Helvetia British Army GS/TP Pocket Watches
The main pocket watch used by the British Army in the second world war was known as the GSTP or GS/TP watch. This is believed to stand for General Service Time Piece or General Service Trade Pattern i.e. a watch bought from the watch trade.
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GS/TP watches were made by a variety of manufacturers but tended to be of a similar pattern, this seems to be a standard specified by the British authorities.
The watch provided by Helvetia for the British Army was a 19’” pocket watch with luminous hands and dial, black and white dialled versions, a base metal chrome plated case with a snap on case back, and a 15 jewel non shock protected calibre 32A movement.
The calibre 32A movement was the same as that supplied to the German Army and is of a very good quality and finished to a surprisingly high standard for a mass produced military watch. Most of the movements are in the usual configuration for the calibre 32A but occasionally a different bridge configuration was used. The case is stamped with a Helvetia case number of 6010.
The back of these watches are marked with an individual military serial number sometimes preceded by a letter which is thought to denote the contract the watches were ordered under (G and P in the case of Helvetia). Unfortunately, as they are not marked with a separate Helvetia serial number it is not possible to date these watches any more accurately than to the second world war period. Occasionally a watch will also be marked ’Bravingtons’, this was the name of a London jewellers who sold off surplus watches following the war.
The Helvetia GSTP watches are all very similar but there are a few slightly different types which I will go through below. All the types can have black or white dials that are marked Helvetia but there are some very minor dial variations which were spread over the different types of watch which I will separately illustrate for those die-hards.
PXXXXX Marked Watches
The most numerous of the Helvetia GS/TP watches are those marked with a 5 digit serial number preceded by the letter P. The marking on the reverse is over three lines; GS/TP above then the ‘P’ number then the British military broad arrow mark at the bottom. The movements are marked 32A, Helvetia Swiss Made, and General Watch Co Switzerland.
An interesting example of a Helvetia GS/TP watch is illustrated below. This watch was damaged when it was struck by shrapnel when being carried by Sgt Roy Bishop in Normandy on the 8th August 1944. The shrapnel penetrated his Platoon Roll Call Book and his wallet to hit the watch in his breast pocket.
Copyright National Army Museum
Another interesting example, illustrated below, has the inscription "P.R.T. Labs" added to the back of the watch in addition to the usual GS/TP inscription.
The original owner worked with electronics and possibly in radar development. The initials may stand for "Pulsed Radio Transmitter" which is the name early radar was known by. If anyone has any further information or ideas please let me know.
Watches over 100,000
When the numbering reached 6 digits the letter preceding the number was dropped and only the number was marked to the back of the watch. There are two different versions of the watches above 100,000 with the serial numbers intermingled between the two. Perhaps there were two factories providing these watches at this time. It seems that the movement on these watches were only marked 32A and Helvetia without the Swiss Made or General Watch Co Switzerland text. Occasionally movements in these watches are seen with the additional text but not often.
The first type of the 6 digit watches are marked GS/TP as the P marked watches with the 6 digit number below but with the broad arrow at the top rather than the bottom.