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Cockermouth Post Article January 2010

We received an interesting email from a gentleman in Belgium called Jozef Simons who is involved with a local history group in Rosmeer. It concerned a wristwatch that belonged to a Cockermouth man (Norman Tolson McMaster), and which was found in the wreckage of a bomber plane on which Norman was a crew member. Sergeant Norman McMaster was an Air Gunner with the RAF Volunteer Reserve during WWII and his plane (a Halifax II) was shot down on 5th October 1942. He was then aged 32 and was buried at Heverlee War Cemetery in Belgium. He was the son of Robert and Esther (nee Harkness) and had three sisters (Jessie, Isobel and Esther). Norman married Kathleen Doran in 1938, and after Normanís death Kathleen remarried and became Kathleen Jones.

The purpose of the email from Belgium was to attempt to reunite the wristwatch, which bears Normanís initials on the back, with a surviving relative. From the inscribed date on the watch (1.10.1931) it appears to have been given to him on his 21st birthday. Jozef describes how the day after the crash German soldiers arrived in trucks at the field where four downed planes were lying. Their intention was to take away the plane engines in the trucks and to this end local men from Rosmeer were press-ganged to dig out the engines. They were, however, embedded too deeply in the ground to retrieve. It was during this operation that a man called Kristiaan Moesen found the watch and was able to hide it in his pocket.

POSTSCRIPT TO THIS ARTICLE: Several local people contacted us about this article. In addition, we were also in correspondence with relatives in Canada. There was a surviving member of the air crew who flew with Norman called Gordon Mellor. Gordon returned to Rosmeer in April 2010 with members of his family for a commemoration service which was filmed by Belgian television. After much debate about who the wristwatch should be returned to, Kristiaan Moesen decided he would prefer to take care of the watch, as he had done for the last sixty years or so.

Gloria Edwards

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