Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Mail bag

Hi Nick,

A little while ago you wrote an article about losing a Rolex watch; always a painful experience. I thought I'd tell you about the Rolex my father had for a number of years until it was lost (well, stolen is probably more accurate).

My father enlisted in the Australian army (2/5th Field Regiment) in 1940. Just prior to sailing off to the Middle East on the Queen Mary, his mother gave him a Rolex watch. I'm not sure of the model but I believe it was a gold Rolex. Having an accurate timepiece was very helpful during the war (not much point having an attack commence at 0500 if your watch is running slow!) and my grandmother thought it would not only assist him but it would be a bond with his mother whilst he was on active service.

My grandmother was not a rich woman and the Rolex had been a very large investment for her. Accordingly my father took great care of it and was also very attached to it.

Posted to Syria as a forward observation officer in the artillery (25 pounders), my father was soon heavily involved in fighting the French Foreign Legion who were aligned with the Vichy government. As a forward observation officer, my father had to be at the front line and sometimes he had to advance past the line so he could spot for the artillery.

At Merdjayoun on the 19 June 1941 the Australian infantry attack was checked after suffering heavy casualties from an enemy counter attack with tanks. Enemy machine gun fire swept the ground but my father with another artillery officer and a small party pushed on ahead of the infantry and established an outpost in a house. The telephone line was cut and he went out and mended this line under machine gun fire and returned to the house, from which enemy posts and a battery were successfully engaged.

The enemy then attacked this outpost with infantry and tanks, killing the Bren gunner and mortally wounding the other officer. My father and another manned the anti-tank rifle and Bren gun and fought back driving the enemy infantry away. The tanks continued the attack, but under constant fire from the anti-tank rifle and Bren gun eventually withdrew. My father then personally supervised the evacuation of the wounded members of his party.

What is not mentioned in this description (which is paraphrased from my father's citation) is that when the enemy attacked the hut, my father had taken his Rolex off (I suspect he didn't want to have it scratched during the attack) and that when he retreated (carrying a mortally wounded officer on his back) he forget to take the Rolex with him. When he got back to the front line he realised he'd left his watch behind!

What happened next was an example of my father's determination and courage; he went back and got it! Not a simple task as this entailed crossing the front line once again and crawling around enemy positions in the twilight. But he got his watch back! For the remainder of his war service the watch remained firmly on his wrist.

The watch was later replaced as his day to day watch in the late 1950s by a gold Omega constellation. In 1966 my father moved from the Netherlands back to Australia and all our possessions were shipped out. The Rolex was put in a suitcase and taken as excess baggage. The very sad thing is that the suitcase vanished en route to Sydney (I suspect it was stolen) and much to my father's great regret the Rolex was never seen again! For your information, my father was Roden Cutler.

Much is known about him but I doubt very few people know about the watch incident!

Mark Cutler

Dear Mark,

Thank you kindly for sharing such an exciting story. For all of us who are 'adopted Australians' and fellow overseas subscribers, I recommend further research on the exciting life of your dad.

Sir Roden Cutler, VC, AK, KCMG, KCVO, CBE (24 May 1916 – 22 February 2002) was an Australian diplomat, the longest serving Governor of New South Wales and a recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest award for gallantry "in the face of the enemy" that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth armed forces.

If Sir Roden was still around, I am sure two of us will be on the next plane to Geneva to serve our Letter of Demand :-)

The most amazing detail to me (apart form the fact that he battled a shark to save a swimmer at Manly beach) is that he was the Australian High Commissioner to New Zealand at the age of 29!

Beat that!


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