Wrist watch: Pilot Officer Frederick Stephen William Dyer, 233 Squadron RAF

Place Europe: Netherlands, Gelderland, Arnhem
Accession Number REL45370
Collection type Heraldry
Object type Personal Equipment
Physical description Glass, Nylon, Stainless steel
Maker Omega SA
Place made Switzerland
Date made c 1940s
Conflict Second World War, 1939-1945
Source credit to This item has been digitised with funding provided by Commonwealth Government.

British Air Ministry navigator's issue men's Omega wrist watch. The watch has a red and black striped nylon woven wrist strap. The glass face is scratched, slightly obscuring the underlying cream coloured dial. Engraved on the back of the watch is 'A.M 6B/159 A 4763'.

History / Summary

Frederick Stephen William (Fred) Dyer was born on 1 August 1921 at Adelaide and was an apprentice sheet metal worker at W J Rawling (a tinsmith and iron monger business) when he enlisted in the RAAF on 18 July 1942 under service number 417820. He received basic training at schools in Australia (mainly in South Australia) and rose to the rank of temporary sergeant before embarking for further training in Canada as part of the Empire Air Training Scheme. Just before his departure from Brisbane he married Martha, who settled in Ethelton where his parents also lived.

Arriving in Canada in May 1943, he was attached to the Royal Canadian Air Force and continued his training, advancing from Avro Ansons to Lockheed Hudsons before converting to Douglas DC3 Dakotas with 31 Operation Training Unit (OTU). He completed his Canadian training in November 1943, graduating as a navigator with the rank of flight sergeant, and transferred to England where he continued his training at 107 OTU. He was eventually assigned to 233 Squadron (RAF Transport Command) in late June 1944, with the rank of pilot officer. Based at Blakehill Farm, Wiltshire, 233 Squadron had operated on D-Day, towing gliders and carrying troops from the 3rd Parachute Brigade; they also flew over twenty resupply flights later that day. Pilot Officer Dyer was one of a number of replacements for crews who were casualties on D-day and the days following.

The squadron was used for casualty evacuation from the beachhead, before flying 37 sorties on the first two days of the Battle of Arnhem and 35 supply missions. The Battle of Arnhem started on 17 September; on 21 September, the only Australian in a supply flight in Dakota KG-399 to drop oil and mortar bombs in front of the Hartenstein Hotel at Oosterbeek, Dyer’s plane was first hit by flak over the drop zone (but only received light damage) and then strafed by a Focke-Wulf 190 on its return. This started a fire which took hold with the "port wing on fire and fuselage" (quotes taken from his Evader Report on his Service Record). Dyer and wireless operator Flight Sergeant Jack Hickey "baled out at approx 800 ft. A/C was in control at time of baling out. Landed in clearing in forest and after being fired on, ran until got to a Dutch farm house". The Dakota crashed 3.5 kilometres from Hooge Mierde, and about 110 kilometres to the south west of Oosterbeek and very close to the Belgian border.

Dyer elaborated on his story years later: "One shot came though the cabin just in front of Mike’s feet and out through the top of the cabin." The Dakota was carrying four army personnel to push the load out as well – although he didn’t see them, they jumped after him, but were captured. By this time "the forward part of the fuselage had been enveloped in flame … the pilots were trapped and died of burns near the crash."

After they Dyer and Hickey landed, "we heard rifle shots … and heard a couple of hits in the trees near us, but after about an hour things quietened down, and we hid in some thick undergrowth to work out a plan." The men decided to put themselves at the mercy of a Dutch family called Valckx who occupied a large farm nearby. The family (with eleven children) hid them in their barn, fed them ("a meal of bacon and eggs") and clothed them – Dyer noted that "as I had been working in my shirt-sleeves, my jacket was left in the aircraft, so the eldest daughter gave me a pair of old overalls and a red woollen scarf". As the family had no English, Henricus 'Harrie' Aloijsius Verspaandonk, the 30 year old municipal council secretary at nearby Lage-Mierde, and the only English speaker in the district, visited the farm to translate. The men hid in the barn or in the woods in the daytime and slept a lot for the first two days. Altogether they spent twelve days hidden, by which time it became obvious the Allied advance from Normandy had stalled.

Overhead the resupply operations to Arnhem continued - "night and day the air was almost unceasingly humming with aircraft engines (all Allied)… During our last four days …we heard artillery firing and shells bursting to the east, north and south, the nearest was about a mile away". On October 3 they decided to walk to British lines, accompanied by two Dutch guides – "we had only got as far as the village when we saw an armoured car patrol from the Welsh Division... we rode back with them to Reusal, 8 kilometres to the east, where heavy fighting had been in progress for the last four days. We were stupefied when we heard that Arnhem was evacuated." The next day they were in Brussels; two days later they were back in England.

When Fred Dyer was reported missing by the RAAF, his parents were informed, but not his wife Martha, who was told by his father (they lived two minutes’ walk from each other). It would be another seventeen days before they found out he was safe, on 9 October.

Dyer was promoted to flying officer just prior to returning to Australia in December of 1944; he transferred to the Reserve and was discharged from the RAAF on 15 August 1945. Fred Dyer kept in touch with the Valckx and Verspaandonk families for the rest of his life, exchanging letters and Christmas cards. Fred and Martha, and their young son Stephen visited in the 1960s, while Fred and Martha visited again in the 1980s while touring Europe in a campervan. The story of Fred Dyer and Jack Hickey's evasion and escape, with the assistance of their Dutch friends, is told in the Museum 'de Bewogen Jaren 1939-1950, a small wartime museum at Hooge-Mierede

This watch was issued to Dyer as a navigator attached to the RAF and is a standard Air Ministry navigator's issue Omega.