The allure of horology often lies in the tales that timepieces carry, their battle scars etching a captivating narrative into history. A recent encounter with a young Australian enthusiast, Oliver Mann, unveiled a World War II Rolex watch that bore witness to one of the war’s most pivotal battles.
At the tender age of 13, Oliver embarked on his journey into the world of watches, using a small fund his father had saved for him to purchase a box of vintage timepieces in Queensland, Australia. Among the collection were vintage Omega and JLC watches.
His first brand-new watch, a Seiko SKX007, was later traded for a non-functional Omega pocket watch, a decision he now regrets. Now a history major at university, Oliver has intertwined his love for vintage watches with his passion for history. This year, his two passions converged when he stumbled upon a Gumtree advertisement for a non-working Rolex watch, which was claimed to have belonged to one of the ‘Rats of Tobruk’.
Rats of Tobruk
The ‘Rats of Tobruk‘ were soldiers of the Australian-led Allied garrison who defended the Libyan port of Tobruk against Nazi Germany’s Afrika Korps during the Siege of Tobruk in World War II. This significant military engagement in Australian history suggested that the watch, if authentic, could be a tangible artifact from a crucial historical event.
The watch had been dormant in a shed, nestled inside a box since the late 1940s. Oliver purchased the entire contents of the box, which included old tools, magnifying glasses, and other items deemed as junk by most.
The watch turned out to be genuine, as the original owner was listed on the ‘Rats of Tobruk’ registry, making him a bona fide Australian hero. The only clue Oliver had was an inscription on the back of the watch: “Sgt. E.N. Prince 21.10.40.” Treating the watch as a historical artifact, he delved into the Australian archives. His research revealed that the watch had been present in battles against the renowned German general Erwin Rommel. The original owner, Sergeant Eric Prince of the 2/3rd Anti-Tank Regiment, was a decorated soldier.
The date inscribed on the watch corresponded with Sergeant Prince’s return from NCO training in Narellan, an Australian town, suggesting that the watch was either a gift or a commemoration of his promotion to Sergeant.
Historical records revealed an image of Sergeant Prince, who, along with his watch, participated in the battle of Tobruk and both battles of El Alamein. He was wounded during these battles and later transferred to Papua New Guinea, where he was involved in heavy fighting against the Japanese in Buna and Port Moresby.
Sergeant Prince was awarded nine medals, including the Long Service Medal, the Efficiency Medal, the Defence Medal, the 1941 Tobruk Siege Medal, the War Medal 1939–1945, the Service Medal 1939–1945, the 1939-1945 Star, the Africa Star, and the Pacific Star.
A photo from the war memorial even showed him in combat with the watch on his wrist. Remarkably, Oliver discovered an image on Wikipedia of Sergeant Prince and his watch in action, firing an anti-tank gun in North Africa. The watch, strapped to his wrist with its original leather cover strap, bore witness to the bravery of Sergeant Prince, who volunteered for the highly dangerous 71st Light Infantry Detachment and was wounded twice.
World War II Rolex Watch – Location
This World War II Rolex, lost and then found, is now in the hands of a young enthusiast who appreciates its historical significance. Oliver remains uncertain about the watch’s future, but he is delighted to have unearthed its true story. This tale serves as a reminder of the fascinating narratives that vintage timepieces can tell, if only we take the time to listen.
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