Interview with John Cooper

Title

Interview with John Cooper

Description

Mr Cooper joined the Royal Air Force in October 1943 and trained in the United States. The war in Europe was over by the time he returned to England. He remained in the Royal Air Force until he retired as a Flight Commander and became an Air Traffic Control Officer.

Creator

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

Date

2016-07-27

Contributor

Hugh Donnelly

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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

01:01:45 audio recording

Language

Type

Identifier

ACooperJ160727
PCooperJ1602

Conforms To

Temporal Coverage

Transcription

DM.This interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre the interviewer is David Meanwell the interviewee is John Cooper. The interview is taking place at Mr Coopers home in Sandhurst in Berkshire on the twenty seventh of July 2016. Now John perhaps you could tell me a little about where you were born and your early life.
JC. Alright well, I was born at Sheringham and I lived there for ten years and then we moved to Aylsham just half way between Sheringham and Norfolk and when I left the Grammar School at North Walsham I went into the bank for about a year and eh by that time eh the war was on and I went up to Norwich and volunteered for Aircrew and they put me eh down as under training, PNB which is Pilot, Navigator, Bomb Aimer and eh I think about nine months later I eh think it was I was, I was called, I went into the Air Force in October 1943. I did my eh Initial Training Wing at Aberystwyth and I then went to eh Cliffe Pypard to do my grading school and if I can remember rightly I was one out of eight I think it was out of the fifty who were told we were going for Pilot training. Eh a lot of the eh others went as Bomb Aimers because with the bigger aeroplanes coming in there was quite a demand for them. I had to wait quite a long time before anything turned up, I was at Heaton Park at Manchester, the Aircrew Reception Centre for roughly nine months, waiting around to go to the next stage of training but eventually to my delight I went up to Greenock where we went on the Queen Mary and off we went to eh New York. From New York we then went on a train up to New Brunswick in Canada and eh to be kitted out because we found we were going to a flying school at Miami, we thought marvellous. Miami nice warm sunshine, lots of girls marvellous, but it was Miami, Oklahoma right in the middle of America as far from the sea as you could possibly get in any direction and eh anyway we spent about four days on the train going to Miami and eh that was to Number Three British Flying Training School. It was so hot, it really was but it was really nice. Our course, our school had eh PT19 Cornells as a primary trainer, all the others had eh Steermans but our school had, had PT19s. We did about seventy or eighty hours on those and then eh we started on the Harvard and eh almost near the end of the Harvard course the eh the Atom Bombs had been dropped on Japan and suddenly without warning the school closed. We had about ten hours to go I think to eh, we done some of the flying tests, we had done some of the wings exams. We were about an ace from graduating and the Americans said, “what a pity that we got to stop, couldn’t we just carry on those few extra days?” but no we couldn’t. So we were very downhearted about that and eventually we went back to New York by train, had about a weeks leave there and came home on the Aquitania back to the UK. We landed at Southampton and we went up to Morecambe which was a holding unit and nobody really seemed to know what to do with us and eh [unreadable] we were sent to and eh that was a hive of activity with thousands of redundant aircrew and us as well and cadets who hadn’t graduated. We had to wait around there for weeks and weeks and weeks and we were given the choice of signing on for three years in the Air Force and finishing our training if we wanted to do that or probably waiting for a couple of years for our demob number to come up. So I opted to stay in the Air Force and went to Church Lawford eventually and eh joined a course half way through because we had already done a couple of hundred hours flying you see, and eh so we graduated from there. Having done that we still had to wait around for the next op, because at that time with all the redundancies and this that and the other the Air Force wasn’t sure what to do with all those people. But eventually I went to Finningley to eh a Wellington School and did a course on the, on the Wellington. And eh by this time it was nineteen eh, oh I can’t remember oh about nineteen forty seven I suppose. From there I went to Lindholme to eh the OCU Lancaster OCU and eh and trained on the Lancaster which was lovely getting my hands on, it really was. Having done that I was eh posted to 101 Squadron at Binbrook, they didn’t have the Lancaster they got rid of theirs and they got the Lincoln which of course was the bigger version as you probably know. The engines were bigger, the wing span was about twenty foot bigger altogether a bigger aeroplane but it was much the same inside. And then so I, I started out I was a Sergeant Pilot then and eh. The crewing up at Lindholme, just going back a bit, the way of doing it, we were just shoved in a room with assorted eh categories and told to sort yourself out into a Crew. Which eventually we did and eh, and eh Binbrook here we come “I will just stop for a minute.” I joined 101 Squadron at Binbrook in nineteen forty eight incredibly over five years since I first joined the Air Force. About four and a half years since I joined ACRC. No fault of mine then eh, but we operated just as it had been during the war going round Europe, lots of practise bombing, we used to go to Helgoland to drop my bombs and eh and cross countries. Sort of things we did, I remember one day we, we did a long cross country over, into the North Atlantic and we decided to make Rockall our target, you know that tiny little island in the middle of nowhere and we got there. It is the tip of a volcano I think and eh I flew around the thing and I couldn’t believe it my Navigator didn’t even come out and have a look at it. I just couldn’t understand that, it’s strange really. But eh we went to Egypt in October of eh, of eh that year to Shallufa for a months training. During that visit I was one of a pair that flew down to Khartoum for a couple of nights, so I dropped my first four thousand pound Cookie part of a ten thousand pound bomb load on the range which I think woke the whole city up really. Coming back again I, I, we landed at Castleton Heath there the same as we had done going out to there and I had to land at Isteris near Marseilles with and engine snag and I was there for about four days before coming back to Lyneham. I happen to, to the customs as we were going back to Binbrook on November the Fifth fireworks night. So I took the liberty of going back to Binbrook at fairly low level watching all the fireworks on the way up. In November the Squadron was given a new task on top of everything else, the Bomber Command Meteorological Flight it meant all out aircraft had to have special instruments fitted plus an additional crew member, a Met Observer, he was usually a retrained a redundant Pilot and we eh had about twelve special routes around the British Isles, mainly over the Atlantic, South West approaches to gather met data to be transmitted to the, to the Air Ministry. I did the first one the Squadron was called on to do, it meant being called at Oh five hundred hours and me getting in touch. I was still a Sergeant Pilot and I had to contact One Group to be briefed on the days route and then with the Navigator and Met Observer getting everything organised for a take off at eight o clock on the dot we made a game of that, on the dot. The first one was out over the Atlantic, heights varied from a hundred feet to eighteen thousand feet, doing box climbs and descents. The second one I did on the eighth of December nineteen forty eight was a bit more interesting. As usual eight o clock take off from Binbrook but just off Hartland Point the port engine, port inner engine which meant a return to base at Binbrook. I was a bit cross when I was told I would have to take the reserve aircraft, instead of the relief crew who of course hadn’t been briefed but orders are orders as they say, so of we went and eh and we spent about thirteen hours in the air that day. At least the whole crew and I got a special commendation for that from the AOC of Number One Group. Em they were called Pamper those eh, those weather flights, I, I flew twenty one of them all together by the time we had them. They made life interesting in a way because they were often flown through really lousey weather regardless having got airbourne at eight o clock having, without having any idea where you might finish up on the day and eh and sometimes we were the only aircraft in the Air Force airborne as far as we could make out, apart from the other met flight place, in Northern Ireland, what do you call it, I forget what it is called now eh. On my fifteenth Pamper there was a special for the next day because eh a couple of the Squadrons were going out to Egypt for some sort of exercise. We had to go into the Bay of Biscay to check up on, on the weather and eh we had a lightning strike climbing up through the innocuous little cloud. There was a great big bang which blew an enormous hole in one wing tip and also blew the radios including the intercom and the Wireless Op was transmitting directly to the Air Ministry at the time. I suppose he is lucky not to have been hurt when the trailing aerial blew. When we wound it in there was only about twelve feet out of two hundred and fifty feet of it left. Anyway eh I diverted into Bordeaux it was a bit of an excuse to go into France you know and we went in I went in there, not on the radio two hours later and so I taxied in. [Pause] Right well eh I think I said I had passed it all to the UK. Apparently a general alert had been put out because of the abrupt stoppage of the message due to the lightening strike. We were able to get the aircraft fixed overnight. There were half a dozen French Navy Lancasters there and they had common equipment with us even one of two [unreadable] radio crystals. I eh paid Heligoland for night position nineteen fortynine[unreadable] to drop maybe five hundred pound bombs plus incendiary clusters and we also started doing quite a bit of formation flying that mid summer. I used to fly in the number three position that’s on the left hand side of the Leader. To [unreadable] Newcastle, the daily express joke, Gatwick, the AOCs departure, Birmingham, Battle of Britain fly past and eh that was the day we did a low level beat up of twenty one airfields that day, that was really hard, hard work. Really tight over the airfield and open up a little bit, just have a slight rest and get in tight again. I got a lovely photograph that I can show you over Odiham that day. My Brother saw it on the Aldershot News and then he wrote to them and they sent that for a couple of coppers which was really nice. A week later something quite nasty happened. I was one of about thirty Lincolns approaching Newark Power Station on a, on a night exercise when two of them in front of me collided and eh they sort of burst into flames and crashed with no survivors at all and I and several others switched on our navigation lights and suddenly the sky was ablaze with lights. They all switched off, I think it probably felt safer in the dark I, I had the job of taking some camera men around to take some air to ground photographs the next day of the crash site, not very nice. Eh in December nineteen forty nine the World was changing. Our aircraft used for Pamper flights were fitted with lots of filters on the nose and on the fourth of December I was called to do a series of special Pampers. The aircraft were fitted with two four hundred gallon tanks in the bomb bay giving a total fuel capacity of four thousand four hundred gallons. My brief was to fly as far North as possible before turning back, nobody told me why at the time. I found out much later it was thought that the Russians had exploded an Atomic Bomb and that was the reason for the filters. So much for my family prospects. [laugh]. That Sunday morning again at eight o clock I roared across the hangers and domestic site at very low level just to wake everybody up as we flew away and off we went. The target was Jan Mayen Island the one above the Arctic Circle. The fuel was measured carefully on the way North to ensure that there would always be enough to get back to base. We saw Jan Mayen below us visually and on the H2S Radar so the plotted winds must have been ok and could be used on the way home. Also there was enough fuel in the aircraft, there was a good reserve of margin. It was decided to route via the Faroes on the way back, it was marginally further, they would provide a good check point. About one hours from starting south what appeared to be a coast line showed on the H2S on the starboard side which I thought was rather odd. Then after about an other hour what looked like heavy clouds from a distance began to look like mountains which indeed they were. They were certainly not the Faroes because I had seen them on earlier Pampers and we realised later on that the coastline had been the edge of the Greenland Ice Cap. Using Consul help to navigate was not good because due to an oxygen lack I was down to about ten thousand feed and the Wop could not raise any stations as we were in some sort of a radio mush. I thought it was Iceland and tried calling Reykyavick on 121.5 the Emergency Frequency but to no avail. I told the Navigator that I was turning onto a South Easterly heading, if it was Iceland we would be heading roughly towards Scotland, if not then who knows. Roughly one hour later we crossed a coastland from land to sea, which suggested Iceland. By this time the two bomb bay tanks had long been used up. My Flight Engineer was monitoring the fuel and getting the revs down as far as he dared to maximise our range and the airspeed lowered by about thirty knots. At last the Wop managed to contact Number One Group, told them of our plight and they arranged for the Royal Naval Air Station at Lossiemouth to open up especially for us. That is if we could reach them because it was a Sunday as I had previously said. We crossed into North West Scotland on a lovely clear night by then but we were all freezing cold having sat in temperatures of around minus forty degrees, minus forty centigrade is not the same as minus forty Fahrenheit so that was about seventy two degrees of frost at least. I did manage to land at Lossiemouth after two attempts in a heavy snow shower and fourteen hours in the air. When the aircraft was checked the next day before refuelling, the form seven hundred the aircraft log, said no measurable fuel in the aircraft. Back at Binbrook the next day the Wingco flying Hamish Mahaddie talked to me about it and the Nav section went into a big hudle and came to the conclusion that we must have run into a Jetstream which in those days nobody heard very much of. Anyway five days later I did another one and turned round at the Faroes because eh we didn’t have to go so far. I diverted into Middleton St George on that. On the sixteenth another one returned from fifty seven north having jettisoned six hundred gallons of fuel. The final twenty first Pamper to the Faroes and back on the twentieth of December. I certainly had my share of cold weather operations and the forth of December nineteen forty nine as certainly a day for me to remember ever more. Anyway I went from a freezing December to a red hot February nineteen fifty I spent that month again in Shallufa, Egypt staging both there and back by Castle Benetto, did a lot of fighter affil and air to air gunnery. Some air to ground gunnery, very low level and dropped some five hundred pound bombs on the target we had at Habbaniya, Iraq and back to the UK. It was the same old routine apart from a lot of formation flying fly past at Woodford, Number One Group Headquarters over Bawtry. The Kings birthday flypast over Buckingham Palace on the eighth of June. My very last time flying a Lincoln in the leading vic of sixty aircraft over Farnborough for the RAF display on the seventh of July. All together I flew eight hundred and eighty hours on Lancs and Lincolns but eh I was pleased to finish on a high note. Mind you not only was it was announced in the London Gazette that I had been awarded the Air Force Medal but I was also on my way to the OCTU at Kirton Lindsey so eh, and I was commissioned on my twenty first birthday which caused a lot of who, ha when filling in forms, “you put the same date, have you done it right?”[laugh]. I had applied to go to the Central Flying School on an Instructors course but after OCTU I was posted to Marham to the B29 they called them the Washington in the RAF but two weeks into the intensive Ground School came a big dilemma for me. The chance to go to CFS came up and I was given twenty four hours to decide. I plumped for CFS I was posted to Oakington in Cambridgeshire about twenty hours refresher flying on the Harvard and started on the CFS course at Little Rissington on the twenty eighth of December although the snow was thick on the ground. A really intensive course especially the class room theory and once or twice I thought have I done the right thing having given up the B29 for this. I flew about ninety hours just learning to be an Instructor, quite a lot of that time with a fellow student practicing the patter. There were thirty of us on the course I was pleased to finish with five others, I think it was five with a B1 category. The rest passed out with a B2 and I was posted to 3 FTS in Norfolk and eh so I went up there in a lovely old white SS Jaguar with another guy who was posted there. I left my motor bike at, at, at Rissie at CFS and went back for it later. It was quite nice to be back in our home county again but it turned out I did do the right thing because a young WAAF Officer turned up in the Mess one day and mine were two of many eyes that followed her round the room. Em We got married actually on the eighteenth of March nineteen fifty three and we lived in a caravan near Methwold our satellite airfield, there were no married quarters for newly weds. And eh the flying was quite intense, there were four students at the beginning of each course and before going solo on the Harvard each student has to do four periods of stalling and spinning apart from general handling and circuits and bumps which meant for me at least forty, four forty five minutes sorties each day for the first two or three weeks. But eh this gradually changed, the students went solo, you know sort of fifty fifty and eh that went on for about five months I suppose. Formation flying, instrument flying, aerobatics, low flying, gunnery, night flying, you name it we did it. And em after five months it all started again with a new course and eh there was occasionally the odd diversion. RAF Lakenheath eh was only five miles from Feltwell. I once, I remember when the eh large American eh B36s were there. I had the chance to low down, low run down the runway out of a GCA approach and eh and have a really good look at them really.
DM. Did you have any frightening moments with your students, did they ever put the wind up you?
JC. I suppose one or two things but you never really thought anything of it really, yes. With a student you had to let them correct their mistakes if they possibly could. It’s no good grabbing it and doing, sometimes if they were having a job getting out of the spin or something like that you had to stick it as long as you could, telling them or encouraging them to get out of the, but you had to watch it like a hawk. It was really interesting I really enjoyed that, yeah. I used to take my wife sometimes in the Harvard she was, she was in the WAAF of course. In formation flying she used to sometimes come along in. in the back, yeah. I did, what? about eleven hundred hours in the couple of years I was at Feltwell. Em eight hundred and eighty of them amazing same figure as the earlier one isn’t it, but it is right, eight hundred and eighty of instructional hours and I was upgraded to an A2 Category. Towards the end of my time there I didn’t have eh so many students of my own, I often had to do a lot of check rides on them. Often we were washing them out and I didn’t like having to do that very much. You know it, it’s I know it sounds daft but it is a bit upsetting in a way to, to see these lads suddenly to be told they are scrubbed. Anyway in August nineteen fifty three I was posted to eh Number 6 FTS eh at Tern Hill in Shropshire to start the very first course on the, the eh Piston Provost which was of course our new side by side trainer. Eh, before collecting our new aeroplanes from the Percival Factory at Luton which was a grass airfield in those days. I spent the first month on the Harvard helping to acclimatise newly graduated Pilots from Canada which is the English way of operating in particular coping with our weather. I should have heeded my own words because one day four of us were taken by Harvard to Luton to collect our brand new Provosts. We were all quite experienced, there was quite a bit of flying between us. A cold front was coming down the Country which we had to fly through going back to Tern Hill. All four aircraft were non radio, ‘cause they didn’t have the right crystals but we all wanted to get back so we set off in a loose gaggle and then we the rain and boy oh boy was it heavy. Everything sort of disappeared, the ground, the other aeroplanes you know. Nobody could talk to us, we were non radio and so I found the A5 I think it was, it may have been the A6 below me showing up, quite low really. I stuck over the road, at least there were no tall masts or whatever over the middle of the road and about, I don’t know, twenty minutes later we flew out of the, out of the rain and you could see for thousands of miles. A beautiful, I looked round for the other guys and we jiggle around one or two sort of in different positions from what we had been in. Anyway we all, all got back to Tern Hill and when we got on the ground we all looked at each other and thought “silly beggars,” you know. But there was nothing, all married you know and it was one of those silly things I thought “fools really” but em, but em. There used to be an article in the Aeroplane called I learned about flying from that and eh. It may have been in Flight magazine I can’t remember and that episode would have been my contribution really. Anyway doing my time at Tern Hill I managed to get a month at 12 FTS Weston [unreadable] to fly the Meteor for about fourteen hours which was quite nice and eh going in that up to about sort of forty thousand feet and that was quite a different world really, it was great fun. Then em I volunteered for something, they wanted a Flight Commander at 61 Group Con Flight at Kenley. You had to be a Flight Lieutenant, an A2 Instructor, a front rating examiner and I filled the bill on all three counts and there was I only got about six months left before joining the RAF, before leaving the RAF. I applied and was accepted. The Flight had three Ansons two Oxfords, three Austers, six Chipmunks and the Anson 12s, mainly for flying ATC Cadets around and the Anson 19 was for the AOC to be ferried around in. The Austers were for instrument checks on young Army Officers for the fairly new Army Air Corps in these days of course.The Chipmunks were for the use of mainly Senior Officers at Air Ministry to keep their currency to do Instrument Ratings with me. I was able to fly all over the country including one trip to Balne near Cologne in Germany in the Anson. My first instrument rating test technically was on Air Vice Marshall Mclvoy he practised on the Anson for a week, did a good test and eh, not like some of the Air Ministry Bods who just want to come and have a little go. And eh But eh all things, all good things come to an end I left the RAF in nineteen fifty five to start a new career having flown roughly three thousand hours. “I’m taking a lot from this of course but cutting a lot out.” Right I became an Air Traffic Control Officer in eh nineteen fifty six with a lengthy course at the Air Training College at Hurn Airport. I served initially at Croydon and then at Black Bush and eh, well in those days all, all your ATCOs Civil Air ATCOs were all Pilots or eh Navigators and sort of working with kindred spirits which was quite nice. After a year I was posted to the Southern Air Traffic Centre on the North Side of Heathrow and after a three year gap I got airbourne again in the jump seat of a Viscount to Copenhagen and to also one in Paris. I did a Radar course at Hurn, I em also got a Cockpit flight in a DC6 from Blackbush and a chance to fly the Decca Navigator from Croydon and also on their Ambassador from Heathrow on a Decca Demo flight. I spent another twenty five years as an ATCO at eh Southern Centre at Heathrow and later at West Drayton and during that time I flew in the cockpit of many different types of airliner. Different airlines all over Europe and the Middle East visiting other Air Traffic agencies including a cockpit ride in a Trans World 747 to eh, to Long Island, New York to the Air Traffic Centre there which was nice. I also had a supersonic flight in Concorde as it was being worked by the RAF up to fifty five thousand feet and Mach 2.2 over the North Sea and down to land on the inaugural Edinburgh Shuttle, super Shuttle and I just had to pay a normal fare for that, fifty five pounds I think it was. [laugh]. Another rather special flight in nineteen seventy seven I was in a Sandringham Flying Boat from Calshot and the Captain of that with reputed forty thousand flying hours, was named Blair, he was the husband em of the film actress Maureen O’Hara. He was later killed in one of his own aeroplanes, a Goose crash landed in the sea and had an engine failure. I can’t remember when it was, but all of the passengers survived that and he was killed yeah a bit unfortunate. But anyway in nineteen sixty two when the trial of the air experience flights were performed by the RAF I applied to join but it was far too late because most of the Auxiliary Air Force guys had switched over when that was closed down. 6 AEF at White Waltham had a waiting list of fifty odd people and I was told that my only real chance to fly was as supernumary pilot if I was commissioned in the RAF VR Training Branch. So I joined the local Air Training Corp at Camberley as a Civilian Instructor and after about two years a vacancy arose and I was commissioned as a Flying Officer in the eh the VR Training Branch. That was amusing I had to be interviewed by the eh girl out of the Camberley Council to see if I was a suitable chap to be commissioned in the VR having been commissioned, so I thought that was rather amusing having been commissioned. Anyway em the day after my commission came through In fact the next day I was knocking on the door of 6 AEF COs Office again and I was accepted and began flying in a Chipmunk usually two hour sorties with four cadets and I had the best of both worlds of course, a job I liked and eh being able to fly the cadets at weekends and CCF cadets on weekdays more or less. Little did I know, did I put that I would be flying them around till nineteen eighty nine, nineteen eighty nine. I usually did an Eastern and Summer Camp at various RAF Stations and often managed to get my hands on various other types usually jets and some helicopters. My very first supersonic flight before Concord was in a two seat Hunter T7 and at Brawdy one of my ex students from Feltwell was CO of the Hawk Squadron so that was really good for me. 6 AEF moved to Abingdon in September nineteen seventy three, I did a Summer Camp at Odiham in the summer of nineteen seventy four and running it was an old chum of mine from my course at Miami Oklahoma he was a Squadron Leader then he was the boss of No 2 AEF at Hamble and he suggested I would move, I would like to move there em, despite it being a much longer journey I, I did so after another camp at West Raynham where, where incidentally I flew in a Canberra in a low level exercise over the North Sea, we just missed eh a Luftwaffe Phantom [laugh] after about a fortnight at Hamble I was made deputy Flight Commander which meant I was paid as a Flight Lieutenant which was good em. We used to go and fly the cadets at Herne, Goodwood, Lea on Sollent, Benbridge and Sandown on the Isle of Wight and it was just nice. Er one day just after take off at Shoreham the engine blew up just as I was crossing the beach at eight hundred feet. I done the fastest one hundred and eighty turn in history and managed to force land at Shoreham at eh, at eh Shoreham and one of the pots had eh blown completely. In early December nineteen eighty the AEF moved to Hurn so it was now a hundred and sixty mile round trip from home eh but eh that was really good and I stayed at Hurn well until I, I finished with the RAF. I eh most of my Summer Camps over the years were at Coltishall close to where I used to live in Aylesham. On two or three occasions young Squadron Pilots came up to me at various places saying “ are you John Cooper? I remember you, I flew with you when I was a cadet” which was quite nice to be remembered like that, yeah. And eh, eh I remember one day em at St Mawgan in Cornwall, I used to camp in nineteen eighty five, I happened to mention on the third trip of the four I was going t do, I would be flying my five thousandth cadet and eh after landing on the third trip I was told by AirTraffic to taxi in and switch of because the Station Commander wanted to see me. I thought “goodness what have I been up to” Anyway the Airman who marshalled me in was wearing huge, six foot five rubber gloves, you remember Kenny Everett the kind he used to wear, marshalling me in wearing those and I thought “that is a bit odd” As I climbed out of the aeroplane, the Chipmunk, the Group Captain and a few others walked over smiling with a tray and a bottle of champagne and some glasses to celebrate the occasion [laugh]. I was sorry I could not fly again that day because of the drinking and eh in nineteen eighty six we done a Summer Camp with the AEF at Wildenrath in Germany, I bumped into eh this friend of mine Norman Geery who I trained with in America who had been this Flight Commander and he was, he was, he had retired from the AEF he was working as a Staff Officer, so eh. I, I flew over seven thousand cadets so eh in one hundred and ten different Chipmunks you know, that’s quite a lot really isn’t it? And I, I did about three thousand seven hundred hours in the Chipmunk and not too bad for a eh spare time. The one with my name stencilled on the side, eh WK630 I did one hundred and fifty hours in that one aeroplane and it is based up a little airfield in Norfolk again about five or six miles from where I used to live. I’ve met, I’ve met the owner in fact I met them a couple of months ago as well or the new owners, Shuttleworth when they had the seventieth anniversary of the Chipmunk. So eh who knows I might get a ride in that. I had visited my old Flying School in Miami, Oklahoma in nineteen eighty two we had a reunion there, the first one which was quite nice and eh we also had on in ninety seven, nineteen eighty seven and Frances came to me to that one so that was eh. I met my old Instructor on that one and he was living in Tulsa in Oklahoma. And eh so Frances and I went to see him and he said I was the first of his he had ever met since, since the end of the war yeah, so he was quite an old boy by then but that was very nice, yeah. I’ve kept my flying license going for quite a long time now after that, I had a share in a Cessna 172 at Black Bush and used to take the family occasionally and this that and the other and eh, I done what, six thousand nine hundred hours roughly in all sorts of different what about forty five different types but eh it’s slowed down now. My license has expired now but I had a real of on eh, on the I don’t know, this might be of interest, on the twenty ninth of June two thousand and three I was with a friend of mine in his Chipmunk on a three day rally organised by the Moth Club. There was a Tiger Moth taking part and I met the owner, told him his very same one that I had first flown at Grayingham School on the 14th of April nineteen forty four. He gave me a flight in his aeroplane on the 14th of April two thousand and four exactly sixty years to the very day that I first flew it. Now if you go forward ten years and again on the 14th of April two thousand fourteen exactly seventy days to the very day I first flew it, I flew it again. That’s a bit unusual isn’t it? Yeah, yeah and he said, he said well I haven’t booked in for the next ten, we will start with five[laugh] I shall be a bit creaky by then, yeah. So really that’s my, my.
DM. When did you, going right back to the beginning, why did you decide to join the Air Force as opposed to going into another branch of the Forces?
JC. Never entered my head, never entered my head well you see I didn’t really mention this, when the eh Air Training Corps started in nineteen forty one a flight of it was formed in Aylesham near where I lived and the CO was the local Headmaster and eh I was one of the founder members and eh I used to keep a log of all the aeroplanes I seen flying over the top of it and eh. I’ve got here there were Spitfires, Hurricanes, Aerocobras, Typhoons there were twin engined Whirlwinds which were quite rare and the Bombers going out in the darkness, Wellingtons, Hampdens and Whitleys at that stage and the Blenheims at Alton airfield about three miles away. When we, when we got our uniforms you see, I, I was made the first NCO of the Flight with the lofty rank of Corporal and eh one, one Sunday I cycled to Alton Airfield two miles away with a friend of mine also in the ATC, somehow we talked ourselves, talked ourselves into a flight, into a flight in a Lockheed Hudson for thirty five minutes you see. That was the first of March nineteen forty two. And from there on nothing else seemed to matter, every Sunday practically I used to cycle to various airfields to cadge flights. On May forty two on the third, tenth, seventeenth and thirty first I had flights in the Bostons’ of 88 Squadron at Athellridge, Athellridge after the war became home to the Mathews Turkey Organisation [Laugh] em. I flew mostly in the rear gun position in the Boston. One day I was in the nose doing about two hundred and sixty knots across the airfield about fifty feet, really exciting. So it went on like that until nineteen forty two in Bostons in June, July, August I flew in them. I had a flight in a Beaufighter at Alton and I had to stand by a door just behind the Pilot.Summer camp at Coltishall an Oxford, a Domini and a real one off the gun turret of a Boulton Paul Defiant which eh that was a really good one. Eh, the Bostons disappeared from Athellridge So I turned my attention to Matlass a little grass airfield, satellite of Coltishall about seven miles from Aylesham, in those days security seemed almost non existent, just rolled up in our uniforms to go flying. I did practically every weekend in Miles Magisters to do aerobatics and in a Hawk [unreadable] to do drogue towing for Spitfires mostly also in Lysanders also towing for Spitfires as things were. Whirlwinds, the Beaufighter and then the Bostons turned up again at Alton two miles from home. It was game on again and eh when they disappeared 21 Squadron Venturas turned up and eh they were. Incidentally when the Bostons were there I was on the Airfield on the day of Operation Oyster that was the famous raid on eh on the Phillips works at Eindhoven. I was standing on the airfield watching the Wingco flying there with Pele Fry coming in, belly land his Boston on the grass, great holes in it and that eh. And then when the em, oh, by now it was obvious the war had been going on for some time, I went to the recruiting centre in Norwich and put my name down for Aircrew which I think I mentioned at the beginning of this thing. I was asked if I would like to join as a Wop or Airgunner then I could get into the aeroplane, Air Force more quickly and then I could remuster. But I said no “I really want to be a Pilot” so that was em, that was em nine months deferred service, started before I was actually called up. In the meantime I still went, used to go flying in a Mitchell in February, March at Folsham Airfield and I also flew in a Lancaster MK 11 there the one with the radial engines which was a bit different. Eh and when the Venturas’ turned up at 21 at eh Alton I flew with them practically every Sunday in nineteen forty three, formation flying, fighter afill, practise bombing. So based at quite a famous building Brickley Hall it was a National Trust place, that was where the, that was where the Officers, Officers Mess there it was really quite grand for them, but the grounds are still open. My Mother often used to walk to Brickley it was only a mile and a half from home. One Sunday she say a Ventura go whizzing across the lake and eh she said, I remember her saying “I could read the letters on the side” I said “ what were they” She said “I can’t remember I think they were such and such” I said “they were because I was in it” [laugh] Yes I had one, not near, I wasn’t in it be eh 21 Squadron had one or two Mitchells for conversion purposes, I had a flight with the Flight Commander doing a liaison thing with the Home Guard. I was going to fly in another one all day, walking out and the same Flight Commander changed his mind saying as a new crew I could go on a later trip. And I am jolly glad he did say that because, I watched the aeroplane taxi out and take of but it was only just airborne and went through the far hedge and hit a Ventura on the other side on dispersal and never got above a hundred feet and about a mile away it crashed and there was only one survivor from that. So I am very glad he, he stopped me going on that. So my long deferred service ended on the eight of November nineteen forty three when I was called up and went to Lords Cricket Ground with thousands of others and eh. I am saying all this part [laugh] Yeah [pause] I was at ACRC for longer than the usual months indoctrination to get in the RAF. Of course in the rush to get down the stairs one day from the top of a block of flats we were in in St Johns Wood I was knocked over and got Concussion and woke up in the Sick Quarters of Abbey Lodge in Regents Park. I was recoursed but eventually went to eventually went to No 6 ITW in Aberystwyth in, in nineteen forty four. Em the usual pretty tough course because of terrible weather the eh winter time we were pretty soaked all the time. There was one soaking I really hated, one day we marched up the hill to the University swimming baths where we were dressed in full RAF flying kit, including boots, helmet, may west, parachute had to climb up to the top board and eh jump in the water and eh somehow clamber into a dinghy yeah. But I didn’t like that.

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Citation

David Meanwell, “Interview with John Cooper,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed October 21, 2019, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/3381.

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