George Ernest WATT
CBE, AFC, LofM(US), Order of Orange Nassau (with Swords)

NZAF(T) Service Number:
RAF Service Number: 05232
NZAF(T) Trade:
RAF Trade: Pilot, Engineer Officer
Date of NZPAF Enlistment: 25th of November 1927
Date of RAF Enlistment:
28th of February 1933
Loaned to RNZAF: 10th of May 1947 to 16th of March 1950
Date of Demob: 19th of July 1954
Rank Achieved: Flying Officer (in NZTAF), Group Captain (in RAF)
Flying Hours:
Operational Sorties:

Date of Birth: 10th of February 1908 in Frankton, Waikato
Personal Details:
George was son of Mr and Mrs George and Maud Catherine Watt (nee Mandeno) of Okauia, Matamata, and he was the grandson of George A. Watts and Elizabeth Watt of "Abergeldie", Cambridge,

He was educated at Frankton District School, Matamata Primary School and Hamilton High School, gaining both junior and senior national scholarships. He played for the First XV rugby team at Hamilton High School.

In 1926 he began studying for a degree in civil engineering at Auckland University where he was warded a timber research scholarship.

He was a crack shot, winning the championship belt for rifle shooting in 1926, and also winning the "B" Grade City And Suburban Championship shooting competition in the 1926-27 season. In 1928 he joined the Auckland University shooting team. In 1930 he was the runner up in the King's Medal shooting competition at Trentham. He was also in the University Senior B rugby team, was secretary of the Student's Association and was the Auckland delegate to the University Rowing Council. In 1930 he was nominated for the 1931 Rhodes Scholarship.

George was reportedly very well known in Cambridge to many people and obviously spent much time in the town with his grandparents and family. He married Pat in England and they eventually retired to Auckland where they both passed away.

He was a fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society, and a member of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers.

Service Details: George joined the New Zealand Territorial Air Force as one of ten young men from the provincial areas that were chosen by the government from approximately 300 candidates for a training cadetship. He entered training at Wigram on the 25th of November 1927, and spent twelve weeks (with a break for Christmas and New Year) undergoing flying training. At the end of the course the ten airmen were supposed to be proficient in flying the Avro 504K trainers.

The other nine cadets were J.M. Buckridge (Hawera); J Goodhart (Opawa, Christchurch); Edward Silverthorne Henderson (Rakaia); Charles Campbell Hunter (Auckland); N.C. Jenkin (Mount Albert); I.C. Maclaine (Blenheim); L.T.J. Taylor (Christchurch); H.S. Weston (New Plymouth) and Maxwell Wilkes (Belgrove, Nelson).

At the time of being selected, George was studying for a degree in engineering. at Auckland University. He'd also been serving as a Sergeant in the Northern Depot of the New Zealand Engineers as a territorial soldier.

He continued to study at Auckland around his Territorial Air Force training camps and at Wigram and he was awarded his 'Wings', or pilot's brevet in 1929.

On completing his degree, the Governor-General of New Zealand nominated George to travel to Britain to join the Royal Air Force to further his flying experience.

George passed his training and was "awarded the special assessment of a distinguished pass on completion of training" in the Royal Air Force, according to the Auckland Star. On the 28th of March 1933 he was posted to No. 18 (Bomber) Squadron at RAF Upper Heyford, retaining his rank of Pilot Officer. The squadron was flying Hawker Harts but in April 1936 they began re-equipping with the better Hawker Hinds, and they moved to RAF Bircham Newton, in Norfolk.

On the 28th of August 1933 George was granted a permanent commission with the RAF. and promoted to the rank of Flying Officer.

On the 20th of September 1936, now with the rank of Flight Lieutenant, George departed from No. 18 (B) Squadron and was posted to the RAF School of Aeronautical Engineering at RAF Henlow.

In 1938 George moved to the Imperial College and was promoted to Squadron Leader on the 1st of February 1939. He remained at the college till war broke out, and he was then posted to Farnborough to become an experimental test pilot.

During 1941 George became a Maintenance Liaison Officer in the Middle East. And between 1942 and 1944 he held the position of Deputy Director of Special Projects.

In 1942, now holding the rank of Wing Commander, he was awarded the Air Force Cross. His citation read:

"Wing Commander Watt was the pilot who tested the apparatus for the Flying Personnel Research Committee at the Royal Aircraft Establishment. He did over 100 ‘blacking-outs’ in the air over the period of a year to assess the value of positioning and various appliances. It was due to his courage and determination, often a great personal risk, that these tests were concluded satisfactorily."

In 1944 George was made the Deputy Director of Turbine Engines, and he worked in that role till 1947, working alongside Sir Frank Whittle and the pioneers of the jet engine.

At that point he returned to New Zealand and was attached to the Royal New Zealand Air Force from the 10th of May 1947 to the 16th of March 1950, becoming the Director of Technical Services for those three years.

Her Majesty The Queen of the Netherlands awarded George the Order of Orange Nassau (with Swords) and HM King George VI granted to George the right of unrestricted wearing of this award on the 24th of January 1947.

On the same day he was also the Legion of Merit (Degree of Officer) by the USA on the 24th of January 1947. The citation for this award read:

"For exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding service rendered to the Government of the United States in the United Kingdom as Deputy Director of Special Projects, Ministry of Aircraft Production in 1943-44, and as Head of Turbine Engine Development, Directorate of Engine Development, M.A.P. (now Ministry of Supply) from March 1944 to date.

Group Captain Watt as the officer immediately responsible for the development of all aviation turbine engines for the British Government has been in the closest possible contact with the United States Naval Air Attaché, his technical staff together with the many engineering officers from the Navy Department, and representatives of naval contractors who visit the United Kingdom in order to study the design of turbine engines and jet propulsion in general.

Group Captain Watt and his staff were continuously escorting American officers to the various centres of jet propulsion activity in England, and furnishing technical information on the subject. In his efforts to assist the American authorities

Group Captain Watt has made several visits to the United States. By his wholehearted co-operation with American plans to undertake the design and production of aviation gas turbines, Group Captain Watt has made a very high contribution to the common war effort."

On the 9th of June 1949, Acting Group Captain George Watt was appointed by HM The King to be an "Ordinary Commander of the Military Division of the said Most Excellent Order" - or CBE for short - in the New Zealand King's Birthday Honours. The following comes from By Such Deeds by Gp Capt Colin Hanson:

"For services as Director of Technical Services, RNZAF, May 1947-Feb 1950 and for his research and development work on jet engines.
Gp Capt Watt was one of the first 10 pilot trainees recruited for the NZAF in Nov 1927 and learned to fly at Wigram.

Following service with 18 Sqn RAF (Hart) in 1933-1936 he began to specialise in engineering, taking courses at the RAF School of Aeronautical Engineering and at the Imperial College of Science and Technology.

Gp Capt G E Watt, CBE, AFC, LofM(US), BE, DIC, CEng, FRAeS, as a New Zealander in the RAF, was the first officer to hold the post of Director of Technical Services, RNZAF. He was also a Past President of the NZ Division of the Royal Aeronautical Society. The Society’s Group Captain Watt Award was established in commemoration of the close association of members of the RNZAF with RAF technical teams who were engaged on the research and development of the jet engine during WWII. The citations above make mention of this wartime research. The purpose of  the Group Captain Watt award is to recognise outstanding technical merit which enhances the efficiency of the RNZAF."

In July 1949 George was confirmed in the rank of Group Captain.

Upon returning to Britain in 1950 he spent three years as Command Engineer Officer for RAF Fighter Command, and in 1953 became Assistant Commandant of the RAF Technical College, Henlow, holding that position for a year.

George then retired from the Royal Air Force and joined the staff of Rolls Royce Ltd, becoming that company's General Manager of the new test establishment at Sinfin, Derby.

Died: 9th of November 1990, aged 81 in Howick, Auckland

Connection with Cambridge: George seems to have spent extended periods and perhaps lived in Cambridge before he joined the NZAF(T) and university.



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