Interview with Syd Cooper. Two


Interview with Syd Cooper. Two


Sidney Cooper was born in Blackpool and speaks about his early life there. He joined the Royal Air Force in 1941. He first served as an engine fitter in Fighter Command before remustering as aircrew. He flew operations as a flight engineer with 427 Squadron from RAF Leeming. He later served as ground crew with 514 Squadron. On leaving the Air Force in 1946 he worked for Standard Telephones and British Airways. Syd finally retired at eighty nine.




Temporal Coverage




01:14:46 audio recording


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ACooperSF170913, PCooperS1501


SP: So this is Suzanne Pescott and I’m interviewing Syd Foster Cooper today for the International Bomber Command Centre’s Digital Archive. We are at Syd’s home and it’s the 13th of September 2017. So, Syd do you want to tell me a little about life before the war?
SC: Well, I lived in Blackpool and Blackpool is a peculiar thing, I’ve worked on the Promenade, I’ve sold black puddings for threepence, with mustard on, and I’ve run errands, I’ve demonstrated yo-yos: anything for money. I was money mad. Run errands for people and that was my, that was my life, which I enjoyed and I used give everything to my mother, I never kept any money. But I really enjoyed it, but of course times were hard in those days, you know. People used, mill girls walking arm in arm singing the tunes. You see Trevor MacGoff, a friend of mine, we knew all the tunes when they came out you see, and we went past the singing rooms – there was about four singing rooms in Blackpool – they said, ‘hey do you know Shepherd of the Hills?’ ‘Yeah, aye.’ [Indecipherable] They said ‘can you sing it for us?’ And we’d sing it for ‘em and they’d say aye, they do! And these’d just come out! So they got us to sing, he and I, we’d be about twelve, or ten, and we sang it and we knew all the popular songs immediately they were published, you see. So we said eh, we’ve got some money here so we’d go to one singing room and say do you want any singing? Yeah, aye, and we’d sing a couple of songs, they’d give us tuppence, we’d go to another and do the same and that was anyway that was a way we earned money. Well of course the, we used to go to the air shows of course, at Squires Gate, and we, I don’t know, we joined it of course, there’s a war, I’m doing this, I’m doing that, I’m doing, and what they were going to do, you see, and some were going in the navy, I’m weren’t going in the navy, I didn’t fancy it – I couldn’t swim anyway - so I lost them during the war. Well I’m working for this, in the Air Force, I’ll go now and this, [whisper] see I’ve forgotten what they called it, it was 1521 BAT Flight, 1521 B A T and this B A T stand for, er, B A, I don’t know, anyway, they had curtains, had to fly by instruments, and one evening, this is just an isolated incident, one evening I was on night flying, would be about half past three in the morning, and an officer came up to me and said ‘where’s this so and so gone?’, I says, ‘he’s gone’, ‘how long’s he been gone’, ‘oh about fifteen minutes’. ‘Right’ - and the wind was ferocious [emphasis]. Of course Blackpool’s always windy, particularly the airport you see, and I’d got a big can of oil with me, and I was taking it to another part that required it, and I’m stood like this, and I was stood like this and he was saying ‘where’s so and so and what are you doing’ and ‘well, I’m finished in the short term’ and the oil was dripping out of the can. Not only was it dripping out of the can, the wind was taking it on to his trousers! [Laugh] Course you see I was only what, twenty and I got the wind up, so that was an incident, I never heard anything but I don’t know whether he ever knew where he got that oil from. Anyway, it was a nice place there and I’ll tell you an incident that is remarkable. There was an aircraft taking off, it had been raining a bit and the main planes were wet, wet, well the whole situation was wet, this was at Stradishall, I’ve just remembered, Stradishall in Suffolk, where the 214 Squadron or 138 Squadron, anyway, Bill come, said ‘I’m going up’, I said ‘are you going up?’, so he said ‘yeah, right’. So the Airspeed Oxford is hand started; you have to wind it up, you see. That’s on, you know, I don’t know whether you know aircraft at all, but on the nacelle, that’s where the engines, on the inside, you get what they call a dzus, that’s D Z U S, turn it a hundred and eighty degrees and flap comes up revealing place where you can put your starting handle. So I was doing this, this was on the port side. Anyway, I’m winding this, got it going, got the starboard going and said ‘you’re all right now’ and he throttled back, in the car, and pointing, so I looked and the flap had come up from where the starting handle goes in, enters. Oh Christ, so I go come back, you know, to lower your engine speed, you see, they’re not much, the, not automatic, someone at the front door, post, mail [pause] yeah, [door closing] so I tried you see, they couldn’t make the engine, no air coming, you see, because they weren’t variable propellers, they were just ordinary wooden propellers, so it was still a draught coming apart from the elements and so I tried to get up there. [Chuckle] I went up there and my feet come from under me - it was only a little to get to help you and anyway I stood right back until my calves were touching the leading edge of the tail plane and I ran right and I got to the top and I just get at the top and my bloody feet come from under me, over the top I went and the engines are running and I fell on the ground. There’s only a little distance between the rotating propellers and the leading edge, but anyway I was all right, and he was like this - the pilot - like that with his eyes, but I’ll never forget that, I’ll never forget that. I don’t think he will either! Anyway so, I left there, what did I do? Oh yeah. [Pause] Right, think it, trying to think what I, where I went after that. Oh, I was, that’s at Stradishall, righto, so I thought right I’m not stopping here, I’d gone to the top of me tree, so I’m going in for a flight engineer, that’ll be my bloody thing. So I went in to be a flight engineer; flight engineer I became, and I did pretty well on it and er, [whisper] and it was something new you see, there were very few flight engineers and it was the, went, had to go somewhere for stock, for stores procedure and all sorts of things that really wouldn’t be there, but anyway, we left there and went to er, to Cardiff and went to a place, Brays in Wales, and it's the Number 1 Gunnery School in Wales, and we had to, on an air gunner’s course. We arrived at Pembrey and went to, there’s a place, I don’t know the town but it was locally known by the blokes as Slash, we went there and had a few drinks and went in, next morning we paraded. ‘Well gentlemen you know this is going to be a very concentrated course, you’ve got to be full gunners when you leave here and it will last about eight to ten days. We’ve got a cinema here but there’s just one thing that well, you won’t be pleasant about and that is that you’re not allowed out, you cannot go out of the airport at all’ [emphasis]. So I said, so we started there about nine o’clock in the morning and sometimes we were still doing something at nine o’clock at night, and going on the beach and firing, firing different guns. See we had, we did really a condensed air gunner’s course, which we weren’t too bloomin’ happy. So, anyway we left there, oh, and my memory, we had to pass a course of aircraft identification, you see, because you don’t want to shoot anyone that’s your friend, [chuckle] and some aircraft are quite similar to the British aircraft and little bits of things that you recognise, so, I was bad on them so the chap said ‘well I’m going to cough every time it’s English, so come on’ [cough] English, friend, friend. Anyway we passed there and we came out and we went, went on the train and ended up in Yorkshire, that’s right. No, no, no, we didn’t, no, we went to er, there used to be, is there, huge place, Christ. We got off and marched up to this airport in Wales, and of course it was the training ground for flight engineers, and we marched in and anyway, in the morning we were got together and we were dictated which we were going to be: Lancaster, Halifax or, the English one, the big one, yeah, or Stirlings, and we didn’t have any option, we were told, and I was going on them. Anyway, that was fair enough and I did very well on that, I think. And so we were nominated, we were then flight engineers, right, see, and people were busy sewing sergeant’s stripes on and brevets; brevets were scarce was the flight engineers, I don’t think they got to making many of them but however we, whatever we would do and we went our different ways and we arrived in Yorkshire, and I can’t remember the name of the airport but it was a Con Unit - that’s a Conversion Unit - and along came some people we were just learners for the flight engineer’s point of view we knew all about the aircraft, or at least we thought we did, well we did, we came in, and it was some Canadians and they’d been on Wellingtons which only have a crew of five, now they need a crew of seven: an extra gunner and a flight engineer. And they did something which I think was very, very good, in as much as we went up with various people, you know, and we were, they were watching us do the job and that, you see, and they were converting from Wellingtons to the big aircraft. Well, we’d been there about five days and a chap came up to me - I knew him because I’d been flying with him – and he said ‘Syd’, he says, ‘I don’t know how you’re going to take this’ he says, ‘but we’ve been watching different people that we’ve met, people that with whom we’ve flown and it’s been unanimous: we want you to be our flight engineer.’ Well, [indecipherable] Christ, you know, yeah, and so I became their flight engineer. We’re there, we went up one day, we come down and we crashed, not badly, just undercarriage come away, and went to the doctor’s, went to the hospital straight away, nothing wrong with us so we got in, got up, went up in another aeroplane, anyway we did our Con Unit business there and I was directed to go to, well the number that were there, went to Leeming, Leeming in Yorkshire, and they were forming, then, 6 Group, because they hadn’t got their own Air Force on then, and so we were, 427 Squadron, was the first of the 6 Group, Canadians, and I flew with them. Well, and we had some fun, fun there. The first time we went I was a busy bee. You see you can have nothing to do but you can make yourself work, when you’re flying, you go and say how do to somebody and this that and the other, and that’s quite all right. Well, on the, I used to stand up on take off and I, the wheels, there is a signal in, there’s a lever inside the cockpit that you lift up and the undercarriage will come up, but it's governed that it must be airborne, [laugh] but I could put my finger in and lift it, lift it and bring the undercarriage up, but it shouldn’t be. Well I used to stand to his right hand doings, and quite often in the speed, you got chatter, chatter, and you put them fully forward for maximum take off weight but the vibration and chatter they would start travelling back and you had to hold them together, or sometimes I’d get up there and I’d hold them together, hold them by the fingers there and he’s again this, because we were taking over the Great North Road, and rumour had it, I don’t know [emphasis] but rumour had it that they stopped large vehicles going, taking off, passing there while we were using that runway. While, one occasion I’m there, we wore goggles in case you’ve got a window closed, open, well he, the pilot, Hank, would hold the control column fully, er, driving that, and watching the doings, don’t chatter, hah, he used to put his thumb up, right, okay, up with the bloody undercarriage straight away you see, because you gather speed because they had, they reckoned it was as bad as thirty degrees of flap, undercarriage down, anyway and I pulled them up. Well we’d done this several times like that he goes like that, I goes oh, oh with the bloody undercarriage you see. Well then, I felt sure it went like that, and I looked up, and it wasn’t that, it was because his goggles had fallen over his eyes [laugh] and to this day now, there’s only me knows that I brought the undercarriage up too early! Anyway, this was just the first trip of which I’ll tell you about, and it was a place called Bochum, but anyway, everything went okay and bloody navigator said to me ‘what you doing Syd?’, I said ‘I’m just having a look out’, so he says ‘come here, that’s where we’re going.’ [laughs] [indecipherable] I thought, well bloody hell. Anyway I was really excited and I used to do a lot of work and run backwards and forwards and I used to stand up see if I could see anything you know and help in that respect. It really took it out of me because, I don’t know why, ah well when we disembarked on arrival back to town, back to home, we were allocated to certain tables and we were talked to by the, by intelligence officers and making notes and what was it like, so and so, did you see this, you see, I suppose and then they’d compare them with others, and where’s he? Oh, and you could have coffee and rum – I was asleep on the floor! So, it had took something out of me. Anyway, that was it and we had a, quite a good doings. You see, now, the trouble is, I get embarrassed by your novels and people that write books and stories about Bomber Command and this that and the other because a lot of it’s not true, and you know, like they say, ‘oh Commander to tail end Charlie, are you there, Ned?’ [Laugh] I said all that rubbish ‘cause they don’t do that, no rank on the aircraft. The pilot, Henry, that was his surname, Henry, Henry was a sergeant, I was a sergeant, bomb aimer was a sergeant – he was Canadian - mid upper was English, he was a sergeant and the tail gunner was a flight sergeant, but however, and we’re on one occasion we were having trouble, we’d been what they called coned when you get a lot of searchlights on you at the same time and by jove it’s light and of course, I don’t understand artillery, but there’s some means that they can do something to the guns where the explosion takes, occurs, on a predetermined altitude. Well when there’s a do you go in waves, you see, well we know that eighteen thousand, they set the guns to fire at eighteen, but you see you get a wave and you might be going in at twenty thousand feet, you see, well the Germans – height twenty thousand feet, get ‘em up, but before the guns, they’d, twenty have gone over and someone’s come and they’re flying at sixteen thousand feet and they’ve got to readjust the guns and that’s the idea and in consequence you have to be on, over the target on time [emphasis] or otherwise you would be dropping bombs on your fellows or they’d be having a go at you! So it was very essential that you were there on time. Well, we’d had a do and we’d been evading, evading artillery and searchlights, successfully, and obviously we weren’t on course and he called me, ‘Syd, here, come here, what do you reckon that is?’ So I just got just across, you know, from here to that table, so I went, I says ‘it’s a lake, innit.’ So he says ‘yeah, what is it? Do you reckon it’s so and so so and so?’ I says, ‘Christ,’ I says, ‘I don’t know’, I says ‘I’m not geography, I don’t know.’ He says ‘I reckon it is.’ Well of course, I hadn’t thought, but you see you cannot navigate until you know where you are to start, you see, and of course when you have a few minutes of diving and climbing and that, of course you don’t, you’re not on course. Anyway we had to, we hadn’t been over the target, but anyway we did our job and came away and he managed to calculate where we’d been and he did a fine job, and that was it, but I’ll never forget that day. Deviating somewhat, I’ll tell you this: this is surprising. Well no, it’s a shame really, [cough] my wife and I, not at the airport, at home - this is after the war - and we went to a place and we were having a lunch and she says ‘I’ll go and get, I don’t know what I want, I’ll see what I want’, so I said, so I sat in a chair, I said I’ve got two chairs, you see, and I was guarding those and how you look around and up at the other end of the restaurant room, I saw a man, biggish chap, and he’d got the diabolical table manners, he appeared to me, and I’d seen that but I felt that I wanted to have another look and I kept looking. Anyway, this feller stands up and he comes wobbling down to me, I thought now I’m for it, you know, I mean I was eight stone wet through and he was about sixteen stone and I thought well we’re in for it! He says ‘do you know me?’ I said to him, ‘well I thought I did’. He says ‘only you was looking.’ I says ‘I know I was, I thought I knew you.’ He says: ‘well?’ I says ‘well I don’t know you.’ So he says ‘oh’, he says ‘I wondered why you kept looking up and I were getting a bit annoyed’ or embarrassed. ‘Oh’, he says, ‘that’s a Bomber Command badge in your doings’, so I says ‘yes’. He says ‘are you in the Air Force?’ I says ‘I was’, ‘oh’ he says ‘yeah, oh right!’ And of course we were buddies then. We were buddies then. So he says ‘where you go? I said ‘I go to the Cheshire Aircrew Association’ so he says ‘do yer?’ He says ‘it’s supposed to be a bit smooth there.’ So he says ‘aye, well I go to Barton, you see, that’s at the aerodrome’, I said ‘do yer?’, so he says ‘I’d like you to come’, he said ‘and you’ll like it and you’ll probably want to start coming with us.’ So I said - you see well he hadn’t mentioned anything about me looking at him - so he says well, I forget, he said ‘I’m known there, everybody knows me there’, you see, you see, he says me name’s. I said ‘what is your name?’ he says Morgan, he says, ‘better still, they call me No Fingers Morgan.’ I says pardon, No Fingers Morgan that’s the reason why he couldn’t manipulate his eating, so he says ‘they all know me: No Fingers Morgan.’ So I says okay and he was one of the New Zealander, the New Zealander surgeon that looked after the RAF and he’d been there and seen him and his hands finished there. So I says ‘Christ’ I says, ‘did you jump?, I didn’t know that till then, so did you fall out?’ So he says no. I thought he’d parachuted you see, and you could get frostbite, so he says no, I went there, and he was the flight engineer to see the damage and the door was just hanging on the hinges this that and the other, and of course he’d did what he had no right to do: he’d gone without oxygen, because we used to carry oxygen with us. That was, I’ll never forget that. But after a time they’d finished their operations because they’d all been on Wellingtons, they left there and I, now where did I bloody go then? I left there and oh, and er, oh, and oh, er, I’d been, well I went direct from there, I think I went direct from there to 514. Oh yeah, I went there to 514.
SP: So you went from Halifaxes at Leeming, you’re flying Halifaxes, to 514.
SC: Yes, yes. Now, I’d had an option to say would I like to be an engineer, I says I am a bloody engineer! So she says but would you like to do all the lot, so I says yeah, yeah. So I was an engineer, but I wasn’t sergeant, but that to come. Well I went to, oh, I went to Foulsham, that’s F O U L S H A M: pronounced wrong and spelt right, it was foul, terrible! Anyway we went there but 514 hadn’t started, they didn’t have an aeroplane. I think they had one or two, maybe, and they were doing what they call acceptance, you see you just don’t have aeroplane and go flying, you check everything’s on right you see. And they were just forming in Foulsham and they had, just prior to them forming this, but there would be [muttering] er, anyway, Foulsham and getting parts together and one thing and another, and I worked there on the aircraft, then, we’d only been there about maybe a month and we moved to Waterbeach. Well, who should be, no, I was a sergeant when I went there, anyway, it don’t matter, but chap come, Orderly Sergeant, Giles, him that I knew at the other place, and Jones, they were there, but they had to gather people from anywhere to form because, you see that shows you, those are just engineers, no, that picture there, the R and I – Repair and Inspection - he was a marvel was, that’s him there, he was just my size him, Squadron Leader, and well that shows, all these were associated with the maintenance of the aircraft.
SP: So what you’re showing me is a plane with about-
SC: Pardon?
SP: So you’re showing me a plane that’s got crew the width of the plane and about seven deep, so there’s a lot of people on there, so.
SC: Well, you can have the photograph if you want.
SP: We’ll photograph it and put it with the recordings, there’ll be a photograph of this, but we’re talking about the Technical Wing, commanded by Squadron Leader.
SC: That’s him. Jim Healey, yeah.
SP: Jim Healey, and this was at Waterbeach.
SC: He was a smashing, you see, and they were running short of engineers who could do the job, you see. I don’t know whether they blame the schools or not, but it was just the job. So I went there as an engineer and they didn’t have Halifaxes, they had Lancasters, and I never had anything to do with the, well you have to have aircraft as they come. Some have radial engines, some have in line engines, they don’t say pop ‘em on, we’re short of an in line, we’re not going to bother until we can get one, you know, so radial like a Hercules they’re a different thing, I never had much to do with them. Anyway, and Giles there, Giles in’t it, fancy seeing you anyway. Now, you see I’m just interrupting meself now, and there is too [emphasis] much emphasis laid on aircrew at the expense of groundcrew. Now Giles, we used to call him Farmer Giles, miserable bugger he was, but I got on well with him, and he didn’t drink, he didn’t smoke and he never did but work and he was a marvellous worker, sergeant, and he come and he’d lost an eye, I don’t know what happened, but in the meantime of me going other place he lost an eye, and him, he got on his knees to let him still join, keep the Air Force, and he stayed until he was chucked out and he’d only got one eye. I must tell you this before I go any further, well eyes, in those days went to Moorfields which is supposed to be the epitome of good eye people in London: Moorfields. He went to, sent him to Moorfields and they measured it or whatever they do, and he had that eye, but of course in those days they were glass eyes, plastic hadn’t got, I’m going forward, well I’ll leave that there, and he was a good worker was Giles, so that was fair enough. Of course I got promoted to corporal, I got promoted to sergeant you see, so that suited me, suited Giles and everyone, and I would say this, I don’t know why, but I was the only person ever [emphasis], as far as I know [sound of steps then drawer opening and cutlery] who they had a whip round for their marriage and they bought me cutlery and that, and Giles organised it and I’d never come across him before.
SP: And you’ve still got that one today – you’re just showing me the cutlery.
SC: And that was very, very, I was grateful of that, not because of the doings, anyway, I had that. Anyway, we went and we had our, oh, and bloody hell, 19, we went there in ’94. We left there and went to another station.
SP: 1944.
SC: And that was, they’d gone, coming to block one night, well in later days bleedin’, bloody Waterbeach, there’s limited flying and that, they says right, you’re doing, looking at, assessing equipment, so because we didn’t need it any more, finished, 514 wasn’t flying no more and you know. Service, you had different coloured labels and I had to sign them that: fit for reissue, beyond repair and this that and the other. Anyway, so we goes to this bloody place and there’s a Squadron Leader Knight was in charge and he says, ‘are you Cooper?’ I said yeah, he said ‘right, I’ve got a job for you’, he said. I said ‘bloody hell what’s that?’ See ‘cause they’d finished, and he’d just men there, so he says ‘we’re packing up and you can do that and you’ll be at hangar number three.’ So anyway that went by and Christmas time, no I’m going back a year because they had an explosion at Christmas in C Flight did 514, and there was about eleven killed, at Christmas time, but I was away on leave at the time so I missed that.
SP: Do you know actually happened?
SC: Pardon?
SP: Do you know what caused it?
SC: Well a bomb came off, bomb, I don’t, well you see, you never know you see, because they were loading bombs on and anyone that has an idea weren’t there! They were killed.
SP: So this was as they were loading the loading bombs for an operation.
SC: Yeah, I think there was about seventeen killed. But anyway, that was very sad. Anyway, where the hell was I? I got posted from there to there, I was there, I was only there two days and going there, and I can’t remember the place but it was a nice, nice place to go but I never went. They called me in says we’ve got a job for you, I says oh, so I said ‘where is it?’ He said, oh, previous to this, the, a Flight Lieutenant Wand tried to get me to go to this Spain, and Healey thought the world of me, I don’t know why, then he says, called for me, Squadron Leader, so he says ‘look do you know, would you like to go to Italy?’ I says ‘Italy?’ So he says yeah, he says ‘Wand’s put you to Italy’, he said ‘you don’t want to go there, there’s bloody mosquitos and that, do you still want to go?’ so I says no, so he says, ‘right, you’re off.’ Anyway, of course they all caught up with me, Healey goes, posted off somewhere else ‘cause this man he hadn’t got a job and then come and said ‘oh we’ve got a job for you – Italy.’ I says ‘Italy? But the war’s over’, so I says ‘well how come’, so he said ‘oh you’ll see. Anyway, you’re going to 1 or 2 LSU’, that’s Lancaster Servicing Units in Italy. So, bloody hell, so I went to Italy and unbeknownst to lots of people, I venture to suggest, is that there was a chance of a war breaking out between Yugoslavia and Italy over, it’s not called Siles, what they call it, the big city up north? I’ll think of it later, over this city. It had gone from one to another over the years and of course Italy had recently transferred their [cough] favours to England rather than Germany you see, so right. But of course you never get a hundred percent, yes there was still, for reasons best known to themselves, sooner be in with the Germans, but anyway, so I’m on my bloody way to Germany, to Italy. It was good in Italy, we did a lot there. The services had took the palace – apparently there used to be a king of Italy, king of this palace - you could go there and have a shower or something like that, press your suit for you or something, and in Sorrento, have you been to Italy? Sorrento, well the main hotel in the square, near where the YMCA was, they took that over as well so we could go there, I went there about three times for the weekend, free, and of course we could go over to er, Capri, Capri they had a Capri backwards and forwards. Well, I’ll come to that later. Anyway, Brown, who was a bit up, I mean I remember his telephone number, Weston 1368, plenty of money, I thought I’d got them in here [paper rustling].
SP: You went to the opera, yeah.
SC: And he made these for us, for, see these are all things that I’ve seen. They’re in English.
SP: So you’re showing me all the programmes 1945 to ‘46.
SC: Yeah, I mean with them being Italian, the one thing, Italian talk, all the time and you don’t know what’s going on, but that helps you.
SP: Yeah. Details for the British Military Authorities of Naples, all transcribed, the actual operas of La Boheme, Rigoletto, and you got invited to all of these.
SC: Well we went regularly, well we had to pay, but this chap was familiar with, something a bit highbrow. Brown they called him; he had a beautiful case like that, with seven razors in it, he says, ‘Oh no, I’ll use Wednesday today’, [chuckle] but he was nice chap. They won’t be interested in those, would they?
SP: I’ll photograph them so they’re with, I’ll photograph one of them so we’ve got it with it.
SC: Oh right. But it’s quite a thing isn’t it.
SP: It is, yeah.
SC: And we were at the piano which is on the first floor which is next to the Royal Box. You couldn’t have the Royal Box but we’d be one side or the other side. Of course we had to pay, and I thought perhaps that might, you might want that.
SP: So you’re showing me here your operational records for all of 514 Squadron, again we’ll put these, I’ll photograph this for the Archives and leave everything with you and take the photograph.
SC: I thought perhaps that was of some interest, the Opera House.
SP: Yeah, very much so. So obviously, after your time in Italy did you then return to England?
SC: Yeah. Well, I went backwards and forwards. It was hard work, but these bombers came in to let these, look we know what’s going on, but it was never published. I’ve never come across anyone that knows. There was between eight and twelve bombers, every day [emphasis] went there, somewhere, there to Bari, Bari’s on the Adriatic, that’s LS2, LSU2, on the Adriatic coast, Bari, B A R I. Funny part was, that railway line crossed the landing, coming in across the landing coming in, that’s aircraft there, but I enjoyed it but it put me back so I didn’t get released, but there’s no medal for that, no medal for that, no, not to this day there isn’t, because lots of people don’t know that it existed. I mean and they was nine months, backwards and forwards, these bombers, just to let them know that we were a force to be contended with, still, in spite of the war finishing; that’s what we heard. Well, I’ll just tell you this, it was there you never bothered about nothing, saluting or anything there. [Chuckle] Came up hey, there was going to be a parade. Parade! A parade, [emphasis] no bloody Parade! Oh aye there is, there’s a parade. Now, a strike had broke out in Far East and they thought it was coming right through, so they’d block it there and then. I’ll never forget, so we just stood there, you know, for this doings and bloody Wing Commander, er Squadron Leader Wright came out and said, you know, he knew about it, I suppose they had advised the Station Commander and he came and a bloke said there can’t be a strike, and Lapthorne, Lapthorne was the MT, Motor Transport, in charge. I suppose he was a Flight Lieutenant or sommat, but he was a rough ‘un, so bloke says there’s something going on cause Lapthorne’s had a bloody haircut! [Laughter] So anyway, that’s what happened and it didn’t develop. But we had a good time in Italy really, and that, but I mean lots of people decided to go home. Spent the first time, the first Christmas in Italy and there was going, there was something non, non, I forget the name they gave to it, you’re not to associate with Germans, English people, and of course it went with the staff. Well on this place we had what used to be a very big olive grove and we turned it into an RAF camp. We had German prisoners of war and - poor souls - they’d gone out the desert and they’d got shorts on, and cotton tops, and this was Christmas 19, Christmas 1965.
SP: ’45.
SC: Christmas 1965.
SP: ’45, yeah.
SP: Yeah. ’45 and so we said, and some of them, and some of them were nasty people because they belonged to German, Hitler Youth, and waiters in the sergeant’s ess, what bloke can do, can’t give them jobs. Anyway we held a little, I think I’ve seen a bloody picture short time ago of the, [drawer opening] oh that’s it, that’s behind the bar at, it’s the sergeants mess, but I’ve got one of the mess somewhere, and the waiters, and we held a little meeting, there was only about fourteen of us, senior NCOs, and said yeah but they’re bloody Germans, what do we do with them? They were in tents [emphasis] and this is Christmas and snowing. Yeah, oh Christ, it was cold. There was a fellow from Glossop, a sergeant, and he says, excuse me, you know, we were chatting amongst ourselves, what can we do you know, chatting amongst ourselves, what can we do, and this that and the other, we can’t talk, we can’t have nowt to do with ‘em, and he got the bloody real people moaning, because we wanted them to enjoy Christmas as we did - to a lesser extent - and anyway he says, the quiet bloody, this chap in from Glossop, the sergeant, he says ‘from now on we’ll call you’ -what bloody hell did they call him? Ferodo, - he says ‘your bloody behaviour would stop a bloody eight ton truck’, you know, Ferodo, the bloody battery works out there. Anyway, they enjoyed themselves to some extent. I used to walk to work, about from here maybe to the main road, which was quite way, taking chocolates for kids and sweets and they’d come and meet you on the way down. But anyway I come up, got, it closed. Oh Christ, we came up on the train, oh Jesus, through the Apennines and through Austria, took us about six or seven days to get home, on the trains! Bridges broken down and one thing and another. [Laugh] Senior NCOs, there was six to each carriage, so how the hell we’re going to bloody sleep? I says don’t know. We’d got all our clobber with us, he says he’s at it again, he’s going to organise this, be nothing when he’s bloody finished! So I says ‘right, seats across, one on each. One on the floor between the two seats, on the floor. Right’, I says, ‘and two of us on the luggage rack’, you see, luggage rack each. So says, ‘oh right, we’ll put on there now’, says there’s bloody seven, ‘there’s six of us’, ‘oh yeah’, I says, ‘I’ll make a bloody hammock!’ So I got some rope off the kit bags and this that and the other, emptied hammock, put it on the door, that like that and I was up swinging in this and it pulled the bloody door off the hinges! So I landed on him on the bottom! But anyway, you know, we had some really good times, I mean just didn’t, you see we, of course you can’t put it down he was with me, and he and I a very short, very [emphasis] short of people like us, not because it was us, but engineers and that, and someone had let ‘em go, you know, released, and I was, and both of us were sent, well I didn’t know, I was at Rugby station and he turned up. I says where you going and he says so and so, I says so am I! So anyway we’d gone to this here squadron, it was No 1, No 1 Advanced, it was letters, headlines, No 1 Advanced Flying Training School, so he and I were there.
SP: Who was with you?
SC: Well, he was with us in Italy. But I meet him, I met him on the platform.
SP: What was his name?
SC: Pardon?
SP: What was his name?
SC: Don’t know, he comes from Darlington, Ginger he was known as, he comes from Darlington. We goes there and we arrive there and there were Harvards, you’ve heard of Harvards, haven’t you, well they’re American. But of course, I mean they had American single bank bloody radials, made no difference to us. We got there and they was waiting, and it was said [emphasis] that one of the, the engineer, who I relieved, he’d been a Japanese prisoner of war! But he said right, I’m off and buggered off. Anyway I was in charge, he was in, and Ginger was in charge and there should have been about, there should have been a Warrant Officer, we’ll say two, four, four, er, sergeants and four flight sergeants with a crown over the top and four ordinary sergeants like we were, him and me, but that’s all there was, only him and me. Anyway, I must tell you this, although perhaps you won’t do it, but in the Air Force lots of people, you go on your own somewhere, you know, they needed so and so to go, right. Well you have an Arrival Form to have filled, with the various departments. Likewise, when you leave the station you have a Departure Form of which you must have endorsed for every place: doctor, dentist, fire brigade, gas, you had to have gas, and sergeants mess and so on and so on, so you can’t walk away with stuff. Well you see, of course if you’re going away maybe you want to, can’t get away quick enough, but [emphasis] to arrive is a different kettle of fish. We thought oh Christ, it’s going to be murder, it’s going to be bloody murder here, [cough] so we get this thing this thing, it’s about that size, got to go [laugh] and this that and the other. So, course when you arrive there you see, I mean I’d come a sweat then, I know what was going, a sergeant, you know, but I’d been there six years, and you live and learn, so course there’s this list and you go and get them to sign that you’ve reported, you see. Course the first one, where do we go? Pay Accounts, so you get bloody paid, second place you go: sergeants mess you want to get your head down you know, and all that. You see. Where’s the last? The last is where you’re going to work you see, so you go there. [Chuckle] So anyway, and [muttering] and we went there, I noticed, now I can’t remember his name and I know you wouldn’t be able to find it, it was a shame, but he was a Wing Commander over the engineering, Wing Commander White, just one syllable his name, but it’ll come some time, anyway [laughter] we goes to the, goes there, well I’d had to come, you know, polish your boots, extra [rubbing sound] buttons, you know and this that and the other. Anyway, knocks at the door. Well it’s a funny thing, but from the engineering point, senior NCOs, I mean because a lot of the officers knew nothing about the bloody job and they relied on you, you see, you usually knock on the door and open it, and say only a few minutes, er, girl will come, you know, secretary will come and let you in, so you while, so obviously, you see, so we gets up there, knocks on this, bloody Wing Commander that must have come across, right, knocks at the door, no, knocks at the door, no. So [laugh] Ginger says ‘there’s nobody in, bloody hell, come on, let’s go to the mess.’ I says ‘there is somebody in.’ He says ‘how the bloody hell do you know?’ I says ‘I can hear ‘em writing’, biros hadn’t been invented, I could hear [scraping sound], and course I went like this. I says ‘there’s somebody in there, I says, ‘I can hear them writing’, so knocks on the door, opens the door and there’s this fellow sat at the desk, looks up, carries on, so goes in. Ginger, there’s somebody, I say told you. So we goes in, so he says ‘did you hear me say come in sergeant?’ so I says no sir. He says [laugh] ‘well, eff off, get out!’ Ginge says ‘No, I didn’t hear you either’, says ‘well you can eff off and get out.’ So went outside then he come out and girl come and says Wing Commander so and so would like to see you. So we goes in and he was smart as paint. Oh, you couldn’t, and I would guess him to be at least fifty odd, fifty five, Wing Commander. He says well, he says, you’ve got a lot of work to do, and this that and the other, you see, bloody hell, I was, so I yes I understand that, he said do you know Harvards he says. No, I said, but I know the bloody engine. Oh right, so he goes there. I’ll tell you this, out of it, he’s walking round, and he’s got a, he was an officer, with a mil board to write down anything he tells him. So he comes to me, says Cooper, always called me bloody Cooper, Cooper he says, right yeah, and he got this feller, this officer, and he was knocking on as well, so he says ‘‘scuse me sir, ‘scuse me’ - I don’t know his name – ‘but what do you want Johnson?’ He says ‘you’ve got some white chalk on your trousers.’ So he looks this, imagine he’s tall, he’s about six foot two, and he looks this: ‘white, yes, chalk, you don’t bloody know’, he said, and he dusted it off, and anyway, he said, ‘you were right, it is bloody chalk.’ I thought, Christ, work with him. Anyway I know on one occasion he come there and said how are things going, oh they’re all right, and he knew everything that went on, so he says so and so and so and so, he says not working on this? I says no, I says it’s only just come in. It hasn’t, he says, I saw it yesterday, oh Christ! But anyway, he was always, and he’d shout full length of the doings for me, you know, are you there and that. Anyway, I can’t remember how much, but I had a sum of money offered if I’d stay on, it was about four hundred pound if I’d join, but of course I mean I was married, I had no home to go to, she was in with the mother in law and all that, so you know I don’t like going, but I enjoyed it really, I was you know, some days, important, aye. Well if you broke anything you see, anything like a drill, you had to take the shank, but the shank, not the twisted part, and give it them you see or otherwise you could take the other part next and get two! [Chuckle] Bloody Giles, he says to the doctor, ‘I don’t suppose it’s any much point in the stores’, so he says ‘why, what’s wrong Giles?’ He says ‘I dropped me eye’, dropped it. He says ‘you what?’ He says ‘me eye.’ His false eye, he’d dropped it on the floor: smashed to bits. So he said ‘I didn’t know you’d have to bring the bloody bits for an eye!’ So anyway they did, they sent him to Med, well you just can’t buy an eye. Now this is a bit embarrassing: [laugh] we was going on the bloody train, this is at Waterbeach, we were going to London. I was going to see my wife to come but, and he was going to Moorfields for another eye, well you just can’t order one, you know, it’s really. So imagine that’s the [paper rustling] carriage, goes that way. There was a lady there and a lady there, and they looked matronly, if that’s the right thing, well Giles gets in and gets there and I get there but, separate spaces, and right, off it’s going, so he’s going to Moorfields and I’m going to Welwyn Garden City over the, [laugh] and hustle and bustle, a man come in, big man, big man about fifty, fifty something, sits between me and that woman over there and [blowing sound], so opens his attaché case and gets papers, drops ‘em [banging on paper] thought we’re going to have a bloody good time then. [Cough] Anyway, it was obvious to me he wanted to go to the bloody toilet. So I, he, Giles, never told him, but anyway, he goes to the toilet, and he goes to the toilet through the bloody window of the, as the train’s going along. People won’t believe this but it’s true as true, and he come back, you see, dead smart he was, mac and bowler hat and this attaché case, and says er: ‘Well ladies and gentlemen, ladies, you must, I must apologise, what else can you do,’ he said, ‘and you too gentlemen’ he says, ‘but I wouldn’t burst my bladder if I was dining with the Queen of England!’ [Laugh] Bloody hell, people will not [emphasis] believe that! Now I used to be able to get hold of Giles. Giles lived till he was about ninety seven! I used to go to his house to see him in the Lakes. Now Jones lived in Birmingham, it’s really sad you see, and it’s coming to lots of people, could be me if I’m not careful, as he had to go into a home, he came from Wigan. I knew his son and he’s gone, but I didn’t know where he’d gone or anything and Wigan’s a big place really, and so I phoned his son up, so he said, well he said, leave it, I won’t tell you over the phone, call and I’ll give you, I’ll write it for you, letters, but he says but I must warn you, he says, he does a lot of sleeping and I think it is, I said to him across road, says, I mean if I’m here and this that and the other, there’s a, so that was it. So I went with British Airways for twenty eight years and then of course I got a job as a clerk and here I am, fed up! [Laugh]
SP: And you worked quite a long time didn’t you? Was it, what age did you retire from your clerking?
SC: Well I wanted to go till I was ninety but I was taken ill when I was ninety, eighty nine, eighty nine and I had to be brought home three weeks running, but it’s.
SP: So you worked as a clerk until you were eighty nine. That’s fantastic!
SC: Yeah, I used to do everything at home, but I can’t do a thing, can’t even go up the loft now. But it’s very, very upsetting really, you know, I mean to say, as I said to Albert across the road, I said we are not living, we’re just existing, till you know, till the final day. See I won’t go in a home.
SP: I think Syd, you’ve done remarkably well to work until you’re eighty nine and you’ve got a fantastic home so I’d just like to thank you on behalf of International Bomber Command Centre for your time today and all the stories that you’ve told us.
SC: Do you think they’ll accept the manner which we’ve done it?
SP: Absolutely, you’ve just told us exactly your story and that’s what we’re after at the International Bomber Command Centre, so thank you.
SC: Yeah.


Susanne Pescott, “Interview with Syd Cooper. Two,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 20, 2024,

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