over the objective at 5.25a.m. Descending from a clear sky they attacked and bombed at a height of 500 feet. Their arrival seems to have been a complete surprise to those on the ground. The smoke and fire caused by the bombing from the lead aircraft created great difficulty to those following, as they had no clear sight of the chateau. Direct hits were also scored on a number of motor cars standing of the courtyard. A total of 800 rounds of ammunition were fired into the train. With the exception of one machine all returned safely. The aircraft flown by Lieutenant J.R. Zieman and his Observer 2nd Lieutenant J. Tannenbaum was seen to land under control near Cambrai, where they set fire to the aircraft to prevent it from falling into enemy hands.
If the raid was an attempt to kill the Kaiser, it failed. Nevertheless the squadron still regarded the results as good.
||Lindley and Watts carried out further bombing and reconnaissance sorties in the days following. Between the 12th and the 15th June five attempts were made to photograph one particular area but because of bad weather the task was not successfully completed until the final day. On the 16th June a photographic reconnaissance was carried out over Renaix in appalling weather, consisting of low cloud, rain and hail. Even so, 52 exposures were possible. Being over the objective for a long period and flying low, they became the targets for enemy aircraft. 2 Pfalz Scouts attacked them. Fittingly, one was driven down and Lieutenants Lindley and Watts were able to return to Ruisseauville after a flight lasting 4 hours and 15 minutes.|
On the 21st June Lieutenants Lindley and Watts had a one-hour engine and telephone test flight. Although they could not possibly have known it, this was the last time they were to fly together. Lieutenant Watts went on leave. When he returned his friend was dead.
The last bombing raid by the Squadron was carried out on the railway station at Courtrai. Thereafter it was to devote itself entirely to long-range reconnaissance. On the morning of the 29th June Lieutenant Lindley and his Observer Lieutenant Boi took off for such an objective. They were to take photographs over Bruges. They did not return. As they were probably flying alone and so far behind enemy lines no one had any news of them. They were posted as missing in action. Lieutenant Lindley's family in South Africa waited anxiously. In mid August they received news that Lieutenant Boi was alive and a prisoner of war. They were hopeful once more. It was not until the 7th September that they discovered the truth.
Whilst flying near the town of Bray, close to Bruges, the aircraft came under heavy anti-aircraft and ground fire. Lieutenant Lindley had flown in the same area the day before. His aircraft had been hit by shellfire and the undercarriage damaged, causing him to crash land on his return. On this occasion he was not so fortunate. The aircraft's elevation was shot away and it crashed. Both pilot and observer were badly wounded. Lieutenant Lindley had received 2 bullet wounds to the head. They were taken to the German Naval Hospital at Bruges. Lieutenant Lindley died soon after arrival. He was 19 years old.
Lieutenant Watts received the news of Lindley's loss when he returned to the Squadron. His log entries become low key. He did not settle again. His commanding officer took him up for a test flight. Was this to test his nerve? If it was he need not have worried. Between the 9th July and 10th August he flew with a variety of different pilots, undertaking 10 operational sorties. One can speculate that he derived a degree of grim satisfaction when, on the 16th July he recorded his shooting down of an enemy aircraft. He had settled his friend's debt.
Lieutenant Watts returned to home establishment on 11th August 1918. His total time in France with the Squadron had been 4 months and 1 week. He had flown 50 combat sorties, comprising of 156 hours and 40 minutes operational time plus nearly another 20 hours flying. The furthest he had ventured over enemy lines was 87 miles, near Charleroi. The highest altitude he had achieved was 21,500 feet. He had shot down 1 enemy aircraft and forced down 2 others. He had survived.
After spending time with the Squadron in Germany as part of the Army of Occupation he was posted back to 2nd Battalion Queens Own Cameron Highlanders on the 26th March 1920. He relinquished his temporary commission in the RAF on 13th April 1920 and retired from service on 15th June 1920, about a month before his 29th birthday.
Lieutenant Lindley was buried in the cemetery at Steenbrugge on the outskirts of Bruges. After the war he was reburied at Larch Wood (Railway Cutting) Cemetery near Ypres. It is a beautiful and peaceful place but, like so many young men, he is a long way from home.
Lieutenant Watts died on the 27th July 1976 in Birmingham. He was in his 86th year. Ironically, as he was cremated, he has no marked grave.
25 Squadron RAF still plays a full part in the defence of this country. It is now equipped with Tornado fighter-bombers, a far cry form the open cockpits and leather flying helmets of 1918.
The authors would like to acknowledge the help and information provided by Major Antony Gordon, South African Defence Force (Retired); Commander "Mac" Bissett, South African Naval Base, Simonstown; the Royal Air Force Museum; Mr William Jervois, Albany Museum, Grahamstown, South Africa; Mr Ian Webb; Mr Roy Watts; Mr Tom Tulloch-Marshall; Mr David Duffus; many members of the World War One Discussion List (whether they realised it or not!) but in particular Mr Forrest Anderson and Mr Tom Morgan.
The Flying Log of Lieutenant Archibald Roy Watts.
The Army Service Record of Lieutenant A. R. Watts.
The RAF Service Record of Lieutenant A. R. Watts.
"The Sky Their Battlefield" by Trevor Henshaw, Grub Street.
"Aircraft of the Royal Air Force since 1918" by Owen Thetford, Putnam.
" Bombers 1914-1919" Kenneth Munson, Blandford Press.
" The Squadrons of the Royal Air Force and Commonwealth 1918-1988" by James J Halley
"Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders, an Illustrated History" by Brigadier Angus Fairrie, Queen's Own Highlanders Amalgamation Trustees, 1998.
For a direct email link to the author, Email John Watts
Copyright © John Watts and Martin Soilleux-Cardwell, 11th November, 1999
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