Editor’s Note: Few heirlooms have the emotional potency of a watch. They’re objects that accompanied their owners throughout their lives, and bore silent witness to their trials and tribulations. This is especially the case with watches worn by men and women who served, which goes a long way to explaining our fascination with military timepieces. Today Australia and New Zealand commemorate Anzac Day, where we remember those who served and died during war, armed conflict and peacekeeping missions, so we’re sharing a story from last year about an old watch with a story to tell.
At first glance this rusty old Cyma doesn’t look like much, but it’s now one of Rhonda Marchant of Gloucester New South Wales’ most treasured possessions. 72 years ago this watch was on the wrist of Rhonda’s uncle, pilot officer Sergeant Ronald Cecil Martin, as he was flying in an RAAF Lancaster bomber over south-west Germany when he was shot down.
Martin was declared MIA, presumed dead. In 2013 the crash site was uncovered, along with Martin’s monogrammed watch in late-2015. Yesterday the watch made its journey home and was presented to Rhonda Marchant on Anzac-day eve. Anzac Day (Anzac being an acronym for ‘Australian and New Zealand Army Corps 1914-1918’) is a national day of remembrance in Australia and New Zealand that broadly commemorates all Australians and New Zealanders “who served and died in all wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping operations” and “the contribution and suffering of all those who have served.”
Though she “never knew much” about her uncle, according to an interview in the Sydney Morning Herald, Rhonda is actually named after him. “My parents had two daughters before they had me, and assumed I would be a boy after having two girls already, so they decided to name me Ronald Max, after my uncle and my father.” But when she was born a girl, her parents decided to be kind and settled on the name Rhonda Maxine.
“I expected the watch to be posted to me, but it seemed more fitting to receive it the day before Anzac Day at the wreath-laying ceremony of 460 Squadron RAAF in Sydney,” Mrs Merchant said in the SMH story. “It’s given us a really different take on Anzac Day. I have such high respect for the people who have gone to the trouble of researching this and have gone to every length to find me and my family and present the watch to me.”
Lest we forget.
With thanks to Nick Kavvalos for screen-shotting a television report and bringing the story to our attention.