Interview with Mike Cope


Interview with Mike Cope


Mike is the adopted brother of James (known as Sonny) who was in the Royal Air Force with 460 Squadron. The crew were all English apart from the Australian pilot. James was a wireless operator/mid-upper air gunner. Mike was seven in 1943 when his brother’s aircraft was shot down over the Bay of Biscay on the night of 12/13 July 1943. No bodies were recovered. James was twenty years of age. Mike’s daughter recently took her father to RAF East Kirby and the IBCC where he donated the logbook belonging to James.




Temporal Coverage




00:26:04 audio recording


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DM: This interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewer is David Meanwell, the interviewee is Mick Cope. The interview is taking place at Mr Cope’s home in Dorking in Surrey and the date today is the 27 November 2018. Okay, perhaps you could tell me a little bit of background about yourself and the person you’re going to be talking about.
MC: Right. Well I’m the adopted brother of James, known as Sonny. He was a part of the crew of one of 460 Squadron, Royal Air Force, which was an Australian outfit at the time and the only Australian in the crew was the captain, all the rest were English people. Sonny was a WOP, wireless operator gunner, air gunner, mid upper. I know all this because at times when he came home he’d bring home different parts of his uniform, his headset, all this business which to me at that time was heaven on earth.
DM: What was the age difference between you?
MC: The age difference I suppose was somewhere in the region about, I was what, five, two, fifteen, I suppose there must have been about between ten to fifteen years age difference. And of course he would bring, he would come home for the forty eight or whatever it was, forty eight hour pass, whatever it was he got, and he’d come home and we’d have the time of our lives as much as I can remember. I mean this is going back now to the good old days of 1943 when I was seven, so the age gap there is seven, fifteen, seven to about I suppose what, must been eight, eight year gap, but that didn’t come into it. I, I saw him as my brother when he came home. He brought home a couple of times John Hughendean, who was the captain, pilot, and Australian, and all I can remember him was a tall guy, he must have been about six foot six, and he was, he was a lovely man. And he came with him and we had those few days. I had the time of my life because I could go out when he went back off leave and I could go home and I could relay to the rest of the lads of my age now of what he was, what he’d been doing or what he told us what he’d been doing, and I was cock of the roost because my brother had been flying up there. And then, of course, when the news come through, stop. [Whisper] When the news came through, all, all hell was let loose and from that day on until, oh what, I was twenty three, twenty three when I got married, twenty three, until I was twenty, about twenty five, it was never mentioned. It was a [paper shuffle] a blank page. That’s it. Can’t help that. Yeah, it was never spoken about, the reasons, to me at that time I wouldn’t know. I wouldn’t have been thinking what mum and dad were thinking. Mum really took it deeper than dad did, obviously, and it was never spoken of, not until of all things, it was, we went away on holiday, now where did we go? Yeah. We went, we went to Spain on holiday and we met up over meals and whatnot, and we met up with a gang of youngsters who happened to be German. God bless ‘em, and they were great, they were beautiful kids. I mean we were in our what, late twenties at this time, late twenties, and they were teenagers and we, I got talking to one girl one evening and just saying you know, where do you come from? ‘Oh I come from Germany.’ I said, ‘yeah, I gathered that,’ but I said whereabouts?’ Because also at that time I’d done my National Service and I was posted to Germany and I did my National Service in the air force in Germany and I loved the place and I’m just interested and I said, ‘where do you come from?’ ‘Oh’ she said, ‘you wouldn’t know where I come from, I come from Wuppertal.’ The red flag went. I said, ‘Wuppertal?’ ‘Oh yeah,’ she said, ‘oh,’ she said ‘It’s a beautiful place.’ I said, ‘oh!’ She said, ‘do you know it?’ I said ‘No, I know of it.’ I said, I’ve heard different places like Berlin, Dusseldorf and places like that,’ I said, ‘and I’ve heard of Wuppertal,’ and I never said no more and it wasn’t till we come home and till mum was saying how was the holiday, oh fine, lovely. Sheila, my wife talking, ‘yes,’ she said ‘we met up with some German people.’ And I thought then, oh please. Anyway mum never said anything so I said, ‘no,’ I said, ‘they’re lovely, a couple of lovely girls that we were speaking to,’ but I said, ‘you know they, they were telling us where they come from, they come from Wuppertal.’ And with that mother just turned round and said: ‘that was Sonny’s breaking point.’ Now she’d never spoken, what you were talking about just now, she’d never spoken about it, that long gap. So I thought oh, all right, now’s your chance. I thought no, no I won’t. So yeah, I turned round I said lovely girls saying about you know, what it was like there and they got, that she was proud that they got I think one of the only trams that are hung above the street level and she was pleased as punch to think that there’s not another place like it in the world and I gradually, I was able, I don’t know how, but I was able to twist a little bit and found out that he’d done so many trips beforehand, like the rest of the lads did, but something about the Wuppertal raid must have really hit home to him for some reason, because it really hit him hard, and he wrote one letter home and mother showed me, and I can’t find it now, but you’d think he was talking about his brothers, who he was dropping bombs on. I can’t get the equation right.
DM: No.
MC: But that was the only time that she really spoke about it, in all those years and after that, at different times certain things happened, like as I say I was in the RAF and different things happened and I could talk freely, I could talk freely, freely because I could talk about them German people, and those German people I met were gorgeous, some of them were better than ours. So, and then that got me, got me thinking well I don’t know, I don’t know a lot. I’m going to see if I can find out a bit more and I started fishing, as you do, and got different little bits and pieces and then -
DM: Would this have been before the internet, so you were having to sort of do all the legwork and everything?
MC: Oh yes, this was before the internet. I didn’t know where, where the hell to go and I tried the Air Ministry and all I got from the Air Ministry was that we cannot tell you because it’s the thirty year period or whatever it was at that time, and you know, we can’t divulge because you are not -
DM: Next of kin I suppose.
MC: Next of kin and all this business and I, it got to the stage where I thought I just don’t want to do it any more. So I left it. But then, as you can see, there’s three Lancasters over there, there’s another one behind you there, which is my prize at the moment, and there’s another one behind me there. So you can see I haven’t lost, I haven’t lost touch. And of course then this boy came into business, this one, he came into business. [tapping] And then of course I’m not au fait with it but the wife’s getting on better than me, so we sit down at different times and we go through it, try to go through it, and different pieces like I found out that the whole crew, their whole names, Bullimore, Dickens, Walker, Sycamore, Archibald, names that I never knew. I knew Hughendine and I knew he was Australian, and then, then I thought oh, can I get anywhere, and I was fiddling about with it one day and I’m still trying to find it to this day and it must be now what, oh, at least a year, I happened to flick through and hit on a briefing of, or not brief, a debriefing of a Luftwaffe pilot who did the damage, and shot down, or him and his partner, shot down [cough] my brother and I think it was Nettlejohn was another guy they shot down. Now I can’t find it. I think I’ve sent it off to one of my cousins who, [cough] strangely enough we had a bereavement in the family and I met up with a cousin who I’d never seen for [whistle] god knows how many years, and his boy, who’s a big grown up lad now, I mean, doing his own business and whatnot, and I got talking to him he is doing a family history. And he said, ‘god,’ he said, ‘just right timing ‘cause,’ he said, ‘have you got any bits and pieces of your family? Because it was Uncle Jim wasn’t it, was my dad’s brother was Uncle Jim, your dad.’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘Oh, cool, that’s good.’ I said, ‘Look, I’ll tell you what I’m doing it exactly the same as you, but I’m do the, or trying to do Sonny’s records.’ ‘God.’ ‘Tell you what I’ll do, I’ve done some,’ I said, ‘I’ll sling ‘em through to you and if you get anything you can throw ‘em back to me.’ Well I did, I sent him the log book here. I sat down with the wife and we did a copy on the ipad of his log book, and sent it through to him. Oh, he was over the moon, blah, blah, blah. So it’s now come back now and it’s coming back now and it’s coming back to now. But since going to, my daughter bless her: ‘I’m taking you up to Lincoln, Lincolnshire.’ ‘What for?’ It didn’t, didn’t go in. I’m too old to pick things up quick. ‘I thought what we’d do is, we’d have a weekend away. I’ve booked a Travelodge up at Lincoln,’ and things began to twig, oh yeah, and ‘I thought what we’d do is go to this place, it’s called Canwick,’ and I said, ‘yeah,’ ‘and it’s near the new museum.’ And I thought you little, little so-and-so, but she said also if we’re going to do that, it’s all in the same area, we could do East Kirkby.’ ‘Oh,’ I said, ‘yeah,’ I said, ‘Just Jane, East Kirkby, cor, yeah. And Coningsby’s not far up the road and you could go, perhaps you could go there, and the Battle of Britain Flight.’ Well this was all my, all my easter eggs come at one go. So I said, ‘Well, you sure about this?’ Cause I said, ‘you know, you’re taking a lot on. I don’t think you’re going to be able to do it all ‘cause Coningsby’s closed I think it is, on the weekends, I think it’s closed.’ Anyway, ‘well,’ she said ‘we can always knock one out if we can’t do it.’ She said, ‘Do you want to go to the museum and East Kirkby?’ So I said, ‘well yeah, yeah, course I do.’ Which we did, and then of course we did East Kirkby first, and then from East Kirkby we went back to the hotel, and then the next day, I mean we went back to this hotel, and got to the hotel, booked in and all, did all that, went and had a meal and whatnot, had a walk and they got up in the morning and they went off out while they were waiting for us to get ready. And when she come back, she said ‘you’re not going to believe this dad.’ So I said, ‘what?’ ‘Well,’ she said, ’we’re going to the museum, the new Bomber Command place.’ I said, ‘yeah, that’s all right.’ Well she said, ‘you’ve only got to walk,’ I said, ‘what are you talking about?’ I said, ‘It’s not in walking distance!’ She said ‘It is!’ she said, because ‘if you look here,’ and she walked me I suppose a matter of fifty yards, and she went, ‘that’s where we’re going aren’t we?’ And where the place was, where we were staying, to the new museum, Bomber Command Museum, was a matter of about a couple of hundred yards walking. So we did those two, and she said all being well, she said if you want to go back up and go to Coningsby we’ll do that at a later date. So I’ve now got to the stage where I’ve been thinking about it, and I’m an old man, I ain’t got much longer. I’m eighty three, I’ve got all this paraphernalia here. They’re not going to want it, ‘yes we’ll take it dad,’ hmm, okay they’ll take it but they’ll put it in the cupboard, bless ‘em, and they’re gonna stay there, aren’t they, what are they going to do with it. So anyway this is where this lady at the Bomber Command Museum, that I was talking about, she took us on the tour, and like an idiot I didn’t get her name, but she was a lovely lady and she took us round and we were laughing and joking and talking and I just happened to say that I’d got his log book, ‘Oh you haven’t, have you?’ I said ‘yeah,’ ‘Oh!’, and then off the cuff I said well if its any good to you, you can have it.’ And I think she thought the same, all her eggs had come in one basket. I said, ‘well there,’ I said ‘you can have ‘em. I’m getting to the stage now where they come out at different times,’ I said, ‘my memory’s all around the place.’ ‘Oh would you, would you really?’ I said yeah. So that brings us I think to a closure,
DM: What did you –
MC: In as much as this business now if it goes to you. If it’s any use to you, I will hand it over to you. Don’t want to sign anything if you don’t need it, because it’s there.
DM: Okay.
MC: if you look and you think yes we’ll have that, we won’t have that, you do that, I won’t be offended.
DM: Okay. I’ll have a look in a minute. What did you find out about the circumstances that your brother died in? You said that you found out who shot him down.
MC: Not a lot. This business with the Luftwaffe guy, I mean he, he went into quite a detail, because it wasn’t only, he only, not only shot one person down, I mean [cough] he got quite a few to his record. Good luck to him. So he put in this article, and I mean if it’s any good to you I can get it and send it on to you because it was quite interesting, and as I say I can’t for the life of me find it, which is the idiotic things we do, [blows nose] so -
DM: So looking, looking at your, at this bit here, actual paper here, it’s saying they were flying to Turin on the night of 12th 13th July 1943 and it failed to return to base and I see they are commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial so clearly they were never found. They’re not buried anywhere that you know of.
MC: That’s right. No, because that is on there, that goes on a bit further there. And also it says that it was, this guy, this German guy says it’s there -
DM: So out in the Bay of Biscay basically.
MC: So, we’re talking you’ll never find.
DM: No, that’s right.
MC: So all they’ve done is, this come off the internet, and all they’ve done is they’ve given a proposed route where he could have come off on anywhere, from the UK there and I take it he went that way to it.
DM: Yeah, I would think so. So it looks as though, if he was lost in the Bay of Biscay, they had completed their mission and were on their return trip.
MC: They were on their way back which would have taken them now over Annecy and out that way and supposedly somewhere round there is where that, those lads lay.
DM: Yeah. It says here he was twenty years old when he died.
MC: That bit there, and there, which you would read, sorry to take that away form you when you’re reading it.
DM: It’s fine.
MC: But then also – what oh.



David Meanwell, “Interview with Mike Cope,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed December 7, 2023,

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