It’s not unusual for a watch to have a backstory, tales of exploration can provide the perfect context for timepieces with a certain look and feel.
Few are better timed, however, than the P2725 TM-B watch from British watchmaker Christopher Ward. With its launch coinciding with the centenary of the Royal Air Force (in 2018), the watch features a fragment from one of the aircraft that took part in the Battle of Britain in 1940. It’s not just any aeroplane, either.
P2725 was the serial number of a Hawker Hurricane that bore the squadron recognition letters TM-B (hence the watch’s title). On 15 September 1940 the aircraft was on patrol in the skies above London, with sergeant Raymond Holmes at its controls.
Holmes was a pilot with 504 Squadron, based at Hendon in the city’s northern suburbs. At around midday he noticed a damaged German Dornier bomber heading slowly over Westminster in the general direction of Buckingham Palace.
He would later recall: ‘I made my attack on this bomber and he spurted out a lot of oil, just a great stream over my aeroplane, blotting out my windscreen. Then, as the windscreen cleared, I suddenly found myself going straight into his tail. So I stuck my nose forward and went under him, practically grazing my head on his belly.’
The two aircraft had made contact and, both badly damaged, crashed close to Victoria station. Holmes parachuted to safety, sliding down a roof and coming to rest among an array of bins, from which he was rescued by two passing schoolgirls.
He would later fly reconnaissance missions over France, become a flying instructor in Russia, survive the war and have a civilian career as a journalist.
Hero of the hour
The propaganda machine of 1940 made much of his heroic efforts. Newspaper headlines told about how the bomber had been about to attack the palace and that the Hurricane had purposefully rammed it. Holmes was briefly a national hero. In the chaos of the London Blitz, some of his aircraft was left where it fell, covered with rubble and forgotten.
Until 2004, that is, when photographer and cameraman Christopher Bennett led an archeological dig to unearth the wreckage.
The National Geographic Channel would later make a documentary on the project entitled, The Search for the Lost Fighter Plane.
Bennett explains: ‘After the two planes collided, the Hurricane came down very steeply where Buckingham Palace Road meets Ebury Bridge and the impact smashed the heavy Merlin engine right into the ground, taking out a water main and a sewer.
‘We believed most of the lighter stuff was removed in 1940, but our hope was that they’d left the engine and other parts of the plane down there and simply filled in the hole above.’
Bennett and his team were right, after digging through several feet of clay they hit something large and metal. ‘We recovered perhaps a third of the aluminium Merlin, much of it still well preserved in its oil, as well as various cockpit instruments, including the pilot’s control stick.’
The most important items went on display at the Imperial War Museum and then at the RAF Museum in Hendon – where the plane had taken off on its last mission – but Bennett kept around 20kg of the more broken material himself, making some into ingots that would later provide the metal for the Christopher Ward P2725 TM-B watch.
Following the excavations Bennett founded a company called TMB Art Metal, named after the aircraft and a business that coincidentally was based close to the crash site. It produces limited edition, luxury items representing iconic cars and planes, each incorporating metal from an original.
Tribute to the few
‘When Christopher Ward asked me if I had anything that might be suitable to celebrate a century of the RAF it was hard to look past this particular Hurricane,’ Bennett says. ‘As our most plentiful fighter during the Battle of Britain it’s arguably the RAF’s most important plane – and this example has just such a great story attached.’
The watch itself features a face design that pays homage to the instruments in a Hawker Hurricane cockpit, with the metal from the aircraft forming the back of the case. The latter features a map of central London, with the crash site picked out as a red dot.
Each watch also comes with quick-release straps, echoing the parachute harness of a Battle of Britain pilot, one in vintage-style leather, the other in khaki canvas – a similar material to that that formed the outer skin of the Hurricane.
To watch documentary The Search for the Lost Fighter Plane, click here.