Interview with Owen Cox

Title

Interview with Owen Cox

Description

Owen Cox went to a grammar school in York and joined the Home Guard when the war started. At 18 he joined the Royal Air Force, although his parents were not keen. His initial trade was ground wireless operator (Morse), waiting to attend a gunnery school. He describes service life at RAF Castle Kennedy, living in a Nissen hut. Owen flew in Manchesters, Blenheims, and Bostons. He was then posted to Gibraltar, Sicily, then Morocco, and eventually Tunis, at a USAAF airfield. He recollects operations to the Salerno beach heads. In October 1943 his aircraft was struck by lightning: following electrical issues, they ditched at night-time. Badly injured, he was rescued by a fishing boat, then taken to hospital in Sicily. He had serious health consequences, including deteriorated eyesight. Owen was eventually repatriated and then discharged on medical grounds.

Creator

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

Date

2020-01-31

Rights

This content is available under a CC BY-NC 4.0 International license (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0). It has been published ‘as is’ and may contain inaccuracies or culturally inappropriate references that do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Lincoln or the International Bomber Command Centre. For more information, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ and https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/legal.

Format

00:54:08 audio recording

Language

Type

Identifier

ACoxOV200131
PCoxOV2003

Coverage

Conforms To

Temporal Coverage

Transcription

RP: This interview is being conducted on behalf of the International Bomber Command Centre in Lincoln. The interviewer is Rod Pickles. The interviewee is Owen Cox. Also present is the niece of Owen Cox, Mrs Wendy Wood. The interview is taking place on the 31st of January 2020 at Mr Cox’s home in Honiton, Devon. Good afternoon, Ian.
OC: Hello.
RP: Ian? Owen.
OC: It’s nice to meet you.
RP: Thank you for inviting me in, in to your home. If you could start.
OC: Yeah.
RP: Perhaps you could tell us where you were born, and when you were born and your early life and how you came, what prompted you to join the RAF. But —
OC: I wanted to join the RAF when I was at school.
RP: And where were you at school?
OC: I was in the Kings School at Ottery St Mary. The Grammar School. And my parents wouldn’t let me join the RAF, and by various means I passed them all. I was only seventeen when war broke out and I joined the LDD. It’s even worse than Dad’s Army. And when I was eighteen I joined the Home Guard. The only difference was I had a different arm band. And when I was eighteen I went in the Recruiting Office in Exeter on my way to, during my lunch hours and the first thing that happened was the flight sergeant came along. He said, ‘Hello sonny, what do you want?’ That rather put me off. Eighteen, you know. A teenager being called Sonny. And so I said, ‘I want to join the RAF.’ ‘Oh yes? What would you like to be?’ So I said, ‘Aircrew.’ So he said, ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘Well, you nip home and get your birth certificate.’ So I said, ‘Well, I’m eighteen.’ He said, ‘You’ve still got to get your birth certificate.’ Then I was in trouble. Trying to get a birth certificate. How could I do it without my parents knowing why? So I’d just been on the Devon County staff for just over six months and I was put on the permanent staff after six months probationary period. So I went home and I said, ‘Mum, I want my birth certificate. I’ve been put on the permanent staff and they want my birth certificate.’ ‘Oh yes,’ you know, with a joys, got a job in those days because were hard to come by. And so I got this birth certificate and went in. Then I was offered, he said, ‘What do you want to be?’ The same flight sergeant. So I said, ‘Well, the same as last time. Aircrew.’ So he said, ‘There aren’t any vacancies.’ He said, ‘You can be a clerk g.d. or a driver.’ So I said, ‘Well, I’m a clerk already just up the road. I don’t like the sound of g.d,’ which is general duties I found out afterwards, ‘And I don’t want to be driving all over the country. So if you give me back my birth certificate I’ll nip somewhere where they will accept it.’ And then he came back and in the end he agreed that I could join the RAF. And so I went home that night and I said to my mother [pause] if I wanted to say anything controversial I used to wait until she was busy, you know, getting father’s meal or in the evening. And when she was in middle of that I said, ‘I’ve joined the RAF today, mum.’ She said, ‘Oh yes,’ and went on busy, you know. And that went on and it wasn’t until, oh when we first of all the Devon County Council if you more or less volunteered you had to get committee approval so that the job was vacant when you came back. It was a very good job that I did because I was a wreck when I came home. But if you were a conscientious objector you got the sack. Yes. It was like that. And eventually in November I got a letter. When I came home mother said, ‘There’s a letter from the RAF for you.’ So I said, ‘Oh, I expect that’s my calling up papers.’ ‘What do you mean calling up papers?’ I said, ‘Well, don’t you remember, you know.’ ‘No,’ she said, ‘Well, you’re always saying stupid things,’ you know, ‘And if you say anything like that we don’t take any notice of it, you know.’ So I said ‘Well,’ I said, ‘I was quite honest. I told you what it was.’ I told a lie about my birth certificate but that was all [laughs] And when father came home she said, mother, ‘What do you think he’s done?’ Father was rather exasperated, ‘Whatever has he done now?’ You know. She said, ‘He’s joined the RAF.’ My father said, ‘He can’t. He’s not old enough.’ So I said, ‘Yes, I volunteered, father.’ ‘Oh.’ He said ‘That’s it, and you can’t say anything about it,’ I said, ‘In the First World War you volunteered when you were seventeen.’ He said, ‘But I didn’t go.’ I said, ‘No. The only difference between you and me, I passed my medical and you didn’t.’ So, I won the argument, didn’t I? And in the January —
RP: What year is this then? The January of — ?
OC: The war broke out in ‘39.
RP: Yeah.
OC: ’40.
RP: January ’40. Oh right.
OC: January ’40, I got my calling up papers to go up to Blackpool and there were two Devon County Council members on the station with me. They were a lot older than me and they were called up, you know. And so we travelled up there and that was, that was quite an experience. It’s all in my book you know.
RP: So, was that just to, just to get you the uniform and everything? And then you got on to training from there, did you?
OC: Yeah. There we had to do square bashing first. And then six months afterwards I went to Yatesbury near Calne, near Swindon. And we had to get wireless up to eighteen words a minute, and I could. I took to Morse and I could do twenty quite easily. Send and receive. And I was posted to Plymouth.
RP: Right.
OC: And I was down there fourteen months and —
RP: Doing what? What were you doing there?
OC: Oh. Ground wireless operator waiting to go on the gunnery course.
RP: Oh right.
OC: They said, it’s very funny really, you know they said there weren’t any vacancies at the Gunnery Schools. That was, I thought to myself, my God what have I done now? You see, it wasn’t, they couldn’t keep up with gunners that had been wiped out, you know.
RP: Right.
OC: Not being very helpful.
RP: So where were you based in Plymouth for this then?
OC: Mount Wise.
RP: Mount Wise.
OC: Mount Wise.
RP: So the telecommunications side.
OC: In the end, after being put on a charge for being one day late from leave I went out into billets at Crownhill.
RP: Oh yeah. Yeah.
OC: And we were underground at Eggbuckland underground station. And, while I was undressing that’s how I got my name Inky. When I was on this charge I was wild. To think it’s my own fault, you know. I’d got the last day’s leave was this day and instead of that it was the day before.
RP: Oh right.
OC: So I was a day late and oh, I was in quite a bit of trouble there. I thought arrive at a station and before you say hello you’re in trouble. And out there I was very very good [ unclear] and oh when I was on, doing the, emptying my kit bag in this great block all to myself. A room all to myself in a block that was empty I emptied my kit bag out and there was a bottle of marking ink that burst all over my —
RP: Oh dear.
OC: Left shoulder. But when we went to the wireless cabin one of the WAAFs there, one of the wireless operator WAAFs was getting tea for the underground and everybody had taken their coats off, you see. So I took off my coat. Got this, the only clean shirt I had.
RP: Oh right.
OC: So she said, ‘You’re the new boy aren’t you?’ So I said, ‘Yes.’ She said, ‘My name’s Griffiths. Always known as Griff. What are you called?’ She said, ‘It doesn’t matter. We’ll call you Inky.’ That’s how I got that name.
RP: And that’s, that’s what you became.
OC: Yeah.
RP: So were you in Plymouth during the blitz then?
OC: No. Just after.
RP: Just after. Right.
OC: Yeah. I [pause] about, oh three weeks, a month after.
RP: Oh right.
OC: Yeah.
RP: So from Plymouth then when did you finally get to your gunnery course then?
OC: Fourteen months later.
RP: Gosh.
OC: I was down there, oh the other thing was that if you were a good wireless operator they tried to hang on to you.
RP: Of course. Yeah.
OC: And that’s why I was there fourteen months.
RP: You knew your Morse too well obviously.
OC: I loved Morse.
RP: So where did you go for the gunnery course then?
OC: First of all we went to air training for wireless sending and that was at Madley. We weren’t there very long. A horrible place. Then we went to Castle Kennedy near Stranraer.
RP: Oh my goodness.
OC: That was —
RP: Way up north.
OC: Yes. That would be December. December ’40. ’41.
RP: Yes.
OC: Or ’42. I can’t remember which and it would be in the book, but the accommodation there was rather luxurious. We used to have a Nissen hut that was, held about twelve people. Twelve or fourteen, I forget which. And it had one bulb one end and one bulb the other. Forty watt.
RP: Gosh.
OC: We’d got a tortoise stove in the middle and the supply of coal was half a sack a week. And if you didn’t pick it up pretty quickly somebody else did so you had none.
RP: Oh right.
OC: And we used to get wood. We were in the middle of a wood and we used to get any dead wood we can, and if it wasn’t desperate you used to get, break down something and get it.
RP: Yeah.
OC: And the railway went just by. We used to go out there and wave to the engine driver and the stoker of the train used to throw out huge lumps of steam coal.
RP: Oh right.
OC: And they used to do that. And when we were flying around we —
RP: So what were you training on? What aircraft were you on?
OC: The first time I was, was ever airborne was a De Havilland Dominie which is a De Havilland Rapide.
RP: Oh yes, I know.
OC: Civilian aircraft. Lovely aircraft. Twin.
RP: Twin wings. Yeah.
OC: Yeah. And then I was on Magisters for [pause] or in Magisters for the air training, and then we went up to Castle Kennedy and we were on Beauforts which was deadly and [pause] Now, now I’ve stopped.
RP: No. Don’t worry. We can, we can pause it there. Don’t worry.
[recording paused]
OC: I was posted to 13 OTU. As I walked in through the door, I’d been there two days and a fella from Honiton was walking out and we met. And the people that I was with said, ‘Oh, do you know him, Inky?’ So Derek said, ‘Who’s Inky?’ I said, ‘I’m Inky.’ And after the war we were at the Golf Club and everything, he always called me Inky. Never went back.
RP: Right.
OC: He died a few years ago.
RP: Yeah.
OC: A couple of years ago.
RP: Ok. So, anyway, you get to Bicester. You’re at the OTU. What aircraft are you now using there then?
OC: I was in Blenheims. And —
RP: What was a Blenheim like as an aircraft then?
OC: Horrible.
RP: Was it?
OC: Well, not horrible but it’s very difficult to explain really. For a wireless operator it was very difficult. You had like motorbike handles.
RP: Oh right.
OC: When you pressed them down like that your seat went down, your guns went up.
RP: Oh, I see.
OC: Then you could use your set.
RP: Got you. Oh, so the guns moved out the way so you can —
OC: Yeah.
RP: Got you. Got you. Yeah.
OC: Yeah. There’s a post comes down. There’s two cannisters of ammunition. One for each gun. And in behind there’s two little cases of coils. One was used for trailing aerial and one was to use for ordinary sending station, you know. If you used a trailing aerial that was for getting bearings. But you had to change. These were in two little boxes. They had wing nuts and you had to undo the wing nuts. Luckily they were attached.
RP: Yeah.
OC: To the case. Take out the coil, take out the one that you were using. Hold it in your lap, put the one that you picked out and put up. That one you put back in the bottom in case it —
RP: And all the time the aircraft’s —
OC: Oh, it was going. Then you, if anything happened well you had to drop the lot and curl up under. So while I was there I went under friendly fire the first time. We were just finishing our being crewed up. I was with a fella from Trinidad and one from Liverpool. They were both officers, pilot officers, and in the Blenheims there was only three in the crew and we were going out over the, before you left OTU they used to send you out over the coast after a big bomber raid in to see if there was any of any of our airmen had come down in the sea, you know. In the North Sea. We used to do a square search and come back. And we were just crossing the, I’d got permission to cross the coast and I thought well let’s get some exercise in with sending, you know back to base.
RP: Yeah.
OC: I did this, and all of a sudden the aircraft was being thrown all over. So I said, ‘Dave, what the devil are you doing? I’m trying to send Morse.’ He said, ‘If you looked out — ’ And there were puffs of bomb curling around the [pause] So I said, ‘Oh God.’ He said, ‘Did you get permission?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ So we belted out to the North Sea as fast as we could, did our section and coming back and I fired the letter of the day. It was yellow. I always remember [laughs] And peace reigned once again. So we went out and I said to Dave on that, ‘You’re coming in the same place as where we went out. They fired at us on the way out. What do you think they’re going to do when we come back?’ I said, ‘I’ve loaded the pistol again.’ And, but we came back alright. We reported it. I don’t know what happened to the ground crew but —
RP: You’d think they’d recognise a Blenheim.
OC: Yeah. Oh, we were supposed to be something like a JU88 I think it was.
RP: Ok.
OC: But they had swastikas all over them. We had roundels all over us. Top and bottom. You know.
RP: You wonder.
OC: You wonder. And well I wouldn’t be here if they’d had the things that they fired at you.
RP: If you’d been hit. Yes.
OC: Yeah.
RP: So at the Gunnery School. How long were you at the Gunnery School then on the Blenheims?
OC: Oh, the Gunnery School. I was only there about six weeks. Two months. Something like that.
RP: Then you were posted to a squadron?
OC: Then I was posted to OTU.
RP: Oh right.
OC: And I was there, oh and then we changed over to Bostons. That was a lovely aircraft. The De Havilland. Not the De Havilland. The Boston.
RP: Douglas.
OC: Douglas. That’s right. Douglas 3A. And we got a fourth member of the crew who was an under gunner who fired through the floor. That’s important because a bit later on and [pause] he used to lift up the flap on the door and he was attached by his monkey, what we called the monkey strap which was fixed to the aircraft and then he used to clip it on to his parachute harness and so he, if he got a bit excited he didn’t fall out, you know. I could never see why it happened because I mean it wasn’t that big. I suppose the length of that.
RP: Oh right.
OC: Not quite as long as that and they used to go back, clipped back and used to fire a Vickers gas operated gun through the floor but I mean by the time the enemy did that thing he was gone up past you so you wouldn’t have had time to switch it. I never saw that. I never saw him shoot his gun. And —
RP: So, you’re on, you’re on the Douglas. So how long were you at the OTU then?
OC: About four months.
RP: Oh. And that’s familiarisation is it?
OC: That’s moving from Blenheims on to Bostons. And then we went to Finmere, kitted up for overseas and we went down to Portreath in Cornwall.
RP: Oh yes.
OC: We had extra fuel tanks on them. On the aircraft. The guns were stowed, and all our kit was on the flap. So Jack, our gunner, under gunner was sitting on all our kit. And down in the, he saw nothing. I was up the top. And when you were in the Boston it’s a, it was a lovely aircraft. When you were firing your guns your feet were going that way, your guns were there. You had a swivel seat. You could swivel round and there was your wireless set.
RP: Oh right.
OC: And the Morse key, everything. And we went to Finmere. We were there about a fortnight getting used to this aircraft and one day they said to me, because of the new wireless set, ‘We’ll show you how it works.’ I said, ‘Oh yes,’ because we were to do our last what we called cross country and we went right down to Cornwall. Get permission to cross the coast up to the Irish Sea. Get permission to get back in to England and then back to base. And when I got down to Cornwall I couldn’t find the Morse key. Going this way and the Morse sets were here, and TR9 and I said, ‘I can’t find the Morse key. It was here this morning.’ Say it like everybody else you know. Couldn’t find it. I said, ‘Jack, come up and have a look. So he came. So, Dave the pilot said, ‘Well?’ I said, ‘I can’t. We can’t cross the coast,’ I said, ‘I can’t find my Morse key.’ So [laughs] Then he said, ‘Right. Abort.’ And we went back to base. Coming in I swung round all my wireless stuff was up there like everybody else, and I was just looking around and the aircraft came down like this, and in this came in [pause] six inches I suppose, nine inches and underneath this was a little square box with a button about the size of my thumb and I thought I’d never seen that before. I wonder what that is. Pressed the button. That was my Morse key. So I thought however could you send Morse on a button which was only coming up about this, above base. You had to go like this and every time of course the aircraft went down your hand went down with it, so you didn’t do it —
RP: Yes. You’re mixing it up, aren’t you?
OC: You couldn’t, you couldn’t send Morse on it. And so I said, ‘I found my Morse key.’ And when we they got back they laughed. And we used to have a board in the mess that said, “The sign of the irremovable finger,” which is Chad looking over the wall. Do you know it?
RP: Oh yeah. I know what you mean.
OC: And his hand was like this. And at the end this finger stuck up with [unclear] “Awarded this week to Sergeant Cox who couldn’t find his Morse key.”
RP: Oh dear, embarrassment.
OC: Yes. They used to say, ‘Have you got your Morse key this morning?’ Every time we went up near there. Yes. And also the Boston, the pilot, the w/op a.g. had a set of controls at the back. He had rudders but they were right up you know, you were up like this.
RP: Oh right.
OC: You couldn’t, couldn’t use it. Dave said, ‘Don’t bother about them. Just fly using everything else you’ve got there.’ I had a speedo and what height you were. Well, we were tipping, the trouble was you see oh that was done so that the pilot, if you were in trouble the wireless operator took the joystick as they called them from the side, jammed it in and you fly the aircraft. And very often Dave said, ‘Have some driving practice.’ You know. So, ‘Alright.’ Used to quite enjoy that. But of course the same thing, I was like this this and of course when you go like this this one goes that way doesn’t it? So you’re flying like this along. We were going down through the Bay of Biscay and went to, to give me some practice at that. So he said, ‘And we want to fly straight and level. We don’t want to be at an angle.’ I said, ‘Alright.’ Gradually of course I turned over and if I went that way it was even worse because it was just, it was harder to look out that window. And then we had a loop aerial that used to tune in to any station. You could get bearings on it and you knew what stations you were tuned in, you know. Music stations and all that. So I did that. Gave it to the observer. My readings. He said, ‘That’s an interesting, Owen.’ he said. Oh, they always called me Owen except the pilot who called me Cockles. And, and so I said, ‘Everything all right?’ He said, ‘Yes. We’re either in Germany or the middle of the Irish Sea which do you want?’ The [unclear] was on the Irish Sea.
RP: Oh, I see. Right.
OC: So I said, well I couldn’t be like that. Just couldn’t. And when we landed at Gib. Gibraltar. They found out that the loop, the loop aerial up there was turned. It was giving a, of course whatever instead of being nought there it would be, nought would be over here.
RP: Oh yes. Not aligned properly.
OC: Yeah. Not aligned. And I was angry at this.
RP: Because that puts all the readings out.
OC: Yeah. Oh, and another thing you have to do when you’re coming in to land you’ve got to have the aldis lamp, and send the letter of the day. Well, if you’re going this way, and you’re right or left handed whatever light you see you’re like this and then you stand up and see Europa Point, which is this point and if, if you’re not aligned on it all they see is a white light. So I undid my monkey strap, and was right outside almost, and I nearly fell out.
RP: Oh gosh.
OC: Yeah. And I just kept firing, pointed after that and when we got down —
RP: Hoped for the best.
OC: Jack said to me, ‘What do you think the ground crew are laughing at?’ I said, ‘Well, Jack we’re in shorts.’ Lillywhites you know, and, ‘Look at your knees and look at theirs.’ I said, ‘They’re just Lillywhites.’ But I was wrong. The runway at Gibraltar goes about six hundred yards out into the sea.
RP: I’ve seen it. Yeah.
OC: Yeah. And Dave brought it in as low as he could and as slow as he could to make sure because we were heavily loaded with all our stuff and everything and when the crew came up, as I jumped out they said, ‘Do you think you’ve lost anything?’ And my trailing aerial. I’d come in without winding it in.
RP: Oh dear.
OC: It had wrapped itself around a Naval boat that was passing, or anchored I don’t know which. Brought down that aerial, snapped off mine, and then I was so angry thinking that you know a trained man had done that. If I’d done it at OTU.
RP: Yeah.
OC: Yes. That would have been alright. I was still learning. But to be trained and that was went down wrong. I grabbed my parachute, pulled it out, but I caught hold of the rip cord. That one opened. So —
RP: Not a good trip.
OC: No. No, I didn’t enjoy that.
RP: So, from, from where had you gone from the OTU then, where were you now?
OC: From OTU we went to, we went to Portree.
RP: Portree. Then from Portree.
OC: Portree to Gibraltar.
RP: Oh right. And you were stationed in Gibraltar then?
OC: No. No.
RP: Just staging through.
OC: Yes. On our way to Sicily.
RP: Oh right. Right.
OC: And then we went down to Spanish Morocco. A place called Fez. And we stayed there. How the fellows lived there I don’t know. Sandstorms. And food used to go green from morning to night.
RP: Gosh.
OC: You know. And then we went across North Africa and landed at Tunis and that was an American station. And they’d rigged up hot showers. I mean not cold showers. Hot showers or cold. Whichever you liked.
RP: Gosh.
OC: And oh, they had and I always remember they said, ‘What would you like for a sweet?’ They’d given us some, I’ve forgotten what we had from the menu but I always remember peaches and cream.
RP: Gosh.
OC: I mean we couldn’t get —
RP: That’s a luxury.
OC: We couldn’t get that in England so that was fine.
RP: So was this leading up to the invasion of Sicily then?
OC: No.
RP: Not really taking part.
OC: They’d taken. That had finished.
RP: Oh right.
OC: That had finished about two or three weeks. We landed. And we slept under trees, on the ground. And then we went up to Gerbini Three which is on the Catania Plain and from there we started ops. And there was a, it was at the beach head at Salerno was it?
RP: Yeah. Salerno. Yeah.
OC: Salerno. And the Germans were coming down, bringing down Panzer divisions. And we were after three bridges the night we went out. Oh. Now, in our hut, you know, hut [laughs] tent there was Jack and myself, a gunner and a wireless operator, and in, and the same with another crew. And our pilot and observers were together in another crew.
RP: Oh right.
OC: Funnily enough. And Jack, our, both our gunners, the under gunners were called Jack and he was in hospital with dysentery so our Jack and myself used to take it in turns to fly with the other crew.
RP: Oh, I see.
OC: And I was flying as an under-gunner, not a wireless operator and we went on this raid and we hadn’t got, we were told it was going to be probably running mist or a bit of rain but it was the worst static storm I’ve ever seen even on trying to fly through it and we [sound of knocking] I don’t think it’s us. I think its next door. And they [pause] where was I?
RP: So you were on the raid in the static storm.
OC: Oh yes, and we climbed over it. Of course Jack and I were, well we all were cold, and we were frozen in the back.
RP: Yeah.
OC: Open top and bottom. And we came down the other side and we had three bridges. A road, rail and river and we went for the river bridge, and we got, as far as we could see two direct hits on it. First aircraft out. 5.15 we’d left. And so we thought there was another seventeen aircraft. They should be able to put paid to the other two. And coming back Mac said, he’s the pilot, he said, ‘We shall have to, if we run into that storm again we shall have to fly through it because,’ he said, ‘There’s no way have we got enough fuel to climb up above it and get back to base.’ And we started to fly through it and we got struck by lightning. All the intercom went out. Everything. The wireless went. Everything you’d think. Jack and I were alright at the back because we could talk to each other but the important people were of course the observer and the pilot. The observer was right in the front. Steel plating. Then the pilot’s got all his controls, steel plating behind him. Then you come to the bomb bay and the wireless equipment. Then you come to us. And we lost our way. And the pilot said, ‘Well,’ he said, ‘We’ve got a choice. We either bale out or ditch.’ So I was, seeing as it wasn’t my crew I was what you would normally call spare, and I said, ‘Well, there’s four of us in this aircraft, and if you get two or more you don’t know what to do. So —’ I said, ‘I vote —' Vote. ‘But I’ll agree to anything that you say.’ Well, they all three voted to ditch. I said, ‘Fine.’ So I closed the door and stowed my gun and I thought to myself [pause] as I picked up all the verey cartridges, stuffed them inside my [unclear] and then, and the verey pistol, so I thought a few pyrotechnics. If they don’t get too wet somebody might see us. Well, we came down, and of course ditching is rather dangerous at the best of times but when you’ve got fifteen foot square high waves going along you don’t know whether you’re at fifteen feet or —
RP: And this was at night time.
OC: Yes.
RP: Yeah.
OC: Yes. It would be after 9 o’clock at night and I don’t know anything else. I can remember having a clout on the head, but I don’t remember anything else until I was in the sea. And I suddenly became conscious again and I heard voices. I tried to blow my whistle but I couldn’t. I didn’t have any breath. And I tried to shout. That wasn’t very loud. But suddenly I had hands grip me, and I thought I was being, coming in the dinghy and I thought, cor this is hard. I never realised the dinghy was as hard as this. Well, I had twenty one ribs broken or fractured, three fractures of the spine, severe compressed fracture of the spine, severe concussion and I lost my little finger. And as I went in I lost consciousness and I don’t know anything more until I came to in the hospital.
RP: And that was in Sicily? The hospital.
OC: In Sicily. In, yes Sicily, at Patti.
RP: Yeah.
OC: And these, these brothers that I got in they’d, it was a fishing boat not the dinghy that they pulled me up. The observer was right in the front. Well, he would have been smashed to pieces. And of course no one ever said anything but he was buried. His body was washed ashore ten days later. So I was told after this. And he was buried in Catania War Cemetery. And they never found Jock or Mac. The pilot or the w/op a.g. because they’d been strapped in and the aircraft was broken all in pieces and they would have been strapped.
RP: They’d gone down with the aircraft.
OC: They’d gone down with the aircraft. It was only because I didn’t strap myself in on the end of the monkey chain. I’d undone that. I said that’s, no, I don’t want to be dangling on the end of a piece of a cord.
RP: So this was off the west coast of Sicily then. Yeah?
OC: Yes.
RP: So, looking back then do you think the better option would have been to bale out?
OC: No.
RP: No.
OC: No.
RP: You don’t think so.
OC: Well, it might have been.
RP: Because of the rough sea.
OC: Rough sea. Yeah.
RP: Yeah.
OC: I mean my pilot that night, Mac had been right through the Battle of Britain. He was on Hurricanes in the Battle of Britain. When that was over he was given the choice of night fighters or medium bombers. He said, ‘I’m not stooging around at night looking for nothing. Then turn on the light and —’ He said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘I’ll go on bombing.’ He did.
RP: Was that your first sortie out of Sicily then?
OC: Pardon?
RP: Was that your first sortie?
OC: No.
RP: No. You’d done —
OC: I think it was my sixth.
RP: Oh right.
OC: Before this, before this raid we were thinking of doing a daylight raid. Well, no way could you do a daylight raid going out one at a time. You’d just be picked off like flies, you know. And so we went out in a box of six. And we were never flown in formation except from Comiso up to Gerbini Three. That’s the only formation flying. So they said, ‘Well, we’d better get some practice in.’ So we did. The pilot, the first there, we were in number two, three, four, five, six, and the first time we went off our nose wheel burst and the pilot upended the undercarriage and slewed into another aircraft.
RP: Oh dear.
OC: And so they said, ‘You hadn’t better fly tomorrow. We’ll have a rest.’ So we went out the day after that and then [pause] so we went up again. As we, we got back to base the leading aircraft slewed down, came up, hit our wing and about two feet of wing just crumpled down. Their wing fell off and they crashed and they all got killed. And that was the aircraft that we took out to Sicily. A brand new aircraft, you know. Didn’t —
RP: Oh dear. So you’ve been recovered. You’re in hospital. How long were you in hospital for?
OC: I was in hospital. This all happened within six days. I had three accidents on landing err take-off, a mid-air, and the ditching.
RP: All come in threes.
OC: Yes.
RP: Oh dear. That was bad luck wasn’t it?
OC: Yeah.
RP: Gosh.
OC: And, oh what was the question you asked me?
RP: How long were you in hospital for?
OC: That must be the 1st of October 1943. I got back —
RP: That was the ditching, yeah?
OC: That’s, yes, well, I was in hospital that night but I was unconscious.
RP: Yeah.
OC: And I went in. Then they transferred me from that hospital to number 1 Advanced Field Dressing Army Hospital and I was still unconscious. And about ten days after that I began to get conscious. Then I was, when I began to come to a bit, I couldn’t see. I was blind. So I said, ‘Shall I ever see again?’ I thought, oh crumbs, you know. Get over something and you’ve got something else. They said, ‘Oh, yes. We’ll do that. Don’t worry. He says, ‘It’s only a matter of days now that you’re conscious that it’ll come back.’ I didn’t know how it was going to happen but it did and then I realised I was paralysed from the waist down.
RP: Oh dear.
OC: And so I said, ‘Shall I ever walk again?’ They said, ‘Yes. Yes. We’ll get you alright.’ So then my sight came back so I thought well theyll get me walking again, you know. I had complete faith and they were wonderful. Wonderful staff. And one day the medical officer was coming around to do the, the chief medical officer of the hospital going around and he said, ‘If we can keep this fellow alive until midnight we should be able to pull him through. We’ve got every chance of pulling him through.’ So I thought, oh bad luck fella because the next place to me there’s a fella with his, this absolutely just two little slits for his eyes.
RP: Oh right.
OC: And one for his mouth. A primus stove had blown up in his face.
RP: Gosh.
OC: And I thought crumbs, you know. I felt sorry for him. Then the next thing I heard was, ‘Oh, and this afternoon we shall be removing the bandages from this fellows head.’ So they’d been talking about me and they said they should be able to keep me alive.
RP: Right.
OC: Pull me through.
RP: So when did you come back? When did you return to England then after that?
OC: A week before December.
RP: So you got, got back for Christmas.
OC: Before Christmas. Right.
RP: Yeah.
OC: I went on the, from landed at Portreath. I went to Plymouth Royal Hospital. I got up to Wrougton Hospital near Swindon and they said they were going to amputate my little finger but my own doctor saw that, did it. And in Tunis was one of the places I landed. I was there for over a month. I’ve never been treated so badly in all my life. And I didn’t have any clothes. I came back to England in a pair of gym shoes. I, when we went to Wroughton they didn’t have a pair of size eight shoes there so I came back to Honiton in a pair of gym shoes and then I put my own shoes on.
RP: So did you arrive back in Honiton for Christmas?
OC: Yes.
RP: Oh, ok.
OC: Yeah.
RP: And what did you parents have to say?
OC: I shocked them. And when the lads, I used to go to church every Sunday with the organist, and his young brother used to answer. Well, I used to go up every Sunday. Walk up to the house, it was a big white house up here behind the park and just tap on the door and walk in. I thought, well they don’t know that I’m coming so I’ll wait outside and tap. Young Edward opened the door, looked at me, slammed the door and went in. So I didn’t know what to do. The next thing I knew all the family came out to the back door. They said, ‘Edward said he thought he’d seen a ghost,’ and [pause] because I was just a bag of bones, you know.
RP: So did you stay in the RAF or were you discharged?
OC: Discharged. I, oh, so then I went from Wroughton. I wasn’t there that long. I was in a convalescent home in Loughborough for four and a half months and then I went to the Central Medical Board in London, and I went through five doctors there. And they told me to report to wing commander so and so at lunchtime, after lunch. So I said, ‘Alright.’ So I went down and we had a little chat and he said, ‘What were you doing before you came in the Services?’ I said. ‘Oh, I was a clerk with the Devon County Council.’ So he looked up. He said, ‘Well,’ he said, ‘I think you’d better go back to the Devon County Council. Be a clerk again back at the Devon County Council. You’re no further use to the RAF.’
RP: Oh dear.
OC: That’s how it ended [unclear]
RP: So how long was it before you got back to your normal good health as it were after all that?
OC: Years.
RP: It must have been a while.
OC: Yeah. I was sitting with my back to the wall and a bag of nerves now. Yeah.
RP: So did, did you get your job back with Devon County Council?
OC: Oh yes. Yes.
RP: Yeah.
OC: That was terrible. I couldn’t last a day. I used to go down on the fire watchers bed down in one of the committee rooms and lay on my back and very often I used to fall asleep. They used to come down and wake me up to go back to work again, you know.
RP: And yet for all that —
OC: Pardon?
RP: And yet for all that your ninety eighth birthday is coming up.
OC: Yes.
RP: It’s amazing and I mean that’s it’s an amazing story. I’m really, I’m privileged to hear you talk and I think that’s probably a good point to end on but I have to say thank you very much. It’s been amazing.
OC: My pleasure.
RP: Absolutely amazing. Thank you.

Collection

Citation

Rod Pickles, “Interview with Owen Cox,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed August 2, 2021, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/22526.

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