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WATKINS, Albert Allen Flying Officer, No.440 Squadron, J26919 Distinguished Flying Cross RCAF Personnel Awards 1939-1949
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WATKINS, F/O Albert Allen (J26919) - Distinguished Flying Cross - No.440 Squadron - Award effective 20 October 1944 as per London Gazette of that date and AFRO 2637/44 dated 8 December 1944. Born 11 August 1920 in Regina (obituary notice) ; home in Aylesbury, Saskatchewan. Following high school, he apprenticed in the aviation trades at the Regina Flying Club and on enlistment described himself as an Apprentice Engineer. Enlisted in Regina, 7 July 1941 and posted to No.2 Manning Depot. To No.10 SFTS, 15 August 1941 (guard). To No.2 ITS, 13 September 1941; graduated and promoted LAC, 26 October 1941 when posted to No.19 EFTS; graduated 19 December 1941 when posted to No.2 SFTS; graduated and promoted Sergeant,10 April 1942. To Rockcliffe, 18 April 1942. To No.132 (Fighter) Squadron, 3 June 1942. To No.111 (Fighter) Squadron, 23 June 1942; served in Alaska. Promoted Flight Sergeant, 10 October 1942. Commissioned 14 March 1943. Promoted Flying Officer, 14 September 1943. To “Y” Depot, 5 January 1944. Taken on strength of No.3 PRC, 20 January 1944. Following his ordeal in the Channel (described below), he spent many months of recuperation in England. Repatriated 9 November 1944. To No.2 Training Command, 5 December 1944. To No.6 Release Centre, 10 April 1945. Released 12 April 1945. On his return from overseas, he farmed and ranched with Watkins Brothers Ltd. in Aylesbury. He also purchased a small aircraft and operated a crop spraying business in the United States and in Saskatchewan. He married Agnes Hicks (nee Forbes) in 1952. In the mid 1950s, he moved to Saskatoon, enrolled in the University of Saskatchewan and obtained his degree in Agriculture, all the while working summers as a bush pilot in northern Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories to support his wife and family. Following his graduation in 1959, he joined the Manitoba Department of Agriculture as a district Agricultural Representative and moved his family to Ashern in the interlake area. He relocated in 1964 to work with the department in Winnipeg and, in 1970, returned to the interlake as Regional Director, based in Arborg and living in Glen Bay on Lake Winnipeg. After taking early retirement from the department in 1978, he moved with his wife to Victoria, but subsequently returned to extension work as Agricultural Representative in Quesnel and Vanderhoof in the British Columbia interior, until his full retirement in 1985. He later relocated with Pat to Qualicum Beach in 1997. Died at Qualicum Beach, 18 March 2010. Award presented 19 July 1945. Photo PL-34154 is a portrait. RCAF photo PL-29004 (ex UK-8679 dated 18 March 1944) also shows him, but caption gives date of birth as 11 August 1921 and states that he was educated in Moose Jaw and Aylsbury. // This officer has displayed courage, endurance and devotion to duty of the highest order. // NOTE: Public Record Office Air 2/9160 has original recommendation (for a Mention in Despatches) drafted by S/L WH. Pentland (no date) when he had flown 14 sorties (15 hours 40 minutes). // On May 22, 1944, Flying Officer Watkins was part of a formation acting as anti-flak fighters for a Radar Station Ramrod at Arromanches. Due to his Commanding Officer having trouble with his aircraft, Flying Officer Watkins led the squadron down in the dive on the target and pressed home his attack on a giant Wuerzburg in the face of intense anti-aircraft fire. He later claimed extensive damage to the Wuerzburg as a direct result of his cannon fire. // Just before pulling out of the dive he has hit by flak in the port wing petrol tank, and his port wing also suffered extensive damage. His aircraft was almost uncontrollable, and flames were appearing from the petrol tank. He managed to pull up to 1,200 feet and at 2130 hours baled out approximately five miles off the French coast. He came down into the water safely and climbed into his dinghy. Due to the lateness of the hour search patrols could not locate him, and in the early morning they failed also. Four days later (on the evening of the 26th) he had drifted eastwards and was 200 yards off the coast near le Havre. He considered paddling in to shore due to the fact that he was becoming very weak and his thirst was intolerable. He was determined not to be taken prisoner and deliberately chose the risk of death on the chance that he might still be picked up. // On the evening of the 27th his thirst had become so bad that he couldn’t held having several mouthfuls of sea water. At 1030 hours on the 28th he was picked by ASR [Air Sea Rescue] and was taken in a semi-conscious condition to the hospital at Shoreham. Here he was questioned by the Medical Officers as to what squadron he was a member of, who his Commanding Officer was, and as to where he was stationed. Flying Officer Watkins refused to divulge any information other than his name, rank and number since he thought he was in enemy hands, and thus displayed great security consciousness although he was in an extremely weak physical condition. // He had spent five days and 13 hours in his dinghy and it is considered that he showed exceptional determination and devotion to duty. // On 24 July 1944 a Wing Commander (name illegible) wrote: // Intelligence reports state that cannon fire was responsible for most of the damage to the Wuerzburg at Arromanches. It is probable that Flying Officer Watkins was responsible for this. I consider that his feat of endurance and his determination to return to our lines set an inspiring example to his fellow pilots. // The same day, G/C Paul David further supported a Mention in Despatches. However, on 14 August 1944, Air Marshal Sir Arthur Conningham wrote, “Strongly recommended for DFC” and this was approved on 2 September 1944 by Air Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Malloy. // RCAF Press Release No. 5403 dated 29 May 1944, transcribed by Huguette Oates, reads: // His last emergency flare was the one that saved the life of F/O Albert Allen Watkins, Aylesbury, Saskatchewan, Typhoon pilot who was rescued from the Channel May 28 after drifting in his dinghy for 5 ½ days. Haggard after the ordeal, the sunburned pilot revealed this today from the hospital bed where he is regaining his strength. There were six flares to begin with and as his companions shuttled back and forth over the Channel for several days, he tried one after another, but all had been wetted when he hit the water. // One of his squadron friends, F/O Ronald W. Doidge, LaSalle, Ontario, flew within 100 feet of Watkins’ dinghy during the second day’s search, but Doidge’s Typhoon was travelling so fast that he didn’t spot the dinghy. “I stared right into his face and I felt I could grab his wingtips.” said Watkins. // The morning of the 6th day, he fitted his release ring with another flare and when a squadron appeared, he signalled despairingly. This time it worked! The flare star bloomed in the sky ahead of the rescue planes, and the whole squadron circled overhead. But Watkins was so lethargic from privation and exposure that he couldn’t believe it. “The first day in the dinghy was the worst,” he said yesterday. “It was not the emergency rations I wanted but water --- I couldn’t help thinking of cool, fresh water.” // “I was terribly depressed that they couldn’t see me and the sea was rough that night. I would look back and see the great waves coming and expecting them to come down on me, but somehow I would end up on top of them and this went on all night.” With each new day, Watkins recalled, his hopes would rise. As the days passed however, and hopes of rescue faded, he toyed with the idea of making for the enemy coast. Once he drifted so close to the shore that he could hear the almost continuous air raids warnings as Allied bombers smashed at the coast. // When he finally felt his rescuers’ hands lifting him into a Rescue Walrus --- the morning of May 28 – he was dazed and thought they might be Germans. Later, in hospital, they asked him his squadron number and Watkins flatly refused to give it, whispering only his rank, name and number. “I couldn’t trust my own mind then, -- I thought I might give away something to help the enemy,” he recalled. “Eventually, on the fourth day, foolishly and contrary to the instructions, my thirst became so sharp that I decided nothing could be worse and drank some sea-water. Luckily I was rescued before its consequences of this action took effect.” Watkins’ last words to his hospital visitors today were: “I hope to be back with the squadron in a week.”