Prisoners of War, Rolex Watches & The Great Escape

Rolex Watches Available In Imprisonment

I have only recently heard the amazing story about how Prisoners of War, captured by the Germans in World War II, ordered Rolex watches while in imprisonment.

What is even more amazing, is that the Rolex watches were ordered and delivered to the prison camp free of charge . This incredible service was only available to British allies, who would make their order by letter via the Red Cross Headquarters in Geneva to Rolex also based in Geneva.

In 1908, Hans Wilsdorf registered the trademark ‘Rolex’ and opened an office in Switzerland. The company name ‘Rolex’ was registered in 1915.

By the start of World War II, Rolex watches were very popular with Royal Air Force pilots. However, when captured and sent to POW camps these watches were confiscated. Incredibly, when Hans Wilsdorf heard of this, he offered to replace the confiscated watches and declared that he would not require payment until the end of the war. To qualify, the Officers had to write to Rolex and advise which camp they were being held in and the circumstances of losing their watch.

The administration of this programme was run by Hans Wilsdorf himself. He would personally write a letter accompanying each and every order for a Rolex watch. The Prisoners of War were advised that they would be expected to pay for their watches in Swiss Francs at the end of the war. In reality, because of the economic situation at the end of the war, it wasn’t until 1947-1948 that foreign resources were available to meet the bills.

A staggering estimated 3,000 Rolex watches were ordered by British officers in the Oflag V11 B POW camp in Bavaria alone.

In 1943, while still a Prisoner of War, Corporal Clive James Nutting ordered a stainless steel Rolex Oyster 3525 Chronograph (valued at a current equivalent of £1,200). The watch (Rolex watch no. 185983) was delivered to Stalag Luft 111 camp in what is now Zagan, Poland. This camp was made famous by the 1963 film ‘The Great Escape‘; Corporal Nutting was one of the organisers of the ill-fated breakout.

Accompanying the Rolex watch was a letter from Hans Wilsdorf apologising for the delay in processing the order. The delay was due, Hans Wilsdorf explained, not to wartime restrictions, but to a large number of orders in hand for officers. He also added that an English gentleman such as himself ‘should not even think’ about paying for the watch before the end of the war.


The following is taken from Hans Wilsdorf's letter to Corporal Clive James Nutting:-

_________________________________________________________________

Dear Sir

We beg to acknowledge receipt of your order 10th March 43, and in accordance with your instructions we will supply you with 1 Chronograph Oyster No 122.

This watch costs to-day in Switzerland frs 250-,

But you must not even think of settlement during the war.

As we now have a large number of orders in hand for officers, there will be some unavoidable delay in the execution of your order, but we will do the best we can for you.

Meanwhile, believe us to be

Yours truly

Montres Rolex S.A.

Director

H. Wilsdorf

_________________________________________________________________


Hans Wilsdorf had been impressed that Corporal Nutting had ordered the more expensive Rolex 3525 while most other prisoners ordered the much cheaper Rolex Speed King model.

The watch is believed to have been ordered specifically for use in the ‘Great Escape’ when, as a chronograph, it could have been used to time patrols of prison guards or time the 76 ill-fated escapees through tunnel 'Harry' on 24 March 1944.

Corporal Clive Nutting, known as “Nobby” was a shoemaker by trade and worked as a cobbler in the POW camp for the Germans repairing officers boots and was able to save his earnings, he was in the camp for 5 years.

Eventually, after the war, Nutting was sent an invoice of only £15 for the watch, due to currency export controls in England at the time. He paid for the watch upon his return to London in 1948.

Corporal Nutting served as a consultant for both the 1950 film ‘The Wooden Horse and the 1963 film ‘The Great Escape’. Both films were based on actual escapes which took place at Stalag luft 111. Corporal Nutting died at the age of 90 in the year 2001.

The Rolex watch and associated correspondence between Hans Wilsdorf and Corporal Nutting were sold at auction for an amazing £66,000 in May 2007.

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Comments 26 comments

WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

Wow! I never knew about this. Great stuff.


Movie Master profile image

Movie Master 5 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Hello WillStarr, always good to see you here. It's a fasinating story I've enjoyed sharing. Have a great day.


Hyphenbird profile image

Hyphenbird 5 years ago from America-Broken But Still Beautiful

Every time I think I have heard it all. I suppose the pampered elite always remain true to that. Meanwhile prisoners were tortured to death, starved and died from exposure. My mind boggles and my stomach roils.

You wrote this very well.


Movie Master profile image

Movie Master 5 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Hi Hypenbird, thank you for visiting and your comments, yes this story really is quite extraordianary. Take care.


Dexter Yarbrough profile image

Dexter Yarbrough 5 years ago from United States

Hi Movie Master! Great historical information.


mckbirdbks profile image

mckbirdbks 5 years ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

Movie Master: What an incredible story. And well told. Excellent piece of work.


Movie Master profile image

Movie Master 5 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Hi Dexter,thanks for dropping by, glad you enjoyed this, see you soon, have a great day.


Movie Master profile image

Movie Master 5 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Hi mckbirdbks, isn't it incredible?! thank you so much for calling in and for your comments, see you again soon!


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

This is an amazing story that I've never heard before. It does sound a strange combination - prisoners and Rolex watches!


Movie Master profile image

Movie Master 5 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Hi AliciaC, yes isn't it a strange story and a very weird combination! many thanks for dropping by and hope you have a good day!


Mimi721wis profile image

Mimi721wis 5 years ago

Like everyone else you opened my eyes to something new. In this country,America, the prisoners don't get Rolex they watches,they just receive the best healthcare,nice meals,great workout equipment, and an education.


Movie Master profile image

Movie Master 5 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Hi Mimi, thank you for dropping by and your comments, it's certainly all 'food for thought' take care and best wishes.


Angelique Newman profile image

Angelique Newman 4 years ago from Canada

I really enjoyed reading this piece of history. Great hub; thanks for sharing! I voted it up and interesting:)


Movie Master profile image

Movie Master 4 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Hello Angelique, it's quite an amazing story, I'm so pleased you found it interesting, thank you for your comments and votes, they are much appreciated, best wishes.


Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 4 years ago from East Coast, United States

Browsing the titles of your hubs, this one really jumped out! But Rolex watches were quite expensive. They should have ordered a Timex!


Movie Master profile image

Movie Master 4 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Hello Dolores, Yes I too found this story quite amazing!

Many thanks for visiting and your comments, they are much appreciated, best wishes Lesley


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM

Amazing story! Thanks for sharing this with us. Who knew the Swiss would be so precise in seeing these men got replacement watches? The truth is sometimes stranger than fiction.


Movie Master profile image

Movie Master 4 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Hi suzette, it's quite an amazing story! I'm so pleased you enjoyed reading.

Many thanks for your comments, take care and best wishes Lesley


PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 4 years ago from Dallas, Texas

Lesley, This was a fascinating piece of history that I had never heard. Absolutely amazing and well told. Too Incredible not to share!


Movie Master profile image

Movie Master 4 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Hi Peg, Quite an amazing story isn't it! Glad you enjoyed it and many thanks for your comments and sharing.

Take care, best wishes Lesley


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK

A very interesting hub Lesley. Once of my great-uncles was a POW but I remember his watch and it wasn't a Rolex so he obviously didn't get a new timepiece, shame. Amazing to see that the correspondence plus the watch went for such a sum too.


Movie Master profile image

Movie Master 4 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Hi Jools, what a shame it wasn't a Rolex - they are fetching incredible amounts of money!

Thank you for your comments, take care and enjoy your week, best wishes Lesley


Kamalesh050 profile image

Kamalesh050 4 years ago from Sahaganj, Dist. Hooghly, West Bengal, India

Hi Lesley, what an amazing story and how interesting! Enjoyed reading. Excellent work my friend. Thanks a lot for sharing. Voted Up.

Best Wishes, Kamalesh


Movie Master profile image

Movie Master 4 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Hello Kamalesh, I'm glad you enjoyed reading, it's an incredible story - many thanks for your comments and votes, best wishes Lesley


Peter Geekie profile image

Peter Geekie 4 years ago from Sittingbourne

Dear moviemaster

An excellent and well researched article which I found very interesting

Voted up and interesting

Kind regards Peter


Movie Master profile image

Movie Master 4 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Hello Peter, it's nice to meet you - thank you for stopping by, your comments and votes, they are much appreciated.

I'm so pleased you enjoyed reading.

Best wishes Lesley

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