Second World War Rolex watch found during battle featured in film A Bridge Too Far going under the hammer
A rare and historic Second World War watch is set to go under the hammer this month, with auctioneers calling it one of the most fascinating timepieces they have ever seen.
The Rolex Panerai Military Diver watch, which is estimated to fetch £30,000 to £40,000, came into the possession of British soldier George H Rowson during an attempt by German forces to destroy the Nijmegen Bridge in the Netherlands in September 1944.
The aim of the battle – featured in the film A Bridge Too Far – was for the Allies to secure the bridge in order to gain quick access to the Dutch city of Arnhem, and subsequently, as part of a wider initiative known as Operation Market Garden, attempt to liberate the cities of Eindhoven and Nijmegen from German occupation.
Mr Rowson, who has links to the Midlands – having lived in Coventry – hand wrote a letter after the incident.
He recounted: “German frogmen towed the charges down the Rhine to Nijmegen Bridge and fixed them underwater to the main supports.
“Unfortunately for them, they came out of the river too soon thinking they were back in their own lines again. I was the sergeant along with my section who captured them and took them prisoner.
“They were wearing these rubber suits and also each had a watch on one wrist and a compass on the other. These men had special training in Italy and the suits were made in Italy.
“The charges they had placed were defused and so Nijmegen bridge remained undamaged.”
A piece of one of the German’s rubber dive suit comes with the timepiece at auction, along with the hand-written account of the event by Mr Rowson.
The watch also has a hand-carved inscription on the reverse detailing Mr Rowson’s full name, rank and the year the piece was acquired in 1944.
Originally, this model of Rolex Panerai watch was actually intended for the Italian Decima MAS until they were taken by the Germans. It was then acquired by Mr Rowson.
Having only been worn a few times, it was eventually passed down from the British soldier to his son, who lives in Nuneaton, and has remained in their family ever since.
Now, it is moving on to a new family and will be up for auction on Tuesday, January 30, at Fellows Auctioneers in Birmingham as part of their January sale.
It is also available to view at the Jewellery Quarter auctioneers on January 27 from 11am to 4pm and January 29 from 10am to 4pm.
In the past, watches at Fellows have gone under the hammer at exceptionally high prices, most notably a Rolex Milgauss which sold for £110,000 in November last year. Organisers believe the Panerai is to be no exception.
Alexandra Whittaker, from Fellows, said: “We are delighted to be selling this watch. We’ve had a lot of interest already and we still have the official viewings to come.
"This watch is particularly interesting because of its provenance and how Rowson came to acquire it.”
All lots can be viewed online at www.fellows.co.uk