Bill Watling, World War II Despatch Rider

The Museum has a collection of memorabilia from Bill Watling, a motorcycle despatch rider in the Second World War, many of them on display.

Bill Watling had lost both his parents by the time he was thirteen, and went to live at Manor Farm in Framlingham, where he worked after leaving school.  When war broke out in September 1939, he expected to be called up, but farming was reserved occupation.  It was not until 1942 that he got the call, at 21 years of age, to join 356 Battalion of the Royal Artillery (RA).

He moved around the country during his basic training before being sent to Edinburgh for further instruction as a motorcycle despatch rider.  His job then was mainly to lead military convoys and communicating with gun sites, along with more general army chores.  His first posting was to RA 52nd Lowland Division, assigned to 108th Light Anti Aircraft (LAA) Regiment.  He took part in Operation Harlequin in September 1943, which was a mock invasion when the invasion barges came within five miles of he French coast.  With no response from the Germans, they returned to Newhaven.  A return to Scotland saw them training in mountain warfare and learning to ski as there were plans to send his Division to Norway. 

Instead, they became part of the force sent to Belgium to liberate the islands of Walcheren and South Beveland on the North bank of the Scheldt Estuary.  The German forces there were preventing the Allies reaching the important port of Antwerp.  Bill witnessed towns reduced to rubble, mined roads and extensive areas of flooding during the campaign.  The Division then pushed through Belgium, into Holland and towards the Rhine.  They were always in constant danger.  Once, on dismounting from his motorcycle, just a foot in front was a mine that he would have hit.  Another time he delivered a message to a gun site, and moments later the site was hit by a shell killing all personnel. 

Following the unconditional surrender of the Axis forces on 4th May 1945, Bill travelled many miles as both a driver and a despatch rider before being demobbed in March 1947.  Once safely back in Framlingham and in employment, he married Irene Manthorpe and they had 67 years together.  Bill died in 2015.