Interview with Jack Alexander Cook


Interview with Jack Alexander Cook


Beginning the war in a reserved occupation, Jack eventually volunteered for the Royal Air Force, however, it would take the majority of the war before he joined. Eventually being called up for Bomber Command in 1944, Jack trained as a wireless operator before becoming a flight engineer. He was sent to RAF St Athan initially for training, before joining 158 Squadron at RAF Lissett to fly Halifax bombers. Throughout his operations, Jack completed 12 operations before his plane was damaged over the Netherlands, having to make a crash landing at RAF Carnaby. He then continues to give information on the Halifax bomber, recounting his experience being hit by a shell during a flight. Jack recounts his time at RAF Lissett as wonderful, living with ‘his own family’, his crew, a family of seven. Reaching the rank of sergeant, he believes he completed 23 operations in total. When the war ended, Jack returned to his pre-war occupation as an instrument maker, keeping in contact with many of his crew throughout the years. He states that it was easy to return to civilian life, but the one thing he missed most was the camaraderie. He is currently involved with the RAF Association.




Temporal Coverage




00:21:17 audio recording


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ACookJA170918, PCookJA1701


AS: Ok. I think we’re ready. Ready to go. So [pause] Ok. I think we’re ready to start. This is Andrew Sadler interviewing Jack Cook in his home in Uxbridge on Monday the 18th of September 2017. Thank you for allowing me to come, Jack.
JC: You’re very welcome.
AS: Can you tell me how you got involved with the RAF in the first place?
JC: Well, in the first place I was in a Reserved Occupation. Instrument maker. So, of course when the war broke out I was safe. Or shall we say safe. And in the end I just would not, I would not stay in there. I mean I didn’t want to see the war going on in somebody else’s backyard. I wanted to be involved so I volunteered. And the only thing I could volunteer for was Bomber Command. They wouldn’t take any for anybody else. So, of course I was glad. Glad enough of that. And I, I was, how can I say? I got, I finally, anyway I finally, they accepted me and I went. Went for training. Usual training. Bomber Command training. And when I finished that the, we naturally went to get crewed up. There I met my, my crew. The other people there. Bill Walsh, he was a New Zealander. I think there’s a picture of him somewhere here. And then the, the other. The other lot. I forget all their names now. Excuse me for that. But yes we, we then, after we’d finished our first lot of training you know we had to learn to fly the things of course and all about them. And as an engineer, what I was going to be a flight engineer I had to know a lot more because, you know you have to know the ins and outs of the aircraft. Anyway, we finally got through our training. From our early training and they put us on, on operations in Lissett. A place called Lissett in Yorkshire. We were flying. We were flying Halifax 3 machines and they were a lovely machine mind you because as an engineer I knew all about that. But we, we finally got sent in to York. A place in Yorkshire where we did, we did, started our operational flying. Of course, then it was straight on to, you know when the when the guns really did go bang. And we, I think we got through [pause] I think got about twelve or thirteen and we, we caught a wallop on the way back and then we had to crash in to, to Carnaby. That’s the big crash ‘drome. Carnaby. And from then of course it was easy going because we’d got another aeroplane by then. And we, we just did short stuff then from then on because we were practically at the end of the war by then. Fortunately, because you know when I did get into the war I got a bit of the war in [laughs] where a lot of people went through the really thick stuff, you know. But anyway, the end of the war we all demobbed. And that’s a painting done of us. And there’s not really anything. Then I went back into industry of course as an instrument maker. But beyond that. What —
AS: Where were you stationed?
JC: I was stationed in Lissett. A York, in Yorkshire. We first of all went on to, we went on to, you know our initial training in Yorkshire. But then we finally, when we finally, when we finally passed out on our initial training they posted us to 158 Squadron in Lissett and we, I think we managed to get off about twenty three operations. Twenty three trips through. I think it was about twenty three. Without my book I’d have a look and we then of course the end of the war we separated and although we kept in touch for a long time but we gradually lose you know. But yes. We did very, we were very lucky. We did get one. One went in on the way back and we got a terrific bang in the old what’s the name wing. And the shell had come up and knocked, you know hit the wing, the wing of the aircraft and sort of knocked us into a spin. We sort of fortunately were able to get back out again and get back. Limp back into Carnaby. That was a special place with extra long runways to, you know for a crashed aircraft to get in there safely. But otherwise and that we just gently cruised through the rest of the war and that was the end of it. We kept in touch for a while. But people —
AS: Were you just, were you just in Halifaxes?
JC: Sorry?
AS: Were you just in Halifaxes?
JC: In Halifax 3. Yes. Oh, a lovely aeroplane. No doubt about that. We trained. Trained of course on the earlier version. Well, you know the old, old stuff for the trainees. And then we transferred to the Halifax 3 which was as I say was a lovely aeroplane. But spoiled it by the end. We blew half the wing off [laughs] You know we were just at the end of the war and then we all sort of went our own separate ways.
AS: Can you tell me about your training as a flight engineer?
JC: Well, yes. I when I, when I was an I was an instrument maker, you see. And of course when I decided I wanted to, wanted to do something a bit more than this I tried to get in and the only thing they could put me on was a wireless operator. Well, you know I thought I’m going to have a go at anything. You know. To get in. And I went on a wireless operator’s course but of course for some reason or other I couldn’t take Morse. You know. I just couldn’t take, couldn’t get it down quick enough. They had to transfer me over. I was lucky because they just happened to be just short of flight engineers so they put me on a flight engineer’s course and I went down to Wales, St Athans in Wales and trained. I went through the training. Got my, got my logbook. It’s around somewhere. And, and then we went on after. After we got our initial training they posted us to a proper Squadron. 158 Squadron in Yorkshire. And that was at Carnaby. Near Carnaby. And then we flew. What did we, I think about twenty three I think before we finally ran out of war. So of course at the end of the war of course we all went our own separate ways.
AS: Can you remember the missions? The missions that you went on?
JC: Pardon?
AS: Can you remember the missions that you went on?
JC: Oh yes. Well, I’ve got a logbook here somewhere.
Other: He’s got his logbook there.
Other 2: Oh yes. Oh. Here we are. Yes.
JC: Yes. Yes. It’s, it’s a bit more interesting I suppose.
Other: Pass it over, Jack.
JC: Where are we? [pause] Yeah. There we are. Flight engineer, on. With the effect on the 18th of January ’45. So, you see we were running out of war quite fast I’d say.
AS: When do you think you actually go in to the Air Force?
JC: When did I go in to the Air Force?
AS: Yes.
JC: Oh [pause] To be perfectly honest I can’t remember when we —
Other: It’s no good looking at me.
JC: Because I tried to get in to the, first of all anything that would take me. Then the only thing you could get from, I was an instrument maker. The only thing I could get to come out from that was aircrew. But I mean I just didn’t believe I was sort of capable of going aircrew. But anyhow I went and they trained. First of all it was rather unfortunate. They put me as a wireless operator. Well, alright but the trouble was I just couldn’t take Morse quick enough. You know. I just couldn’t get it down so no good as that. So, you know you can’t say that, ‘Oh, would you mind running it again? We didn’t hear it.’ So you know I, I transferred then with a bit of luck as a flight engineer. I flannelled my way through. They said, ‘What do you know about cars and engines?’ And all that. And I flannelled. I didn’t know the first thing about how a car worked. But anyway I talked. Talked them into letting me start. So I went to St Athan’s and did the original early training. Then I finally sent up to Yorkshire where I did the operational. What they called the operational training where you have your final polish of all your work and learn how to really cope with aircraft. And then from then straight on to 158 Squadron. Quite a posh Squadron I must say. 158 Squadron in Yorkshire. Near Bridlington. And we, I think we managed to get about twenty three. I’m not quite sure how many it was. About twenty. I think it was twenty three and then we ran out of war. So we all went our own separate ways. I’ve got a few bits here but not, you know. Here’s sort of our crew. Oh, we’ll go through. We’ll go through our crew. Yeah. I’ve got Bill Walsh who was a New Zealander. He was the pilot and he was a smashing bloke. The other one there was [pause] we had two gunners. Reg. Reg Simpson and Nick Nichols. Funny that. And Ray. He was a [pause] he was the navigator. Ray. And the other one was the bomb aimer. And as I say we, does it say how many we got? See what we’ve got in the book. We did, we did catch a packet in one place and managed to land. I’ll show you in a minute anyway. We were coming across Holland somewhere I think. We got, we got hit. That threw us into a spin. And the, the pilot, brilliant pilot, old Bill, a New Zealand lad got us out of a spin, you know. A skinny lad really. And then we managed to sneak across the North Sea and came in at Carnaby. A big, a big crash aerodrome at Carnaby. And, [pause] but anyway as I say we went on from then. We got properly, got through the whole lot. I think it was about twenty three [unclear] But yeah we were lucky. We were very lucky. We had one or two. One or two clips, you know where you know, bits of holes appear in the wings and lumps come off. But on the whole we got away with them. Except on that one occasion when we nearly went down. But [pause] yeah. Otherwise, you see the photograph.
AS: Wow.
JC: Hit by a shell and it actually exploded in the wing.
AS: What, what was life like on the base when you were between missions?
JC: Sorry?
AS: What was life like on the Air Force base between, when you were between missions?
JC: Oh. Wonderful really because we as a crew of seven we tended to, well we were sort of all put in our own hut separately and so of course we lived as a family of seven. I mean there was, there was sort of we had a warrant officer pilot and a warrant officer navigator and the rest of us were all just sergeants. And there was no muscling about. We all went in together in the same hut and oh it was, it was really a lot of, a really a tight camaraderie between us. You know. We were a crew and as they were our right hand. Right arm. You know. It was, of course at the end of the war unfortunately we went our own separate ways and I lost touch.
AS: How long did you keep in touch with your crew mates?
JC: Oh well, first of all of course it wasn’t, it was quite a while and then gradually we sort of got writing to each other. But it was long, it was quite a long time since I’d seen them or heard anything. Yeah.
AS: When you —
JC: We understand that the navigator and Bill the pilot were both New Zealanders. They went back of course to New Zealand. The rest of us we just dispersed. What we had to, I can’t remember you know, we had the rear gunner was [pause] I forget what he was. He was just, just one of the bods you know. Like myself.
AS: When you finished and you came out of the RAF what did you do then?
JC: Well, I went back into the factories of course. It was a bit of a, you know it was all a bit of a wrench from being you know under orders as to getting back. Getting back on sort of your own peace. Your own job. But I went back in to the factories and became an instrument maker and finally a tool and mould maker. When I retired I was tool and mould maker. You know. All the stuff, you look around you has all my fingers on it.
AS: Oh right. And did you find it difficult to assimilate back into civilian life?
JC: No. Not really. I suppose we missed, missed the company for a start but of course we all went our own separate ways and kept quite tightly in touch for, you know for the first year or so but gradually it wandered off and to tell you the honest truth I’m never quite sure where they all are now. But —
AS: Did, did you, you didn’t fly any aircraft other than Halifaxes.
JC: Oh well, after yeah after the, after the war first of all, of course we did our training on a, on a sort of a clapped out Halifax. Then we did our operations on a brand new one. A lovely brand new one. And we spoiled it though. We blew a lump out of the wing. But then after that it was just a matter of pottering around. Aircraft wanted to be delivered from one place to another. I used to have to fill in as a flight engineer. But gradually you sort of get I finally got as I, sort of let out. They discharged. I don’t think I can offer much more than that. As I say because when I came out of course I went to try and pick my old threads as an instrument maker which I was virtually in the same sort of job I finally finished with.
AS: Were you involved with the RAF Associations afterwards?
JC: Oh. Involved with them. Well, not for a very long time. I didn’t realise that there was anything, you know. Anything like that. But it was just down the road wasn’t it from RAF, RAF Uxbridge? There was a, I met one or two people down there. I went in. I got in with them. And we used to meet down there sometimes didn’t we? Well, Olive didn’t but I used to go down there lunchtime. Friday lunchtime wasn’t it? Friday lunchtime I think it was I used to go down there and we’d meet together. But of course I don’t think [pause] I don’t ever really met my crew again. I’ve got a feeling I did meet one of them but you know being as we were a very close knit seven you know. A very, very close knit lot and when you all go your separate ways it’s surprising you are separate and that’s it. But yeah. We had a good crew. A jolly good crew. Have you had a look at the —
AS: No. Maybe I’ll —
JC: Not a lot, not a lot in there really but —


Andrew Sadler, “Interview with Jack Alexander Cook,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 15, 2024,

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