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Closure for the family of missing war airman

LIVING HISTORY: Eric Lionel Watson, of Evans Head, remembers his brother Keith, whose plane was discovered off the coast of Queensland.
LIVING HISTORY: Eric Lionel Watson, of Evans Head, remembers his brother Keith, whose plane was discovered off the coast of Queensland. Marc Stapelberg

ERIC Lionel Watson, 98, always carries his brother Sergeant Keith Watson's surf life saving Bronze Medallion in his wallet.

Keith was only 23 when, on February 28, 1943, his aircraft disappeared heading for Papua New Guinea during a 17-hour mission to provide anti-submarine cover.

Finally the Watson family will have closure at a memorial day in Cairns early this year.

In August last year, Eric Watson and his son Grant Watson, of Evans Head, couldn't quite believe it when the Royal Australian Air Force confirmed Keith's aircraft, a Catalina A24-25, was discovered 56km south of Cairns in 35m of water.

"The biggest surprise was to hear there were 11 men on board," Keith's nephew, Grant Watson, said.

"We always thought there was only four. We always thought they'd be found near New Zealand."

Eric Watson applauded the decision by RAAF to leave the Catalina and the 11 crewmen's remains beneath the sea.

Although deeply attached to his brother's memory, Mr Watson spoke of the mysterious death matter-of-factly: "It's just one of those things that happened to families during war time. You wear it.

"But not ever really knowing what happened, that was hard."

Eric Watson said his brother always wanted to be a fighter pilot, but he didn't have the training so he was an aircraft engineer on board the Catalina.

Before the war he was a mechanic at Trevan's.

"Keith was a a very strong member the of Ballina Surf Club. He was very competitive. We still have his medals," Mr Watson said.

The boys were born in Bondi and moved closer to their maternal family in Lismore when they finished school.

"Bondi Junction was a wasteland and rubbish when we were growing up," he said.

Eric Watson served most of his time in Top End and Broome.

"He was heading out to Japan when the bomb was dropped, so he got out of there," Grant said.



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