WatchandAutumn 002

Recently I found an unusual old wrist watch in a family jewel box. I can only assume it belonged to my husband’s grandfather, Wallace Conolly.  The band has vanished, but otherwise it is in reasonable  condition.  

It has a hinged, deep case reminiscent of a pocket watch. The gold plated case was made by the  British Dennison Company, but the watch itself was by the American maker, Waltham.

Waltham watch, reminiscent of a pocket watch.

The serial number  on the movement  itself confirms that  it was manufactured in 1914.  This date is significant. Watches  that could  be worn on the wrist had been around for centuries (Lord Robert Dudley presented an ‘arm watch’ to Elizabeth I in 1571), but  it was the outbreak of World War I that popularized them. For this reason they were often  dubbed Trench Watches.

1914 Waltham wrist watch.

In January 1916 Hobart’s Daily Post published the following  snippet of WWI humour;


Private Ted Stanford, formerly  a well-known  country jockey, now in hospital in England recovering from an illness contracted at Gallipoli writes to a friend at  Forbes:- ‘In this hospital there are many English Tommies as well as Australians. One of the Tommies got a bit curious about our fellows one night and he asked the nurse how it was that all Australians had wrist watches.  ‘They had them on when they were born.’ replied the nurse.

However, for  soldiers in the ghastly  trenches of France,   time began  to lose all meaning. By 1918 one fellow wrote home suggesting that  knitted socks to protect men’s  feet in freezing mud would be of  far more use than wrist watches.

Meanwhile, a newspaper in Germany had declared the watches a life-threatening hazard on the battlefield.  Early in 1915 a Dr Melchior reported that he had  treated men with horrific wounds, caused when shrapnel struck a watch. The resulting wound was far more extensive, he claimed,  because the  watch often shattered, leaving pieces embedded in the soldier’s  wrist and arm.  He considered the risk even greater because the wrist watch was usually worn on the left arm, which was more often hit by shrapnel than the right.

Nevertheless, by the time of the Armistice almost every serviceman, allied or enemy,  wore a wrist watch. Civilians, both male and female,  became just as enthusiastic. It was even possible to send a pocket watch away to have a band attached.

Among the general public there was another, rather negative view of the new fashion.  It concerned a perceived lack of manliness  in the wearer.   I was  amused to read the following extract from a piece syndicated  in many Australian newspapers in 1917;

white-rabbit with his famous  pocket watch.

There has been an impression in the minds of some persons that the wearing of a wrist watch  by a man is a sign of effeminacy. As a fact, however, a great many of our most busily active male humans find the wrist watch an article of great convenience. Military men in the active pursuit of strenuous duties have found it of invaluable aid.   The writer went on the say that they were worn by   policemen, nightwatchmen, locomotive engineers etc., concluding;  ‘Why anybody on earth or off  it should be compelled to unbutton a greatcoat or a raincoat and go feeling around in the depths of a waistcoat pocket, like a small boy diving into a grab bag at a church fair, in order to drag his timepiece into the clear light of day, or subject his masculinity to everlasting reproach is utterly beyond me.’  And that, dear readers, is why we no longer wear pocket watches.

pocket watch

Mind you, there were on-going problems with the care and maintenance of  early wrist watches, although I suspect the writer of  a 1917  piece had his tongue at least partly  in his cheek. He wrote that men subjected their watches to very rough treatment, ‘Golfers expect their watches to endure lusty drives and infuriated bunker smites……women tap all day on their typewriters and expect their wrist-watches to keep time.’  He added that watches needed warmth to run smoothly; certainly  they were  in the open air all day, but they had the warmth of the wearer’s body. However, instead of tucking them under their pillows at night  as they had done with their prized pocket watches, owners simply left  them on the dressing table, where they contracted ‘dressing table colic’,  keeping jewellers busy with repairs.

FOOTNOTE – Inspired by the success of  wrist watches, some bright spark invented a wrist blotter, to be worn on the right arm. The aim was  to avoid having to repeatedly lay down a pen  in order to blot wet ink.. Unfortunately the invention  failed to ignite the passion of the public.

Speaking of time, here is another story about WWI and Sydney’s  MR ETERNITY


  1. I do love the research you put into these fascinating snippets of history. And how wonderful to have such a beautiful watch in your family mementos 🙂

    • Pauline

      I sometimes think I have too much curiosity for my own good, Christine!

      • Well, curiosity only killed the cat, so you’re safe 🙂

  2. wow its really so nice. i wanna to buy it.if you looking for the best Replica rolex watches have found the only site in italy reliably and securely. you find it Replica rolex site.

  3. My Great Uncle, Oliver George Pearce, was killed in WWI on 13 Oct 2020 at Passendaele. He has no known grave and is remembered as one of the lost souls on the Menim Gate.
    Before he left Narrandera NSW, he was presented with an engraved watch by family and friends. In England, Oliver purchased a second watch with a luminous face (radium!), presumably so he could see the watch in the dark.
    Whilst Oliver’s remains were never recovered and he has no grave, the two watches found their was back to Australia and now are held by the Australian War Memorial.
    You can view the watches on line at: https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C1223059?image=1
    PS: The watch with the radium face is kept in a lead protective case because of the “possible” radiation danger

    • Pauline

      Oh, that’s so interesting Neil, also very sad. Thanks for taking to trouble to comment. I gather you mean he was killed 13 October 1917. I will add this to the story if that’s OK.

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