On 30th May 1949 John Oliver “Jo” Lancaster DFC made aviation history by becoming the first pilot to eject from an aircraft in an emergency situation using a Martin-Baker ejection seat – since then, Martin-Baker ejection seats have saved over 7,420 aircrew lives worldwide. To mark this momentous occasion Sir James Martin, founder of Martin-Baker, presented Jo Lancaster with a gold Rolex watch, engraved with his name and date. This was the start of an intriguing story spanning over six decades and covering thousands of miles.
Sadly, the watch was stolen in 1975, unbeknown to Martin-Baker. Discovered in New York last year, the watch was purchased again by the Martin family. Over the years, Martin-Baker and Jo Lancaster had lost contact, but following a chance email from a group of air cadets, it was discovered that Jo was alive and well, giving talks to the cadets about his experiences during the war, particularly his ‘ops’ with Bomber Command and his famous ejection in 1949.
As far as the Martin family were concerned, it was clear that the watch had to be returned to its rightful owner and, for the second time, the watch was presented to Jo, this time by Sir James Martin’s twin sons and Joint Managing Directors, John and James – 64 years after it was presented for the first time.
As a former Bomber Command pilot, Jo Lancaster’s wish is for the watch to be used to raise money towards the upkeep of the RAF Benevolent Fund’s Bomber Command Memorial in Green Park, London. So, on Jo’s behalf, Martin-Baker has purchased the watch for the third time.
“This is such a remarkable story, involving a truly remarkable man”, said Andrew Martin, Grandson of Sir James Martin. “When Jo asked us to use the watch to raise funds for the memorial upkeep, we instantly decided to ‘buy’ it for the third time and donate the sum of £5,000 to the RAF Benevolent Fund on his behalf,” he said.
Today the watch is displayed proudly in the Martin-Baker museum, together with the original letter from Sir James Martin to Jo Lancaster.
On receiving the cheque from Andrew Martin, Jon Heard, from the RAF Benevolent Fund said: “Since taking over the guardianship of the Memorial we’ve come across some incredible stories and acts of generosity. We are absolutely delighted that Jo has generously donated the elusive Rolex towards the upkeep of the Memorial, honouring the young men of Bomber Command who lost their lives during the Second World War.”
As the guardian of the Bomber Command Memorial, the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund is committed to preserving the Memorial for future generations, so that the noble sacrifice of the young men who lost their lives while serving in Bomber Command will always be remembered.
The Memorial, unveiled last June by Her Majesty The Queen, commemorates the 55,573 young men who lost their lives while serving in Bomber Command during the Second World War.
The presentation took place at Princess Marina House, the RAF Benevolent Fund’s Welfare break home on the seafront in Rustington, West Sussex. Picture above (L-R): Paul Hewson (RAFBF), Jo Lancaster, Andrew Martin (Martin-Baker).