Interview with Joseph Henry Cook


Interview with Joseph Henry Cook


Completing school and moving on to work at 20th Century Fox Films, he worked as a fire watcher at the beginning of the war before joining the Royal Air Force. He states that he did that because he always wanted to fly and didn’t want to join the Army. He was sent to St. John’s Woods, for square bashing, which he thought was to ‘break’ the aircrews, before completing his initial training at RAF Bridgnorth and then onto RAF Bridlington to learn Morse code. He turned down being a bomb aimer in Anson and trained as an air gunner instead, after being told that they had the highest loss rate. He eventually travelled to RAF Tarrant Rushton just before the D-Day landings, being sent to drop leaflets over France in old Stirlings. Upon completing one of his first four operations, he baled out and landed in a tree. Joe was transferred to Wellingtons, flying training eight-hour trips. Joe also recounts several experiences on operations, including two near misses and flying at low temperatures. He didn’t think about losses, purely as they were so tired. Decommissioned in July 1945, Joe struggled to find work following the war, with people not hiring him as they believed he had killed people. He remained in touch with his crew and he also joined the squadron association. He states that he was never frightened throughout the war, but that he wouldn’t do it again, as he has more sense now.




Temporal Coverage




01:04:02 audio recording


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ACookJH170118, PCookJH1701


CJ: We’re on. Ok. This is Chris Johnson and I’m interviewing Joe Cook today for the International Bomber Command Centre’s Digital Archive. We’re at Joe’s home in Kent and it’s Wednesday 18th of January 2017. Thank you, Joe for agreeing to talk to me today. Also present at the interview are Vi Jarmin, Joe’s partner. Joe’s daughter Beverley Maltby and her husband Michael. So Joe, thanks very much for talking to us today. Perhaps you could start by telling us about your early life and where and when you were born and your family background.
JC: Very, very simple. I was born in Sidcup in Kent on the 2nd of June 1925. I’m, I’m living with my grandparents for a little while and my mother and father and then we moved. And we moved to Brockley and more or less orientated around Brockley. My early life. I went to school at Blackfen. And then of course I went to the, what do they call it? Basic school. Elementary school. And, and then I got a scholarship for going to Brockley Central School. Brockley Central School was a marvellous school because we took the Oxford General School Certificate and we took the London Chamber of Commerce Certificate of which I’m proud to say I got the Oxford Certificate and I got the forces of it with the London Chamber of Commerce with a Book Keeping Distinction. That was my basic education. Because of the background I was able to go straight into a job. And I went to, oh [pause] I went in to a solicitors I think it was. Something like that. I was only there a couple of days and it fizzled out. Something went wrong. I then ended up in Twentieth Century Fox Films. I found my own job because it paid twice the money that the others did. So, at Twentieth Century Fox Films I was working in the assistant, whatever, I forget what they call it now. Anyway, it was logging films and how much they would produce and etcetera. I was there until I went in the services. I met my first wife, my wife there and we were married obviously in 1945. I wouldn’t marry her until I finished flying because I said, ‘You can’t get married to a cinder.’ Because all aircrew got terribly burned. So therefore I married in 1945. 20th of October. And I produced eventually [laughs] a long time my daughter who is over there. And that is all I’ve produced because my wife had trouble with TB etcetera. So I wouldn’t let her have another child. My fault. I wouldn’t let her have another child. And I was married for forty six years. My partner over there God bless her heart. I’ve been with her for twenty five years. I’m sorry. And I’m still with her.
[recording paused]
CJ: So, Joe. You were working at Twentieth Century Fox after leaving school. So how did you come to join the RAF and when was that?
JC: Well, after leaving school I was conned into the war because I was a fire watcher etcetera. And every night I had to sit up all night fire watching. And then, and what did I do then? How did I, you said how did I come to get in the Air Force? Well, it’s quite simple really. I didn’t want to go in the Army. Quite simple. But I always fancied flying. I wanted to fly. But I, at that time there was no vehicle to take me flying so I joined the RAF. Now, I had to volunteer for aircrew. As you know they were all volunteers. I volunteered and they accepted me straightaway because of my education. And I had no problem with that. My three days medical at Euston House went through ok. Fine. No problem. So there I am. I am sent to St John’s Wood, in the recently completed flats as, as a base. And I did my three weeks square bashing and knocking me into making me. They knocked you down so that you [pause] sort of thing was you’d clean your shoes. By the way aircrew always wore shoes. You’d clean your shoes and they were, oh you know you’d bone them and all the rest of it. And then the corporal would come in in the morning and inspect. ‘They’re bloody filthy your shoes. Get them cleaned.’ They, it was there to break you. Right. Then you want me to carry on now? From St John’s Wood I went up to Bridgnorth. Initial training. Which was square bashing and all sorts of funny things. From Bridgnorth I went to Bridlington where I did such things as Morse Code. I had to send and receive Morse Code at ten words a minute. Then Bridlington was a learning base for the, as I said Morse Code and other attributes for the Air Force. I then went from Bridlington. Remember that? Where did I go from Bridlington? Oh, I know. Bridgnorth. Not Bridgnorth. I can’t quite get it.
CJ: Was it Evanton?
JC: Huh?
CJ: Evanton in Scotland. Was that it?
JC: No. No. I went to Scotland for my AGS. I’m just trying to think where I went.
[recording paused]
CJ: So you did your basic training in Bridgnorth, Joe.
JC: Yeah.
CJ: And then Bridlington.
JC: Yes.
CJ: So, how did the training go from there and how were you picked for a particular role?
JC: Well, I wasn’t, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. But what I wanted to do was kick Jerry up the rear. And the only way to do it was get in the Air Force and get flying. Well, as I say I went to 8 AGS near Evanton. I was trained as an AG. I was flying in Ansons and then, I always remember flying in the Anson. The first flight I ever made they lined us up. Sprogs. Right. There’s a few of us. Eight of us, I think. We were going to fly that morning. ‘Right. You. You. You and you,’ and then it came, ‘You.’ Me. They gave me a handle. And I looked at it and I said, ‘What’s it?’ He said, ‘Up on the wing.’ I had to get up on the wing. Put this handle in the socket and turn it around to start the engine [laughs] Oh dear. And of course once you got one going on an Anson you can get the other one going. But I was sliding about on the wing because it was frosty that morning. You know what Scotland’s like early morning.
CJ: So how did you come to be selected as an air gunner rather than any other role?
JC: Ah. That was at Euston House.
CJ: Ok.
JC: You were in front of a load of gold braid and he, he said to me, ‘Right. We’ve assessed you. You’ve got everything. We have decided that you will be pilot, navigator or bomb aimer.’ And I said to him, ‘I don’t want it.’ He looked at me. He said, ‘What?’ I said, ‘I don’t want it. I want to kick Jerry up the rear,’ as I said. So, he said, ‘Well, we’re losing so many AGs.’ I said, ‘I’ll have it.’ So that’s how I became an air gunner. I had all the qualifications to be a pilot but I didn’t want it. And I said, ‘It will take at least nearly a year to train me as a pilot. It’s too late. The war will be over.’ That was the reason. And he looked at me, the groupie and he said, ‘You silly little sod,’ because at that rate they were losing them, losing them so rapid. Anyway, I decided that I would do that.
CJ: So you were training on Ansons in Scotland. And how long was the training for?
JC: Oh. I got up there in [pause] oh around about Christmas time. And then I was trained at D-Day. Now, I’ve got a little story I can tell you about that. I got my AG brevet. Very proud of it. Parade. Get your brevet. And then we were posted to Operational Training Unit, Silverstone. We got on the train but we didn’t go to Silverstone. The bloody thing kept, sorry it kept going and going and we ended up at Tarrant Rushton in Devon. When we got there they said, ‘You are not allowed to go outside the camp. You are confined to camp. You cannot write any letters. You cannot use the telephone. You cannot do anything.’ Everything hush hush. Of course, we didn’t know. We didn’t realise what was going on. They didn’t tell you, did they? They didn’t tell you anything. Why I was sitting on the train suddenly, oh stay on the train because you’re carrying on. And so therefore what we didn’t know was this, that it was about oh a few days, quite a few days before D-Day. Why were we sent to Tarrant Rushton? It was quite simple. This. They gathered together all the people who had just been, got their wings. Pilots and all the rest of it and they’d sent us to Tarrant Rushton and they sent us to fly clapped out bloody Stirlings. And they were clapped. And when we got there we said, ‘What’s all this? Why are we doing this?’ They said, ‘You’ll find out.’ Wouldn’t say a thing. They found, we found out alright because we had to load these Stirlings up with leaflets. Fly over to Calais. Drop them on Calais and Boulogne etcetera and we were chucking these bales of leaflets out and one bloke said to me, ‘What’s all this about? What are these leaflets saying?’ He said, ‘It’s in French.’ I said, ‘That’s alright. I’ll read it to you.’ And what it was saying, “Get out of Calais. Get out of Boulogne because we are invading and we are going to bomb like hell.” So please, Froggies get out. ‘Get out of Calais,’ etcetera. That’s what it was all about because you know as well as I do it was a spoof. Well, we were chucking these leaflets out and it counted as an op because we were going over, over enemy territory really. That was the first four. And chucking these leaflets out and on the way back of course this bloody old Stirling packed up. One engine packed up. And then we thought well blow this. Nursed it back over the peninsula. The Devon Peninsula. And then another one went. And on a Stirling no chance. Got to get out of it. Got to jump. Which I had to do. So I jumped out of it and come down on a tree. With a Land Girl with a pitch fork at the base of the tree to ram it in me. Wouldn’t believe that I was English. Got the, they sent, a lorry came around and there was the rest of the bods in it. And they took us to the farmhouse and obviously then to the station. But that, that was my initiation. That’s what D-Day was to me. Dropping leaflets for four days on Calais, Boulogne, Liege etcetera. So I had only just been trained. And it was so daft that when D-Day had been going for about a week or two we were posted and we were posted to the Operational Training Unit to be trained [laughs] You know. And went there and went on to Wellingtons. The old Wimpy. God bless her. And I did my training on that. We did cross countries. We did ten hour trips. Not ten hour trips. Eight hour trips etcetera. And I finished my OTU and how did we get crewed up? Easy. Big hangar. Type 2 hangar. Right. A hundred engineers. A hundred AGs, a hundred pilots all in this hangar and then the group captain gets up, gives a little speech and then says, ‘Right. Form yourselves into crews.’ He said, ‘Mingle amongst each other, walk around, pick who you think would be a good one.’ So I, I had a friend with me and I said to him, ‘It seems to me that the tall ones, the pilots, are bloody good. They seem to survive.’ So we looked for a tall pilot. And it happened to be a Canadian. And Mac, so we looked up at him and said, ‘Oi. You got two gunners?’ So he said, ‘No.’ ‘Do you want two?’ He said, ‘How good are you?’ ‘Well,’ I said, ‘I got eighty four percent on my passing out.’ He said, ‘Oh. I’ll have you.’ So, that’s how it was done. In this big hangar. Then you walked out of there and you were a crew and you were brothers together and just went through it all. You were so close. I can’t explain it. Closer than brothers. The sort of thing was we were booked for ops and then all of a sudden our engineer went sick and he went, turned around to the flight commander and said, ‘I’m not flying.’ He said, ‘No?’ ‘No. Mitch has gone sick. Won’t fly without him.’ ‘Oh. Alright,’ He said, ‘We’ll put a spare crew on.’ That’s how it was.
[recording paused]
CJ: So Joe, you tell me how you were all in a hangar together and sorted yourselves out as a six man crew. So where did you go from there?
JC: Well, this was done at Silverstone. Silverstone in [pause] where was it? I’ve forgotten the name of the county. Anyway, it was at Silverstone. The race track then as it was. And we were flying Wellingtons. As I said a six man crew because it didn’t have a mid-upper turret so you just, you carried the other bloke but you were the one in the turret. Then we, we did all the usual things. Training. Long trips. High level bombing. Gunnery. Etcetera etcetera. And finally you were posted to a squadron and — no. Sorry. Missed a bit. From Silverstone you went to Wigsley. Wigsley was a Conversion Unit. You went from two engines to four. To Wigsley, flying Stirlings. I hate the things. And then from Wigsley you went to a Lancaster Finishing School. And then and at that point we knew we were going on Lancasters. We dreaded the thought of going on Stirlings or Halifax. Halifaxes. So we went to Number 5 Lancaster Finishing School at Syerston. All around Lincolnshire. And then from there we were posted to the squadron. And that’s when I went to East Kirkby. I did all my operations, well twenty six of them. I think, I don’t know. I think it was twenty six from East Kirkby. But I’d already done four from Tarrant Rushton so I’d done my thirty. We were now a fully-fledged crew on a squadron. And on my first trip we’re getting on to this are we? My first trip was the Dortmund Ems Canal. The dear old Dortmund Ems Canal. We used to come up time and time. As fast as they built it up we knocked it down. That was my first trip. You’ll find it in my diary that I wrote. Every time I came back from a trip I sat with pen and ink. Where is it? I sat with pen and ink and wrote down how I felt and all the rest of it. I can’t see it. Oh.
JC: There it is. One diary. Now, there’s I’ve lost the other book so there’s only twenty trips in here. I don’t know where it went to. It’s the last one. Last twenty. As I said, Dortmund Ems Canal was five and a half hours. “I felt nervous but got on ok. Saw a Lanc go down and burst into flames in the ground. We did not get coned by tracer or searchlights. I felt pretty fatigued when we got back.” Now, I won’t go right through this because there is too much of it. Now, people say to me, ‘What were the fascinating ones that I did?’ Well, there weren’t really. There was only one target that I personally thought I’d got my lot and that was Politz. Now, Politz is an oil manufacturing conversion place near the Russian border. I went to Politz twice. The second time, and it was a long trip. Ten hours. The second time on the run up to bomb we were running up, steady, steady and all the rest of it and all of a sudden out, a bloody ME Messerschmitt 262 jet came for us and he was putting shells through the top of my turret. He didn’t, he missed us because I had already given Mac evasive action. And as you probably know once you’re attacked the tail gunner takes control of the aircraft and he has to do what he was told. And I gave him a corkscrew and we were lucky there. He went over the top. I’m watching this bloke and it was fifty nine degrees below zero that night. So I’m watching him and let him come in and then I went to open fire and all my four guns were frozen. The oil on the breech blocks, very thin bit of oil had frozen and not one breech block went forward so the guns didn’t fire. And I yelled out to Mac, I said, ‘I can’t fire. I can’t fire. The gun’s useless.’ And he said, ‘Oh. Oh. What’s he doing?’ I said, ‘He’s wheeling around. Wheeling around. He’s coming in for the kill now because he knows that we’re defenceless. My turret has no defensive fire.’ So, I said, ‘That’s it.’ And Mac said, ‘Right. Prepare to abandon aircraft.’ I can remember his words today. So I went to open my turret doors and they’d jammed. I thought. That’s it. This is it. I’m stuck in here. I’ve got an ME262 wheeling around, coming in for the kill. It’s my lot. This is death. This is what death is all about. And then all of a sudden there was a bloody great explosion. We were splattered with bits. What had happened the rear gunner and I didn’t even know the Lanc was there. He got him in his fuel tanks and up he went. And we were splattered with debris. And I yelled out to Mac, ‘Enemy aircraft destroyed. Enemy aircraft destroyed.’ These are my actual words because I can remember them as if it was yesterday. And he said. ‘Right. Resume stations.’ Thank Christ for that otherwise I’d still be up there. And that’s my worst trip. Politz. I had others. Now, in, in here you will see that Heimbach Dam. Even, we went to a dam to blow it up which we were a success at blowing up. In my diary I say, “ME109 sighted just before target. Focke Wulf 190 passed underneath at two hundred feet. Attacked another aircraft to starboard.” Then as we, once again we used bombs on this. Not the bouncing bomb. Heimbach Dam. We ran up to the dam and there was a bloke, well a kite further down. We were on the run up. And they’d got two blooming great guns on the ramparts and they were pointing at a set point of our, where would go in for a run up. So that bloke I said was ahead of us. They got him. Blew him to bits. I thought ooh. But they couldn’t reload the guns quick enough because they were a heavy gun. We went over the top. We dropped our bombs and I saw the dam go. I saw it break and go. We, we got a direct hit fortunately and it was well worth it to see that dam go. But then people would say, ‘Oh, you were a Dambuster.’ No. I was not. I was not a Dambuster. Yes, I went and blew a dam up yeah but that doesn’t make me a Dambuster. When you think of a Dambuster you think of 617 squadron and nothing else.
CJ: So what was it like on the station for — perhaps you can take us through when you knew when you were going on ops. What was the atmosphere like? And what sort of preparation did you do before you went out on a trip?
JC: Before you went out on a trip if you were billed for ops that night then you went to the crew room and your flight commander of each section like gunnery, like engineering, like w/ops etcetera. You were all [pause] what’s the word? You were, you were given all the, all the gen and all the griff and the big map on the wall and that was the first time that you knew where you were going. There’s a sequel to that because we never knew where we were going. Blooming ground staff did. Because we used to go up to the ground staff and say, ‘Oi. What’s the petrol load?’ And he’d turn around and he’d say, ‘Sixteen eighty.’ Oh, got a short trip tonight. Oh, lovely. But if he turned around and he said, ‘Twenty one fifty four.’ That’s two thousand one hundred and fifty four gallons of fuel. That is a long trip. You’re going to be up there just over ten hours. And in the cold, I mean I below zero all the time virtually. Thirty below zero. But you wore an electrically heated suit. The trouble was typical of a lot of equipment your right hand would burn, your left hand would freeze. Your right foot would be [laughs] the same conditions sort of thing. And in the end you used to switch if off. But you had another suit under it. And under that you had silk underwear etcetera. And a naval white sweater. So it was just about tolerable. I never got frostbite fortunately but I had five pairs of gloves on. You’d wonder how I pulled the triggers but I did. It was the cold that used to get you. Now, when you look at the turret the one I used to fly in anyway, you will see that all the Perspex has been taken out. There’s nothing there. It’s to open air. Completely. Now, why did we do that? Simple. If you got a tiny mark on that Perspex, just a little mark or whatever you’d be there. So took all the Perspex out for clear vision and you were to open air.
CJ: And this was the mid-upper turret you were in.
JC: No. The rear gunner.
CJ: The rear. I beg your pardon.
JC: I had four Browning machine guns. Just to sequel that I had four Browning machine guns. I had five thousand rounds per gun. I had twenty thousand rounds of ammunition and I could only fire a few seconds. Otherwise they get red hot.
CJ: So you were saying about the briefings and when the curtain was pulled back —
JC: Yeah.
CJ: You knew where you were going.
JC: Yeah.
CJ: Do I assume that some places were considered easier targets than others?
JC: Oh yes. Yeah. Because you sort of think the tape, the red tape would be going across the map and it would end at Chemnitz. And you’d hear the blokes go ahh. Or Berlin again. Because this friend of mine, Johnny Chatterton, he went to Berlin so many times that they gave him a season ticket. Oh dear.
CJ: So that, are there any other notable raids that you remember? Any notable trips?
JC: Any notable trips?
CJ: Trips that you went on that stood out there.
JC: Yes. There’s another one in here. I went to Rositz. Synthetic oil. I went to Politz. I went to a lot of them. Now, at Politz where I nearly copped my lot and I really did. Now, I’m saying there if I may just briefly read this, “Target Politz oil installation. Flak fairly heavy. Red cannon fire continuous over Sweden. Searchlights. Some in target area and over Denmark. Fighters. Two JU88s seen over target. JU88 shot down and destroyed by us.” What really happened was that the JU88, he came up and I said to the skipper, ‘Whatever he does, you do.’ And if he, in other words if he dives you dive with him and keep him in the sights all the time. So mid-upper gunner and myself I raked the canopy. Killed the crew instantly. And that was it. Down she went.
CJ: Ok.
JC: That was a JU88, and that was at Politz.
CJ: So then you, you said you finished your thirtieth op with that squadron because you’d already done four before.
JC: Yeah.
CJ: So, how did it feel when you’d all done your thirtieth?
JC: Well, I can’t explain it because you see we were so used to expecting to die. You didn’t expect to come back. You didn’t expect to do thirty. You were elated. Yeah. Obviously you went in the mess and got a few sherbets down [laughs] Oh, what was I going to say? [pause] There’s little incidents that happened all the time. Such as crew bus. Two crews in the bus. The old crew bus. And it just started going around the perimeter track and one crew their bomb aimer more or less, I don’t know what he was doing. Ah. So he ran after the bus and tried to jump on it. He didn’t. He missed. Cracked his skull. That was it. And of course you’d the sequel of the egg. You know about the egg. Of course you do. When you came back from an op you got an egg. You didn’t get bacon. You got an egg. And it was looked forward to. ‘Cor, crikey I’ve got an egg tonight [laughs] you know, when you got back. But the jokey, jokey thing is that this actually happened. The bloke next to you and he says, ‘Eh mate,’ he said, ‘If you don’t get back tonight can I have your egg?’ And then another thing that happened which aircrew were very boisterous. One bloke went round the back of the servery and he pulled the string of the WAAF’s overall. Well, it was so hot in the mess the overall opened, didn’t it? And she’s leaning forward putting an egg with a slice. You can imagine can’t you. Plop. Now, the other thing concerning WAAFs was we were always playing tricks. One bloke had the brilliant idea he got a bit of wood square and in every hut there was an iron, oh what do you call it? Fire.
CJ: Stove.
JC: Stove. Yeah. So what does he do? He climbs up on to the roof. It was a flat roof for the WAAF quarters. He climbs up on the roof. He gets this bit of wood and puts it on the chimney and holds it down. Then he [laughs] after a few minutes the doors fly open and all the WAAFs come charging out in their underwear. And it was, it was funny you know because they’d got their civvy underwear on.
CJ: How did you feel Joe when you had, when you came back and there were empty tables?
JC: Well —
BM: He didn’t think about it.
JC: I didn’t think about it. I’ll give you an instance of it. Two crews to a hut virtually. Then two crews to a hut. You come back after an op. You’re dead tired. You’d had your egg. You’d gone up the road to the hut, get in the hut, get in the pit as we used to call bed and put your head down and you’d sleep. And then all of a sudden there’s a noise. Clank bang bang bong. You put your head up and there’s a whole bunch of SPs. You could always tell because of the arm bands. You’d look up and you’d say, ‘What the bloody hell are you doing?’ ‘Oh, won’t be long. Won’t be long, chiefy.’ That’s what a flight sergeant was called. ‘Won’t be long chiefy. Just taking the other crew’s gear out.’ This is 3 o’clock in the morning. ‘Well, what’s happened?’ ‘Oh. Well, they got the chop last night.’ Put your head down and go to sleep again.
CJ: So, you finished your thirty ops. And what did you do after that? After you’d over your sherbets.
JC: Well, I wanted a job obviously. I applied to Cossor to Lissen, all, all the old radio manufacturers because of, that’s another thing you didn’t know. I was a radio amateur as well and I had a radio amateur’s licence. So I applied and I thought I’d be in there. Didn’t want to know. ‘Sorry. Can’t give you the job.’ Well, what’s wrong?’ You know, ‘I’ve got City and Guilds in radio.’ ‘What’s — ’ ‘Sorry can’t give you. The reason being. You’re ex-aircrew.’ That was the reason. You were a bloody pariah. You’d been killing people sort of thing. Of course, they’d been over here killing us. I mean I used to say to them, ‘Exeter, Plymouth, Hull,’ etcetera. Shall I go on?’ But of course that [pause] funny us English.
CJ: So after your thirty ops you were demobbed then, were you?
JC: Yeah. Yeah.
CJ: Ok. And then you were looking for a job.
JC: Yeah. And I couldn’t get one. So there was, friends of mine had come out of the Army. A couple of them. They were in to radio and whatnot and we discovered that radiograms as we used to call them or if you could get a radiogram so we said there’s a market here. We’re in. What we did we got hold of all the old turntables. Plenty of them about. And then we built the radio part and the amplifier and we had, knew a bloke who made cabinets. So wooden cabinets to house the radiogram and we were making a damned good business out of it. And then what happened then? Oh yeah. [pause] Because of the radio business a firm down in Barking, Essex they’d heard of me because a, once again a friend of a friend and they said, ‘Well, would you come and set up our radio equipment?’ Which I did. Then I thought to myself well I don’t know. I can do better than this really. Because I’d got the, what do you call it the [pause] the knowledge as well as being able to make the radios and all the rest of it. I got all that so we, I decided I could do better. And I just put a word around and before I knew it Vidor at Vidor at Erith came after me and said, we want you sort of thing. And I went to Erith, Vidor as a buyer. Because of my knowledge and because of my mechanical aptitude I became a technical buyer at Vidor when they were making the little portables. And then while I was there I was head hunted by Decca. And Decca came after me and said, ‘We’ve heard all about you. We know what you do and you know, makes you tick,’ and I became the, in the Decca radio and television side I became the chief buyer for the bits and pieces. And then to finish the story I, I was there, oh quite got a long time. And then once again a friend of mine I worked with at Vidor he wanted to come and see me. He did and he stayed until about midnight and I wondered what the hell was going on. And then I said, ‘Hey Jim, what are you up to?’ So he said, ‘I’m offering you a job ain’t I?’ And I said, ‘But you can’t match what Decca’s giving me at the moment.’ He said, ‘Try me.’ And I did. And he said, ‘Right. I want you. I want you to set up a company with departments and all the rest of it because we have a device which we — ’ A device which they’d patented. How to measure or weigh by means of air pressure. Not electric but air pressure. Now, this was a good thing. I saw the potential because all the big manufacturers of, that were using, making things which were explosive. That was the answer. So we got going into a very good business and it, it really went well until, until twenty years later. The electronic boys found out how to do it. Make it spark. Spark positive. Whatever you’d like to call it. In other words if there was a spark there wouldn’t be an explosion. So they were beating us then at our own game and unfortunately we went down this pan. Or the company did. By that time I was a director of that company. I was also a director of five others. So I took their little engraving, well part it we owned was an engraving company. So I took that and I went up to Leicester. That’s where it was based. There was only two people. I made the third. And I worked away and I got contracts for BBC. People like that. Big contracts. And once again I was doing all right. So I worked away there and sort of set myself up for a pension by an annuity which I’ve still got today. And then of course time to retire. There you have it.
CJ: There you go. And I think you said earlier that you, you didn’t marry until the war was over. Was that right?
JC: That’s right. I said to my late wife, ‘I will not marry you. Not until I finish flying because I don’t want you to be left with a cinder.’ Because aircrew used to get horribly burned and I wasn’t going to have that. That’s why I didn’t. So October ’45 we were married. And that’s the bit. Married. The vicar was available. Just got hold of him. It was the big church in Brixton. Acre Lane where the big church was and we were married in that church. Now, we managed to get the vicar but we didn’t have a choir, we didn’t have anything like that. We didn’t, we didn’t even have a car to take us. We had a car but halfway there because of the war and bald tyres it got a puncture and we had to walk the rest of the way to the church. And we got married the 20th of October 1945. And I was married for forty six years. Forty seven years. Then you know this. I’ve told you the story about Vi and I and the motorbikes.
CJ: So I think you said you had a common love of motorbikes.
JC: Yeah.
CJ: And Vi lost her husband as well.
JC: Yeah. What I did, when we said oh well we’ll get together we did. But to get married was such a mishmash I can’t, I don’t, I won’t explain it now but it caused a lot of problems or would have done. So we became partners. And I said to Vi, ‘We’re going to have a look at the world.’ And she’d not, so she’d been to Israel. Where else did you go love? You went to Israel. Where else?
VJ: Everywhere that we could.
JC: Eh?
VJ: Everywhere that we possibly could get.
JC: Well, yeah that’s when I said to her, ‘Right. Well, we’re going to see as much of the world as we can,’ and we did. And we went, that’s why we’ve been to Canada, the states. You name it.
CJ: And did you carry on biking on after the war?
JC: Oh yeah, yeah. Carried on biking. After the war. You see because my friend Stanley was Vi’s husband.
CJ: So what was your favourite bike?
JC: Hmmn?
CJ: What was your favourite bike?
JC: Well, my favourite bike was a Vinny. A Vincent. But my wife wouldn’t let me. They had them. They had one. They had a Vincent. Look. There’s one on the wall up there. They had them. But my wife said, ‘No. No. It’s too fast. No. No,’ she said, ‘I’ll leave you if you get one of those.’ No. I didn’t have one. I had a Triumph. A Triumph 650. Which wasn’t bad. I used to get a fair old speed out of it.
CJ: And coming back to the RAF did you keep in touch with the rest of the crew after the war?
JC: Oh yeah. Yes. I did. But gradually, unfortunately the engineer died of [pause] Oh dear. Cancer. It was cancer, wasn’t it?
VJ: Yeah.
JC: He died. And then I lost touch because well a lot of them disappeared. I’ve since discovered that I’m the only one alive. The rest have gone.
MM: When did Mac die?
JC: Eh?
MM: When did Mac die?
JC: I can’t remember.
VJ: About three or four years.
JC: When was it?
VJ: About four years ago.
JC: Eh?
VJ: Four. Four years.
CJ: Four years ago.
JC: Four years ago. Yeah.
CJ: So I gather you went up to East Kirkby for Mac. Is that correct?
CJ: Yes.
CJ: What was that all about?
JC: Well, his daughter was scattering his ashes in the little field of Remembrance up there. That’s why I went up there. We all went up there. There was a gang of us. Of course, scattered his ashes. I simply broke down.
CJ: And were you in a Squadron Association?
JC: Oh yes. It’s in this. Plenty of them. I’m in the Squadron Association and I still get a newsletter every year. I used to go up to the dinner and dance and whatnot. I used to. Now, I couldn’t. So —
MM: You tell him about Johnny Chatterton and Mike Chatterton.
JC: Well, Johnny Chatterton was the test pilot 630 Squadron. He’d just finished his second tour. He was looking for a crew. We’d finished ours and he said, ‘I’m going to take you over pro tem.’ And he did. He took us over for [pause] oh, I don’t know. About a year. Something like that. And finished our time at 630. Disbanded in July. July ’45. So when we disbanded that was it. Johnny tried to get the rest of the crew to go with him but they wouldn’t have it. They wouldn’t have it.
MM: But his son flew the Memorial Flight, didn’t he?
JC: Oh yeah. Mike Chatterton was, was also in the flying game if you like and he, he used to fly the Lanc. Not fly it. Well, he did but —
CJ: This was the BBMF Lancaster.
JC: Yeah. He flew that but the one at East Kirkby when they first got it running, the four engines and he did the first taxi run. When he finished the taxi run he said, ‘I had a bloody hard job to hold it down,’ he said, ‘It wanted to get in the air. Wanted to take off. I had to hold it down.’ Now, Mike Chatterton, he became a wing commander I think. He’s retired now, of course. The Chattertons own the farm which is near East Kirkby actually. Now, that’s a funny thing you see because Johnny Chatterton was born in a little house which is in, was in the middle of East Kirkby.
CJ: What a coincidence.
JC: Yeah.
CJ: Now, have you anything else you’d like to tell us, Joe?
JC: I’m just having a think. What I’m me and my, my beloved partner are carrying on. We’re still together and we don’t know how long because she’s eighty seven. Aren’t you?
VJ: Six.
JC: Eighty six.
MM: She’ll kill you if you don’t know.
JC: And of course I’m ninety one. You had to be that age to do what we’d done because it was at the end of the war. I can add, people say, ‘Well, were you frightened?’ Etcetera. No. Not a bit.
MM: Would you do it again, Joe?
JC: Oh, of course not. I’ve got more sense.
CJ: Well, thanks very much for talking to us today, Joe. That was brilliant. Thank you very much indeed.
JC: Yeah. Right.
[recording paused]
CJ: So, tell me Joe did you ever get wounded when you were flying on ops?
JC: Very slightly. I wouldn’t say I really got wounded. What happened was that the flak that came up, came through the turret and caught my right outer gun. In doing so it knocked the back plate off which has the return spring etcetera. And it’s the buffer plate for the [pause] oh dear. I’ve forgotten the name of the —
CJ: The breech.
JC: Eh?
CJ: The breech.
JC: No. It goes backwards and forwards.
CJ: The bolt.
JC: At a fast rate.
CJ: Ok. The firing pin.
JC: Eh?
CJ: The firing pin.
JC: No. No. No. It’s the breech block.
CJ: Ok.
JC: And the breach block came back and came straight out and landed in my lap actually after it had hit the side of my head. Taken my helmet. It took, you know the helmet round bit. The telephones, if you like. Took that off and creased the side of my head and when we went to get debriefed chappy there said, ‘Oh, come on,’ he said, ‘Debrief quick,’ he said, ‘You’ve got to, better go up sick quarters because you’re bleeding.’ I went up sick quarters and the, I don’t know who it was in charge. I can’t remember. But they cleaned up the, where the wound if you like. Cleaned it up and then looked at it and he put an adhesive plaster or a tape on it. Took one step back and said, ‘Yeah. Yeah. Fit for flying tomorrow.’
CJ: Well, thank you for that Joe.
[recording paused]
CJ: So, Joe would you like to tell us about any incident when you actually shot an aircraft down?
JC: Yes. I can because I have my diary which I wrote in. Every time I came back I wrote what it was like. So I can tell you that on the 8th and 9th of February ’45 the target was Politz which was an oil installation north of Stettin. And I go on to say, “The flak was fairly heavy. Red cannon fire continuous over Sweden. Searchlights, some in target area and over Denmark. Two Junkers 88s seen over target. Then Junkers 88 shot down and destroyed by the mid-upper gunner and myself and the bomb aimer two minutes before bombs gone. This was a very tiring trip being airborne for nine hours forty five minutes. Flown over for, eighteen hundred miles. Crossing Sweden and Denmark and the Baltic. The Swedish AA fire was very accurate and a lot of ‘dive ports’ had to be given to avoid it. That was two minutes from the run up to the bombing run. Then the mid-upper sighted a Junkers 88 on port beam level. The mid-upper and bomb aimer opened fire. The 88 tried to drop behind. I yelled out to the skipper, ‘Throttle back. Whatever he does you do. Don’t let don’t let him go up or down or sideways or anything.’ And then at approximately range is seventy five yards I fired in to the canopy and killed the crew. Both the gunners, the other two other than myself kept firing and strikes observed on both engines and it eventually broke away and the bomb aimer saw it crash in the target area. And it was reported also by other crews. Numerous explosions and thick black smoke with flames intermingled came up from the target. Visibility was very good. No cloud. And marking was bang on. No doubt Politz was well and truly pranged this time. It seemed ages in the air. Especially on the return across the North Sea. There was not much AA fire over Denmark but Swedish gunners were very active. No fighters were, were observed after the 88. This provided enjoyment of aerial warfare.”
Well, thanks very much Joe.



Chris Johnson, “Interview with Joseph Henry Cook,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 17, 2024,

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