Tick-tock, it’s almost the end of the year! As a practical gift for this time of the year, this month’s blog takes a look at some of the watches in the museum collection which belonged to different soldiers in The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. Turn back time with us and read on to find some incredible stories connected to these watches.
The above civilian pocket watch was owned by Corporal Robert Watson, 1st Battalion Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders – and it saved his life in Salonica on the 30th of September 1916. It was damaged by a bullet that went through his left arm and was heading for his heart but instead hit the watch in his chest pocket, deflecting the bullet and thus saving Watson’s life.
The below pocket watch is a 1939-1945 general issue Jaeger-Le Coultre. The watch hands and numerals are coated in radium paint to make them luminous which is now known to have been incredibly dangerous. Using radium paint made the watch hands and numbers glow which was useful for soldiers in the trenches as it allowed them to check the time in the dark without using a light that could attract enemy attention.
The watches were made in factories and hundreds of women were hired to paint the face dials with the radioactive material. Unaware of the dangers of the paint, the women would place the brush tip on their lips to create a fine point when working on small watches. Since the women were constantly exposed to the radium dust around the factories, their clothes, hair, and skin would glow, and they quickly become known as ‘ghost girls’. Since the women were assured that there was nothing to worry about, they would sometimes wear their best dresses to work so that the fabric would shine and glow when they went dancing in the evening and some would even paint their teeth to have radiant smiles!
However, since radium is incredibly dangerous, it didn’t take long before the women began to experience the consequences of their exposure which caused severe pain and unfortunately many died. The connection between the illnesses of the ‘Radium Girls’ and their work in factories made national news and eventually led to better health and safety reforms for workers. In the 1970s, tritium replaced the radium paint and eventually made room for the non-toxic strontium aluminate in the mid-1990s.
The above watch is a Kriegsmarine wristwatch from World War Two. The Kriegsmarine was the German navy from 1935 to 1945 and the ‘K.M.’ on the watch face is short for Kriegsmarine. These watches tended to be light in colour as opposed to black which was often used for watches used by other German military forces. The hands and hour dots are also coated in radium paint to make them luminous.
The above image is of a Tudor Watch Company Ltd wristwatch from the 1930s which belonged to Major (Pipe Major) Eric Thomas Moss, 2nd Battalion Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. Tudor watch Company is a sister company to Rolex, and this is another example of a watch that was coated in radium paint. Major Moss was captured in the Far East and taken as a prisoner of war in Japan. Moss was beaten by the Japanese guards when he refused to tell them where he had hidden the watch and he managed to keep it concealed for the duration of his captivity.
The final watch in this blog post is the presentation watch awarded to Private Flemming Donaldson, 7th (Stirlingshire) Battalion. The watch was given by the people of Kilsyth in 1918 in recognition of Fleming’s award of the Military Medal which he received for carrying important despatches under heavy enemy fire in 1917. It was common for communities to honour their own local heroes!
Written by Caitlin Stewart, Digital Content Volunteer