Interview with Alan Coburn


Interview with Alan Coburn


Alan Coburn’s father was killed in the First World War when he was one year old and his brother was not yet born. He attended a prep school in London and then Rugby before gaining a degree at Oxford University. The insurance brokerage associated with his family had agreed to keep a place open for him in memory of his father but Alan didn’t really enjoy the job. He volunteered for the RAF and was accepted for aircrew training. However, he was repeatedly airsick and transferred to the RAF Regiment. He was posted to the Middle East. From there he was posted to Greece and then post-war Austria.




Temporal Coverage





01:15:54 audio recording

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TO: So, what year were you born?
AC: 1916.
TO: And —
AC: I’ll be a hundred and two next month.
TO: And where did you grow up?
AC: In London. I was, I was born in London, and I stayed there until the war.
TO: And was your father in the First World War?
AC: Yes. He was killed when I was one. My brother wasn’t even born. In Flanders. Passchendaele.
TO: And —
AC: He was second lieutenant, Kings Royal Rifle Corps.
TO: And when did you learn what had happened to him?
AC: When did I?
TO: When did you find out what had happened to him?
AC: I never found out until, well, I never really found out. He was shot in a place called Harelbeke, near Ypres. It was all part of the Ypres battle. He was obviously shot. More to it, I think two of his men were with him and managed to, after the war they came and saw the family. My mother and me and my brother.
TO: And did you have other, know other children who’d lost their fathers?
AC: No.
TO: And did your, do you remember when your mother first told you about him?
AC: No. I don’t because she never really mentioned it. I was too young to understand. I just accepted that we went to live with my grandmother after he was killed.
TO: And what impact would you say this had on you?
AC: Well, my grandmother was an Orthodox Jew and my mother wasn’t but we were brought up in an Orthodox Jewish family and that had an impact except that I went to school. I went to a prep school in London and then Rugby and I went to, I didn’t live a Jewish life at all except in the holidays. And then I didn’t really appreciate what was happening because I didn’t know any Hebrew. I just conformed to school. I went to chapel every day at Rugby. Twice a day on Sunday, I think.
TO: Was your father Jewish?
AC: No. Well, yes. But it was what was called Liberal Jewish as opposed to Orthodox. He didn’t really, he didn’t have any influence because as I say I was one when he was killed. My mother was also Liberal Jewish. They were married in a Liberal Jewish Synagogue. She died when I was sixteen. Cancer. They didn’t know as much then in 1932 as I, as the people know now.
TO: Did any of your friends have parents who they’d lost in the war?
AC: I don’t remember. I don’t think so. Not close friends.
TO: And how did your siblings manage?
AC: How did my —
TO: Your brother manage?
AC: My brother. He was alright. He, he was much cleverer than I was. He got a scholarship to Rugby. Got a double first at Oxford. I managed to get a degree but not, it was third class honours in history.
TO: Were you interested in aircraft as a child?
AC: Sorry?
TO: Were you interested in aircraft?
AC: No. Not really. I mean only in so far as I wanted to be a pilot. When the war broke out I volunteered for the RAF. They turned me down as a pilot but eventually they said you could be an observer. A navigator, and I started off on that line but I never completed the course because I got sick in aeroplanes. And eventually I was transferred to the RAF Regiment [pause] and on to OCTU, Officer Cadet Training Unit. First of all pre-OCTU, and then OCTU in the Isle of Man and I passed out and was commissioned in I think it was about May or June ’42. And I volunteered to go overseas, and I was sent to the Middle East. We went on the troop ship. One of the Union Castle Line and around to Durban. And then transferred after about three weeks in a transit camp, and then went up to Suez and another ship. Are you alright so far?
TO: Yes. Perfect, thank you.
AC: And in the, in Cairo the headquarters posted us to different units and I was posted to what had been a fighter squadron in the Alamein battle which was now in the Reserve and I spent some time in, a little time in Egypt. Not long. And then went out to Iraq, Habbaniya, which was the main British base. And that was out of the war really. I mean there was no war in which they were concerned. I think it was, it was the main base in the Middle East apart from Cairo. Anyway, I was there for a while and then was posted to Arabia. The [highlight of] the war was that I was RAF Regiment officer for Arabia because there were two or three bases. One of them was Sharjah which was still in operation, I think. And then the others, there was one, a little camp called Ras Al Hadd on the Arabian Peninsula. And then the third one was Masirah Island just off the coast of Arabia, which was a staging post for the Americans on the way to reinforce Burma. This was 1942. I had three or four months in Masirah. Very very hot and humid. You couldn’t get cool unless you poured water over yourself, and even then it only lasted about a quarter of an hour. The water was so salt that you couldn’t really get relief. It lasted a short time. We saw American films because they showed them on, there was a wall. They put a white [pause] I don’t know what you’d call it. Anyway, they showed this on this. The film. I remember only one. “Stage Door Canteen,” which had an awful lot of American film stars in. And then I was posted back to Palestine and to a squadron called 2908, and I spent the rest of the war with that squadron, and we were in Syria, Aleppo for some considerable time. And then we were supposed to go to Kos as part of the occupying force but luckily for me we never got there because we were too late at getting to the port. Haifa. The Navy wouldn’t wait, and I was very lucky though because all the people that did go were captured by the Germans and spent the rest of the war in prison camp. Anyway, after that we stayed in, in Palestine and Syria until 1944. Then we were eventually transported to Italy. I’m not sure if it was Bari or Brindisi. Anyway, we were taken there and then became part of the first people to re-enter Greece. We landed at a place called Katakolon which was only a village. We were greeted with flowers and kisses. It was near the first airfield, we were there, the RAF Regiment squadron was there to take. Luckily the Germans were gone and we had no resistance. So, we went. We captured this airfield. Patras and the Corinth Canal, and the proudest moment of my life I think was in Patras. I was on the balcony and it was surrounded by balconies. Everyone cheering and waving. I was a symbol of liberation. And as I say it was the proudest moment of my life.
Other: I bet it was.
AC: Because it was real liberation. Instead of having, you know the knock at the door in the middle of the night which was the Gestapo they were all, they knew that they were safe. It lasted. I actually had jaundice, and then later on tonsilitis in Greece. Jaundice I was moved luckily because all they would give me to eat was [pause] I can’t remember what it was. Anyway, it had put me off. Bully or something.
TO: In the 1930s —
AC: Yes.
TO: Had you heard about what was happening in, to the Jews in Germany?
AC: Oh yes. Well, we had when I was living in Hampstead we had two Jewish ladies, refugees for a time in the late ’30s. I can’t remember what happened to them but they certainly came and lived with us from Germany. And so I knew something but of course I was, I was at Oxford then and I didn’t know much about it.
TO: And what was your first job?
AC: Well, my grandfather had been a director or a partner in an insurance company. Insurance broking firm called Halford Henry Montefiore and I, they had promised because my father had been killed, they promised to keep a place for me and so I went in there and started as a filing clerk in 1937. And I was there ‘til the war learning the business of insurance broking but I had decided, they took me to Lloyds, and I told [unclear] to sell to the underwriters. The clients, depending what they were. And there was Egyptian cotton, that sort of thing being taken from Egypt to Britain or wherever and my job was to go to Lloyds and get the underwriters to agree insurance. Unfortunately, I wasn’t very good at it. At least I didn’t think I was and I was quite happy to volunteer for the RAF as opposed to the Army because my memory of the Army was at school. The OTC, the Officer Training Corps, you had puttees to put on. I never got them right. I didn’t really want to go in to the Army. Anyway, I volunteered for the RAF and originally, I wanted to be a pilot but they turned me down for that and then they altered the criteria which was for entering aircrew. They said I could be an observer navigator and so I started on that and I did the first part. Actually, they sent me first of all to Yatesbury. I had six months there training as a wireless op, and that was Morse all the time. I had, you had to pass certain tests. You had, I think it was eighteen words a minute to pass out. And then you had to take interference. So if there was interference I think it was thirteen words a minute. You had to be able to distinguish one from the other. Anyway, I passed out eventually. It was a six month course. I was posted to the north of Scotland where just north of Aberdeen was a lighthouse. Torry. T O R R Y. You spent the first week at the lighthouse, and then the powers that be decided it wasn’t a good idea and we were billeted in Aberdeen. We were acting as liaison between the control room and the pilots on duty in the north of Scotland and if there was a raid, we were the people who put, put the plug in more or less and, but of course all the speech that went on between the pilots and the air control. I did that for two or three months including some night shifts. Then I was eventually called up to go on the first part of my aircrew course which was in Devonshire. Torquay. And I —
[recording paused]
I went. I took the car. I still had my car. I took it to London. I drove to London in a day which was not bad going in those days. It’s five hundred plus miles. And anyway, I left the car in London for the rest of the war, and then went to Torquay. After I think it was three weeks or maybe more I was, we were moved to Gloucestershire to start off my actual aircrew training. But unfortunately, I didn’t like it. I got sick in the aeroplane and eventually asked if I could stop. I was interviewed and they agreed. So I spent the next few months, maybe even a year, I can’t remember, in London at Lords Cricket Ground where people were being mustered to different jobs. I was eventually sent for. I was given a commission in the RAF Regiment which was newly formed then, and I was sent to a place in Northumberland I think it was for a pre-OCTU, and then to the Isle of Man for the OCTU, Officer Cadet Training Unit and did a three month course there in the Isle of Man. And then was posted back to the Isle of Man funnily enough, and I volunteered. I wasn’t there for very long. I volunteered for overseas, and I was sent actually to [unclear] for the transit camp before embarkation and eventually embarked on a, I think it was the Union Castle Line boat, ship. And we went around the Cape and we were very lucky that it was in convoy. It could easily have been detected by the U-boats but it wasn’t. Anyway, we went to Durban. I had three weeks there in transit camp and then transferred to some other boats going up to Suez. Which we did. And in Suez, I was eventually posted to a squadron which had been in the Alamein battle and was now in rest. And then eventually I was sent to Habbaniya in Iraq which was the big base for RAF in that part of the war and mind you there was no fighting there. Eventually I was posted to Arabia, [unclear] of the war I was RAF officer for Arabia. The RAF Regiment was newly formed and I had three Flights they were called relative to platoons. I was the only officer. I used to, from Sharjah to a point on the Arabian Peninsula called Ras Al Hadd. I spent, and there was a flight at each and then and then there was another one at Masirah Island. And the Masirah Island was a staging post for the Americans and they were taking troops through, and supplies to Burma to strengthen the resistance to the Japanese. Masirah was very hot and humid, and we were lucky because we were able to see American films. I remember one, “Stage Door Canteen,” which had a lot of film stars in it. I wasn’t, as I say I was in Masirah for about three months and then was posted back to Palestine and Syria. Joined a company called 2908 Squadron. As I say that was about 1943 and I was there. We went Syria, Aleppo and Palestine and we were supposed to go to Kos. The Greek islands. But luckily for me we was not very efficient. We arrived after the Navy had gone, so I never got to Kos. Which was just as well because those who did were all captured by the Germans. I was very lucky.
Other: You had a lucky escape there didn’t you, Alan?
AC: Yeah. Anyway, after several months or even more in Syria and Palestine we were brought by sea to Italy to be the, we didn’t know what it turned out to be the first [unclear] back in Europe, in Greece and were greeted with flowers and kisses and as I say the proudest moments in my life was on the balcony waving to everybody. I was the symbol of the liberation and I knew it. Well, I couldn’t do anything more. I just stood there and everybody cheering and clapping and waving and I waved back. I got myself, I had jaundice because of the food. Really there was nothing but dry bread and [pause] I was in sort of a camp for ill people. Then they transferred me luckily to Athens. There was better food there. Better conditions all around. Later on, I was in the north of Greece, Macedon, Macedonia and I got jaundice. No. Sorry, I had jaundice in Patras. I caught tonsilitis in the north of Greece and was in the hospital again. It wasn’t that bad. I can’t remember much about it really.
Other: Just that it was bad.
AC: Well, it wasn’t. I was lucky. And after that I went to re-join my squadron and we spent the best part of a year in Greece. Near Athens. Then the Civil War was on and we took part. There was a nice story about Churchill who came out on Christmas Eve. This was December ’44 and he was driven in one of our armoured cars from our aerodrome to the centre of Athens where he was going to negotiate with what was then the Greek government. And his story about, he was accompanied by Anthony Eden and Churchill said to Anthony Eden, and the man he was going to negotiate with was an archbishop of some sort representing the Greek government as it was then, and the Greek Civil War was on at the time. Anyway, Churchill drove in one of our armoured cars to Athens and said to Anthony Eden about the man he was going to meet, ‘Is he a scheming medieval prelate?’ To which Eden said, ‘Well, yes Winston. I’m afraid he is.’ Good,’ said Winston, ‘I’ll be able to deal with him.’ And he did. And we were there, as I said, I was at least a year posted in a camp nearby the sea far from the civil war. There was no fighting. But my boss who was the finest man I ever met he negotiated with, between the two. Greek rebels and the, the communist ELAS, and the [unclear] Greeks and eventually, we didn’t, we didn’t take any part really, apart from as I said carrying Churchill into Athens. But we stayed there by the sea. I can’t remember why I went to Northern Greece but I did. That’s where I got tonsilitis and I was in hospital again. But it didn’t last that long. I went back to my unit and stayed there until we left Greece.
Other: Yeah.
AC: Which was about after the German war finished. We went to Austria as part of the occupying force. We had, I had weeks leave in Rome and [unclear] I think it might have been “Le Boheme.” Anyway, I went, and then went off to Austria. A place called Linz. A quite a big town, and I was there three or four months. I finished with a fortnight learning to ski which was very good for me. I was lucky. I just about learned how to stop, which was rather necessary. Anyway, I came home in March or the beginning of March ’46. I was demobbed almost immediately. I had three months leave to come home after I was, I had one night in a camp and then three months leave. And then another night in the camp and then issued with belt, trousers. You know. New clothes. And I spent Christmas in London because I was still living in London. So that was the end of my RAF service. Six years.
Other: You got about a bit.
AC: I did. I crossed the world. I was very lucky. My brother was a conscientious objector, and drove an ambulance from El Alamein right through North Africa and in the south of France. And he was good at languages as well so he acted as interpreter with the French and Germans. And he must have seen lots of dead people but I was very lucky. I never saw a dead person. I saw one man who had been wounded being carried through. That was as far as I met anyone.
Other: I think Thomas might have some questions for you.
AC: Ok.
TO: What was your rank in the RAF Regiment?
AC: Flying officer. I started as pilot officer but you automatically unless you did something scandalous became flying officer. I became adjutant of 2908 Squadron which was the right place for me because I couldn’t do the, I went on an admin course in Oman, Jordan to learn what I was supposed to do when I went back to the squadron. I did that for a couple of years I suppose. Anyway, from ‘44 to ‘45.
TO: What were your everyday duties as an adjutant?
AC: Oh dear. I don’t really remember. Administrative work with, people had to be, every year had to be named or at least given a rank. I used to give them [unclear] authorise it. What’s the word? Anyway, that’s me. Posted. The discipline was either good or bad depending on, had to be very bad to be called bad. In fact, I had to correct some of my predecessor’s work because he’d put bad on something and he hadn’t really been bad. At least not in RAF terms. Anyway, that was one part of my work. And putting up the commanding officer’s orders and generally see people got sent home or not. Things like that because the war was over.
TO: What rations did you have in the Middle East?
AC: Rations? Well, I think it was corned beef and it wasn’t very, what shall I say? They weren’t very good rations but they were better than people were getting otherwise. So, also I had jaundice. Of course, they wouldn’t give me anything except bread and I think a few corned beef. Eventually, when I was moved to Athens it was quite different. In hospital there you got chicken and things like that but [unclear] I can’t remember much.
TO: Do you remember what medicine you were given to avoid disease?
AC: Sorry?
TO: Do you remember what medicine you were given to avoid disease?
AC: No. Not really.
TO: And when you were in Britain were you ever involved in any raid raids?
AC: I was on leave in 1940 when the Germans were bombing London. I was there for a week I think and so I remember being there when there were raids going on. I was lucky it didn’t hit me because I could hear bombs dropping not too far away but I don’t really remember anything else. I wasn’t a hero.
TO: What did you think of Churchill?
AC: I thought he was great. Really when he took over I just accepted that he was the man who would bring us through. I was abroad most of the time of course from ’42 to ’46. Three and a half years and Churchill was a long way away but I had faith in him in so far as I favoured anyone. I was just doing a job.
TO: And what do you think of Chamberlain?
AC: Well, not an awful lot. I didn’t really have much [pause] Chamberlain resigned on May the 10th, 1940 and he died I think about six months later. So I, what I knew about Chamberlain was I didn’t that think he was very warlike.
TO: And what did you think of the Munich Agreement?
AC: Well, I was one of those who thought it meant peace and so I welcomed it but of course I was quite wrong. It was just the opposite. At the time I rejoiced but not afterwards.
TO: And do you remember the day the war started?
AC: Vaguely. I was still in London. I remember there was an air raid warning I think and nobody knew what was happening really. That’s about all I remember. This was in London but it was a false alarm I think anyway.
TO: And did you remember hearing when America joined the war?
AC: Did I remember what?
TO: Can you remember when America joined the war?
AC: Oh yes. Well, I do but I was, this was America joined in July, sorry December ’41 when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour and I was, in July ’41, sorry, in December ’41 I think I was still in England. I don’t remember I obviously welcomed it but I don’t remember much more about it.
TO: And do you remember when you joined the RAF?
AC: In May 1940. Six years including demob leave brought it to May 1946.
TO: And can you tell me a bit more about what you were doing in the lighthouse in Scotland?
AC: Well, cooking for ourselves for a week and then as I say we transferred to billets in Aberdeen. The lighthouse was alright but I think the lighthouse keeper, well allowed us to do more or less as we liked. Cooking for ourselves. I think the RAF eventually decided that that wasn’t a good idea. Anyway, I was only in the lighthouse a week, I think. Torry. T O R R Y.
TO: And what kind of entertainment did you have in the RAF?
AC: Entertainment?
Other: You had the films, didn’t you?
AC: I think we didn’t get any.
Other: Didn’t you have the films?
AC: Oh, the films.
Other: Yeah.
AC: No. That wasn’t in, I was in Masirah.
Other: Right.
TO: It was alright. We didn’t see any touring parties. I think it might have when I first went to the Middle East I was posted to Cairo and I think we went to a nightclub or something like that in Alexandria but that was about all.
TO: Did you ever listen to songs on the radio?
AC: No. Not really. I can’t remember. I don’t think so.
TO: Can you tell me about the conditions on the troop ships?
AC: Well, as I was an officer they were very good. I don’t know what, what the men thought. I was the only Jewish officer on the ship so, there were about a dozen Jews among the soldiers. I was the only RAF person there really. I gave a lecture on the RAF to the soldiers. I do remember that. Explaining the ranks and the different parts of the Air Force.
TO: Right.
AC: I think it went down all right. Anyway, passed an hour by the time I’d finished.
TO: And how was morale in the RAF?
AC: It was pretty good but being in the squadron I remember one man was, a pilot was killed and somebody rang me up from another part of the, where the squadron was and asked about it and I said he was dead which wasn’t the right thing to say. I should have just said, ‘I’m sorry. I’m afraid he’s bought it.’ Anyway, the morale otherwise it was very good. I think that was just accepted as part of the job. You would do it.
TO: And were you worried that the Germans would take over North Africa?
AC: No. I wasn’t anywhere near there really but I was in Palestine and Syria at that time. North Africa. My brother was. He went through Alemein to Tunis and then to the south of France. He was driving an ambulance and of course he saw a lot of dead and wounded men and I never saw one. Well, I saw one wounded man being carried past but that was near as I got. I was very lucky.
TO: And what were your living conditions like in the Middle East?
AC: Well, as best most of the time as I say here in Greece at a place called Vouliagmeni near Athens. By the sea. They were, of course very lucky but the war was over then. The first year or two, well I didn’t get out there until, until the end of ’42 so I had about two years which conditions weren’t very good. But they weren’t that bad at least apart from getting tonsilitis and jaundice.
TO: How did the, did you ever interact with the local population where you were stationed?
AC: No. I missed the opportunity I’m afraid. Specifically Syria. Aleppo. And Palestine I didn’t really get in touch with the local population at all. I should have done.
TO: What did you think of British commanders of the war?
AC: Command?
TO: Yes.
AC: I didn’t really think about it. I was just there doing what I was told to do. The squadron was one of the few field squadrons of the RAF Regiment that were anti-aircraft and field. I was lucky because the anti-aircraft people didn’t do anything except cover an anti-aircraft guns. But the field squadrons were there to invade or take airfields and camps. I was very lucky that I was with the squadron because the CO, whose name was John or Jock Wynne, W Y N N E was a marvellous man. And in fact, I owe, I got a mention in despatches entirely through him because I didn’t do anything special. He put names up and we received [unclear] but I didn’t deserve anything. Anyhow, I just did the job I was trying to do.
TO: And what aircraft were stationed nearby?
AC: Aircraft? Well, I wasn’t in that part of the war where the aircraft came in to it. It was the RAF regiment were infantry really and we weren’t involved with [pause] with aircraft.
TO: And what buildings did you tend to have where you were stationed?
AC: What building? Sorry?
TO: What kind of buildings did you have in the places where you were stationed?
AC: I’m trying to think [pause] You know, I’m afraid I can’t tell you.
TO: That’s fine.
AC: There were buildings but I can’t, I just don’t remember.
TO: And can you tell me a little bit more about your time in Italy?
AC: About my —?
TO: Time in Italy.
AC: Sorry?
TO: Your time in Rome in Italy.
AC: Oh, Rome in Italy.
TO: Yeah
AC: Well, we weren’t there very long. We were transferred by sea from Egypt to Bari or Brindisi, I can’t remember which and we were, I suppose we were there a few weeks but we went, we were due to go to Greece as soon as they were ready. And so I didn’t really see much of Italy and as I say I had a week’s leave in Rome where I heard [unclear] and one opera but apart from that I don’t remember anything about it.
TO: Do you remember much about Austria?
AC: About what?
TO: Austria.
AC: Oxford?
TO: Austria. Linz.
AC: Austria. Well, it was peaceful. There was no, we were an occupying force but we never did anything, had to do anything. Didn’t have to do anything because the Austrians were quite realistic and I think they just accepted us as occupying power.
TO: Did you ever get to talk to the civilians there?
AC: Did I ever get what?
TO: Did you ever get to talk to the Austrian civilians?
AC: Not really. A little bit but not very much. We were at, in a place, I think it was called Graz and it was quite a big town and as I say there was no fighting or there was very little [unclear] at all. It was just living day to day. And it wasn’t exciting. Eventually I was demobbed in 19, February 1946. I spent a couple of weeks learning to ski which was fine for me but I just about learned how to stop which was very necessary.
Other: You need to be able to stop don’t you? When you’re skiing?
AC: Well, after the war in Swanage on holiday with my wife and children. Some of the children I tried to water ski. At least I knew the positions.
TO: And what were you doing on the day the war ended?
AC: The German war I was in hospital. I think with tonsilitis. The Japanese war I was somewhere in Austria. I can’t remember anything else.
TO: And do you remember much more about your time in Greece?
AC: About my —
TO: Time in Greece.
AC: Sorry?
TO: What else do you remember about Greece?
AC: The Greeks.
Other: Yes.
AC: Well, there was, they were all very hospitable. We were lucky because the war was over and they were all ready to help. Do anything we wanted. One or two songs I remember but that’s I can’t sing them. Popular.
TO: So, did you talk with the Greek civilians much?
AC: No. Not really. I suppose I should have done but I can’t remember.
TO: That’s fine.
AC: It’s seventy years ago now.
TO: Were you surprised that a civil war broke out?
AC: Not altogether. I knew enough that the Greek communists were very strong in one part and my CO went and negotiated between the two different Greek [unclear] One communists, the other was a man called [unclear] who was right wing and they fought each other more than the Germans. The Greek communists eventually lost the war or at least they didn’t win.
TO: And when did you hear about the Holocaust?
AC: I didn’t know anything about it really until after the war. I mean, I knew things were terrible but I had no idea. I was lucky. I didn’t go to Belsen or Auschwitz or Dachau. I didn’t really know anything.
TO: Do you remember much about your time in Iraq?
AC: About my family?
TO: Your time in Iraq. In Syria.
AC: No. Not really. I should have done.
TO: Can you tell me a bit about your trip to France and Belgium last year?
AC: Oh, that’s easy because my father was killed in a place called Harelbeke near Ypres in 1917, the 31st of July and I determined that if I was ok I would go and salute his memory which I did. The family, my family and I have three children. Andrew, James and Louise. James was on holiday and couldn’t come but his son Marcello, my only grandson he came and so did the two granddaughters and my daughter and then my granddaughter’s children. They came and then we drove. I went down by the train to London with Louise. She came up and we went and met, went by train to Lisle and at Lisle we were met by Louise’s husband, Colin and her two girls, Joanne and Isabel. And we stayed the night in Lisle and then went over the next day to Belgium. There was no delay. Lisle is very close to the Belgium border anyway and so we went from the Lisle hotel to the Menin Gate where my father’s name is. And luckily his name was at the bottom of the column so I was able to [unclear] it though I couldn’t see and we stayed for a service. It was the day after I think the main service there. Anyway, there were quite a lot of people still there and we stayed for the service and I was able to think of his name because it was at the bottom of the list. The bottom of the wall where they were all named. One of my friends was, who’s dead now was a Belgian. He was an agent for the Belgium textile machinery Picanol and he took a photograph of the Menin Gate which showed that they’d got my father’s name right but the initial wrong. They’d put G instead of C. So, I wrote to the War Office. This is going back ten or more years and asked, sent them a copy of the photograph and asked if they could put it right and to give the War Office its due they said yes they could do that but it would take some time. And they did. They changed, just took off bits from the G so that it was C for Charles which was my father’s name.
TO: I hope you don’t mind me asking but was it very difficult growing up without your father?
AC: No. I had to. It wasn’t, because my mother was very good and never, I just accepted the situation because I was too young to understand what had happened. I was very lucky that I was born in an affluent family and they sent me to Rugby and Oxford and I had really as I say, I was very lucky.
TO: And did you ever feel any animosity towards Germany or Japan or Italy?
AC: No. I don’t think so. I mean, obviously when Jewish refugees came I felt sorry for them but I never felt hatred for Germany. I wasn’t really in contact.
TO: And have you ever been back to anywhere that you went during the war?
AC: Have I ever been?
TO: Even been back to anywhere you were stationed during the war?
AC: No. Not really. No. I mean no is the answer.
TO: Is there anything you want to add at all to finish off?
AC: I think I’ve told you as much as I can.
TO: Thank you very much. It was a pleasure to hear from you.
AC: You’re welcome. I’m sorry I can’t remember quite a lot.
TO: No. That’s fine.
Other: No. You do very well, Alan.
TO: You did brilliantly. Thank you.
Other: You did very well. It’s very interesting.
AC: I know the places but I don’t know much about them
Other: Yeah. But it’s still interesting.



Tom Ozel, “Interview with Alan Coburn,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 18, 2024,

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