The Pocket Watch

By Sopwith

Disclaimer: I do not own, or claim to own, any of the Biggles series characters used in this work. This fan fiction was written for entertainment purposes only and should not be considered part of the official storyline.

Biggles got out of bed, donned his dressing gown, walked out of his room, and found Algy sitting at his dining table munching on a slice of toast whilst one-handedly reading the morning paper. This was such a common occurrence by now that Biggles merely nodded a greeting as he took his customary place and had his first cup of tea.

Thus fortified, he was then able to turn his attention to other matters. “Anything interesting in the paper?” he inquired.

Algy grunted. “Nothing to speak of. I’d have thought you’d be more interested in that package of yours anyway.”

“What package?” Biggles glanced around the table and for the first time noticed the small brown paper package by his plate, perched precariously on a small pile of letters and bills. “What’s this?”

Algy shrugged. “It was here when I arrived. Mrs Symes must have brought it up.”

Biggles picked up the package in one hand and weighed it tentatively. “It’s quite heavy,” he remarked. “A promising start.”

Algy grinned. “Perhaps it’s a paperweight.”

“There isn’t a return address.”

“No, but there’s a French stamp, which makes it interesting.”

Biggles raised his eyebrows. “Done some Sherlock work with my mail, have you?”

“Not as such. It was rather hard to miss, seeing as how I’ve been staring it for the past ten minutes or so while I waited for you to wake up. Aren’t you going to open it?”

“I thought I’d try to guess what was in it first.”

“In which case we’re likely to be here all day.”

Biggles glared at him. “Don’t try to be smart; it doesn’t suit you.”

Algy grinned, unruffled by Biggles’ bad temper. “Sorry.”

Biggles took up the letter opener and carefully slit the paper on the package. Exercising the same care, he peeled the paper away from a small white box, and then, with irritating caution, he folded the paper packaging and put it back neatly on the pile of letters and bills before turning his attention to the box.

He opened the box and peered inside. His eyebrows went up.

“What is it?” asked Algy, who had been observing the little scene with mounting impatience for the past two or three minutes.

In answer, Biggles tipped the contents of the box out onto the table. It was a gold pocket watch inside a beautifully engraven watch case encrusted with sparkling jewels.

Algy whistled. “That’s set someone back a few quid,” he remarked.

Biggles took out the watch and examined it, frowning, before putting it back on the table and looking again into the box that had housed it. “There doesn’t seem to be a note,” he said, puzzled.

“Who’d spend that much money on you and not even bother to tell you?” asked Algy, incredulously. “Are you sure it’s for you?” he added, suspiciously. “Maybe it’s for the daughter of that banker chap who lives upstairs.”

“Who on earth would send a pocket watch to someone they were seeing?” asked Biggles. “Surely chocolate and flowers are better gifts for that purpose.”

Algy grinned. “I bow to your superior knowledge of such matters.”

“Oh, shut up, Algy. Anyway, it’s not even a new watch. Look.” He turned the watch over so that his friend could see the small letters carved into the back. “Can you make that out?”

Algy picked up the watch and squinted at it. “Sulanders—I expect that’s the maker’s name. And underneath that, 1880, T, or it could be a J, Hollingsdale.”

“Hollingsdale! Are you sure?”

“Yes. I think so. Why? Do you know anyone of that name?”

“I used to, ages ago. There was a chap named Hollingsdale in 266, before your time. He was posted to another squadron a few weeks before you arrived, and then they sent him off to the Middle East. I don’t think you ever met him. Nice chap. I always wondered what happened to him.”

“Did his name begin with a T or a J?”

“No. I think it was Royce. We called him Rory. In any case, he wouldn’t even have been born in 1880. He was a just few months younger than me.”

“Sounds like a wash-out then.”

“Yes.” Biggles thoughtfully drank some more tea as Algy continued to examine the watch.

“It’s quite good quality. Worth several thousand pounds, at a guess. Look at that craftsmanship! This would have been worth a small fortune even back in those days.”

“Have you ever heard of a watchmaker called Sulanders?”

“No, but Father might. I’ll ask him if you like.”

“Yes…” Biggles sipped some more tea and then lit a cigarette. “Yes, that doesn’t sound like a bad idea.”

“I should have known you’d get a rush of blood to the head,” sneered Algy. “All right, all right, you needn’t look at me like that. I’m just as curious as you are. I’ll have a word with Father.”

Biggles turned the watch over and over in his hands. “Yes. You should talk to them. In the meantime, I think I might do some investigating on my own,” he said softly.


It was several days later that Biggles emerged from his room to find Algy once again seated at his table. “I’ve found out about Sulanders,” he said, without even waiting for Biggles to sit down.

“I gathered as much from your expression,” commented Biggles, helping himself to toast. “Did your parents tell you anything interesting?”

“Sulanders is in London. I’ve got the address. I thought we could take the watch to them and see what they can tell us.”

“What sort of idea is that?” demanded Biggles. “They’ll want to know why we want to know. What are we supposed to tell them?”

“What about the truth?”

“You’re joking.”

“I’m perfectly serious. It’s as good a story as any.”

“I like your naivete! They’d be well within their rights to show us the door and wish us a good morning. That sort of establishment is known for that sort of thing, I believe. We’d be lucky if they agree to speak to us at all.”

“Then it’s a good thing I have Father to use as a reference,” replied Algy lightly. “His name should get us a foot in the door. Anyway, did you find anything out on your end?”

“I spoke to a few chaps at the aero club. After Rory Hollingsdale left 266 he was posted to another squadron in France and later was sent to Palestine. By all accounts he died out there, most likely around the time we were there. Odd to think we might have crossed paths and never even known it.”

“So he’s dead?”

“It looks that way. There doesn’t seem to be an official record of it, but that doesn’t surprise me. You know what a mess things were out there at that time.”

“So he could be alive then?”

Biggles shrugged. “Your guess is as good as mine. Of course, it could be that this watch has nothing to do with him at all, and that the name Hollingsdale is only a coincidence. But even if Rory was alive, I don’t see why he would send me a watch out of the blue without any sort of message attached.”

“Perhaps it’s a cry for help.”

“Well, it’s going to be jolly hard for me to give him any help when I don’t know what he needs help with. It would be helpful if we knew where the package came from. I’ve a friend at the post office who’s trying to trace the postmark, but that’s a long shot at best.”

“Looks as though we might as well try Sulanders, then.”

Biggles sipped his tea and grimaced. “Oh, all right,” he said finally. “Let’s go.”


Biggles’ fears of their unwelcome reception at Sulanders turned out to be unfounded. This, it must be said, was partially due to Algy’s liberal use of his family name. The younger Mr Sulanders, the current owner of the establishment, was inclined to be stand-offish, but the elder Mr Sulanders was accommodating and more than happy to look at the watch, although he had a tendency to ramble.

“Ah, yes,” he said, examining the watch through a magnifying glass. “Thomas Hollingsdale. He was an Honorable, you know. Related to the King.”

“Indeed?” said Algy, politely refraining from mentioning his own title.

“Yes. I remember this watch, his wife had it made for his birthday, I seem to recall. One of a pair. Wonderful lady, Mrs Hollingsdale. She died shortly afterwards, you know. Broke his heart, poor man.”

“Do you happen to know if Thomas Hollingsdale had any sons?” asked Biggles.

“Oh, yes. Two sons, I think. But both of them died in the war. Poor man. One of them died in France. It was the younger one, I think. The other one I hear died somewhere out in the deserts of the Middle East.”

Biggles and Algy exchanged a look. “The Middle East?” said Biggles, in a non-committal tone.

“Yes. It was in the War, you know. Very sad.”

“Did they have any other relatives?”

“I don’t think so, no.”

Biggles and Algy stayed for a few minutes more talking to the old man, but it was clear that he did not have any more information than that he had already volunteered.

“Well, we didn’t learn much,” remarked Algy, as they left the shop.

“No. Well, it does seem more and more likely that this watch once belonged to Rory. Other than that, you’re right, we didn’t really learn much.”

“Even if the watch did belong to him, why on earth would he, or anyone else, give it to you? Were you particularly close?”

Biggles shrugged as he lit a cigarette. “I suppose we were. He was one of the first boys in C Flight when I took it over, and I more or less taught him how to fly. We used to have a drink or two when he was still stationed in France, but we lost touch after he was posted away.”

“Either way, it seems odd. The war’s been over for a year, and by all accounts your friend Rory’s been dead for almost two.”

Biggles exhaled smoke thoughtfully. “We’ve hit a dead end with all our leads, so I don’t suppose we’ll ever know.”


A week later, Algy walked into Biggles’ flat for breakfast and was surprised to find him up and dressed. “You’re up early.”

Biggles donned his jacket. “Are you doing anything today?”

“Nothing in particular. Where are you going?”

“I’m flying down to France.”

“What, for a day out?”

“Not exactly. I got a message from that friend of mine at the post office. He thinks he’s found out which post office the package came from, so I thought I’d fly over and take a look. All right, you needn’t give me that look. You don’t have to come if you don’t want to.”

Algy glared. “What a thing to say! Of course I’m coming. I’ll ring the aerodrome and have them get the plane ready.”


Inquiries at the post office proved unfruitful. Biggles questioned several of the employees, but no one remembered receiving the package, or the man who had posted it.

“That was a colossal waste of time,” Biggles commented, as they left the post office.

“Well, we always knew it was a long shot,” replied Algy. He glanced at his watch. “We’ve time for a spot of lunch before we get back. Anything take your fancy?”

“I saw a restaurant just by the aerodrome. We could have a bite there.”

The two airmen made their way back to the aerodrome and into the restaurant, a small family-run affair run by a French woman and her husband. After placing their orders, the conversation naturally turned back to the matter of the watch.

“What are you going to do with it?” asked Algy.

Biggles took out the flimsy cardboard box containing the watch and watch case and placed it on the table. “I have no idea,” he confessed. “It’s rather disappointing that we weren’t able to find out who the sender was. Perhaps we should take a closer look at the thing and see if it yields more clues.”

Algy opened the box and squinted at the watch inside. “I don’t think there’s anything more to be found, if I’m honest. Perhaps you should just put it in a safe and forget about it. That seems like the most sensible thing to do.”

The waiter, also the owner of the establishment, brought their food and placed it on their table. As he was leaving, his eye fell on the open box in Algy’s hand, and he froze in place, staring.

“Can we…help you with anything?” inquired Algy, after a minute of silent staring.

“I’m sorry,” replied the other, in English. “But…would you be Major Bigglesworth?”

“Actually, he’s Captain Lacey, and I’m Major Bigglesworth,” said Biggles. “And you are…?”

“Corporal Martins, sir, ex-RFC.”

“I see. Or rather, I don’t. Can I ask how you happen to know my name?” Biggles followed the man’s gaze towards the box containing the watch. “Or, if I might venture a guess…were you the one who sent me that watch?”

Martins nodded. “I apologize for sending it the way I did, without a message or anything, but I didn’t know what to say. It’s been rather a shaming affair, if I’m being honest.”

“Why don’t you draw up a pew and tell us all about it?” invited Biggles. “I take it you knew Rory Hollingsdale, the previous owner of this watch?” he asked, as Martins seated himself.

“Yes, sir. I was his gunner in Palestine. He was out there for about six months before we were shot down. As a matter of fact, it was the day we met you.”

“Met me?” Biggles was astonished. “I don’t remember—”

“I didn’t think you would, sir. We only saw you in passing. You were flying Camels in those days, weren’t you?”

“I never flew—” It was on the tip of Biggles’ tongue to retort that he hadn’t even been in the RFC during that period of his life, but then a sudden thought struck him and he broke off, frowning. He exchanged a quick glance with Algy. “Actually,” he said slowly. “There was a day I was out there flying a Camel. I went up against a—”

“Pfalz DIII.”

“Yes! So…just a minute…that means…”

“We waved a hullo as we passed by, d’you remember? We were in a BE. Ancient machine for those times, but it was the only thing going, and Rory never complained.”

A flash of memory stirred in Biggles’ mind. “I do remember!” he cried. “You tried to help me and I nearly took your wing off.”

“That you did, sir. Gave old Rory the shock of his life, but it made him see sense and head for home, which was the right thing to do. I gave him a good dressing-down when we came in. Don’t know what he was thinking, trying to go up against a Pfalz in a BE, and an old bus at that. That was when he told me he knew you, said you taught him how to fly, back in France when he first joined up.”

“That’s right, I did.” Biggles mulled over his own thoughts for a minute. “I can’t believe he recognized me after all that time. I didn’t recognize him at all. But well, I had other matters on my mind at the time.”

“But you said you got back,” broke in Algy impatiently. “So what happened afterwards?”

“Well, sir, it was the usual story, I’m afraid. We went out for another patrol and got shot down. Never saw the blighter coming. We crashed down in the desert. Rory got the worst of it. He died a few minutes after we went down, but he did have time to give me his watch and tell me to look you up and give it to you, with his regards. Poor lad, he’d just got news his brother had died, and he’d have been due for leave in a few days, but that’s the luck of war, isn’t it?”

“So what happened then?”

“I was rescued by some Arabs who brought me back to the squadron. I spent some time trying to find you, but no one seemed to know which squadron you were in.”

“No,” said Biggles, catching Algy’s eye. “I don’t think anyone would have. I…er…well…let’s just say I was there on a bit of a hush-hush mission and leave it at that. But go on with your story.”

“We were bombed shortly after.” Martins pulled up the cuff of his trousers to show a long ugly scar. “That’s where I got that, and quite a few other injuries. I spent some months in hospital, recovering. By the time I got out, the war was over, and I’d developed something of a drinking problem. I should have been sent home along with everyone else, but I didn’t have any family out there so I chose to stay here. I still had the watch, but…well…at one point when I needed money, I pawned it. I didn’t want to, but under the circumstances…”

A silence fell over the table. Biggles was the first to break it, placing a hand on Martins’ arm. “Extenuating circumstances,” he said. “And you did get it back. Or at least, I assume you did?”

“Yes, sir. It took a long time for me to sober up, but I did it in the end. I got some money together and went and got the watch back. Luckily it was still in the shop when I was able to go back for it. I don’t suppose there’s much of a market for watches in France at the moment.”

Biggles took a breath. “I see,” he said. “So that’s how it happened.”


“So now you know,” said Algy, a couple of hours later, as they left the restaurant and walked towards the hanger where they had left their plane.

“Yes. Interesting story. I would never have guessed there was such a yarn behind the whole affair. And Martins seems like a decent chap, in spite of everything.”

“So what are you going to do with that watch?”

“Oh, I don’t know. I expect I’ll put it up on the mantelpiece. That’s usually where my treasures go.”


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© The Algy Chronicles
Maira Gall