Interview with John Cox

Title

Interview with John Cox

Description

John Cox grew up in Lincolnshire and worked in banking before he joined the Royal Air Force. After training as a pilot in the United States, he served as an instructor for almost three years. He flew 20 operations as a pilot with 626 Squadron,from RAF Wickenby, before his aircraft was shot down and he became a prisoner of war. He was repatriated from a German military hospital by American forces and returned to England. Spending two years in hospital at RAF Cosford, he received treatment and bone grafts to his leg. After the war he returned to banking.

Creator

Date

2016-03-21

Temporal Coverage

Language

Type

Format

01:08:49 audio recording

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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.

Identifier

ACoxJ160321
PCoxJ1606

Transcription

This interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewer is David Meanwell the interviewee is John Cox .The interview is taking place at Mr Cox’ home at Old Oxted in Surrey on the 21st of March 2016. Right could you perhaps tell us a little bit about your, like where you were born and your up bringing.
JC. Yes I was born in a town called Bourne actually, in Lincolnshire, that was spelt Bourne on the 15th of November 1922 and I was brought up there, I had two brothers one younger, one older than me we all went to the local grammar school and eventually each of us went into the services my elder brother went into the Army, he became a captain in the Army and was posted to India for a good time in of the war. My younger brother was, didn’t join up because of his, he wasn’t old enough until shortly before the war finished. As far as I was concerned I was always anxious to get into the Air Force and I looked forward to it with some relish. My, we all went to the local grammar school, we all enjoyed sports, I particularly enjoyed cricket. I used to cycle to Nottingham, to Trent Bridge some forty miles away to see a game of cricket when I was about fifteen. So, and I used to play cricket locally, then I decided that, well it was decided for me after I left school that I had to earn a living and I considered myself fortunate to be, to receive an entry into the Midland Bank. Now in those days it was not customary for anyone in the Bank to be allowed to work in the town in which they were born. So I was sent in fact about some sixty miles away to at the age of sixteen to a town in Norfolk it was called Wymondham, it was spelt Wymondham but locally pronounced ‘Windham’ and I went there into a small branch of the bank and I enjoyed a very, a very nice period there, I was only there for about four months I suppose before war was declared and I clearly remember the Sunday morning when we listened to the broadcast to say that we were at war with Germany. Whilst I was there in Wymondham I again played a lot of cricket for the local teams, I was staying in a nice boarding house together with some of the younger people who required accommodation like I did. I was entirely happy, it was only when war was declared I of course that I had to look at things rather more seriously. I wasn’t old enough to go into the Forces at that stage I was only sixteen but nevertheless it was looming in the distance that I was eventually got to join up and I was looking forward to joining the Air Force.
DM. So what was the route you followed into the Air Force, how, how did you come to join the Air Force?
JC. Well before the war I was interested in gliding as well as other things. I did a bit of gliding which gave me which gave me a lot of encouragement that I might be accepted in aircrew I didn’t know whether it was or not. But after that and when my time came to be called up I had an initial interview at Cardington I think near Bedford that is where they used to keep the R101 I do believe, the airship in the hangars there or outside the hangars and there we had a medical examination and a very brief interview with three Air Force officers who asked very simple questions which any idiot could have answered and I was accepted in as potential aircrew. Sent back home again and then eventually I got the call to report down to London where, which was the general reception area for aircrew and I found myself living in some very expensive flats in St John‘s Wood, all the furniture and important articles had been removed from the flats and we were just sleeping on the floor of the flats. Incidentally I found myself in a troop of thirty chaps, I was the only Englishman, all the rest were from the West Indies and they had just come over to England for the first time and very anxious to see London and with the result that we didn’t see much of them for quite a time because they were absent without leave. However eventually they came to heel and we went through the usual motions of being marched round the streets of that part of London by the corporal in little troops of about twenty or so and he would stop us at some little tea shop where he got his free tea and we had to pay thrupence for a cup of tea. And then we had our medical examination in the Lord‘s Cricket Ground in the Long Room at Lord‘s, which was absolute sacrilege for a for a cricketer but nevertheless we had our examinations, medical exams there and then we proceeded to be issued with our uniforms. I remember the big boots we were issued which took a little bit of breaking in. We used to have our lunch each day, be marched to the zoo and we had our lunch in the zoo, the animals were still there, we could hear the sounds of all the various animals as we were having our lunch. From there we I was transferred to an Initial Training Wing at Cambridge to Pembroke College. We had the College had been placed at the disposal of the Forces during the war. I remember it was very cold indeed we used to have to wash outside in the mornings in a sort of a little tub, the living was a bit sparse but nevertheless it was very interesting we then began to enter into our studies, aircraft recognition and everything applying to flying. We used to spend a lot of time at Cambridge being marched from one university to another where we had the privilege of receiving our studies in some of the well known universities. And we, the idea was at the end of our initial training there we should be sent to an Air Force Station where we would commence our flying. The course in Cambridge covered learning the morse code and many matters concerning RAF law et cetera, et cetera. Anyway I found myself being sent up to Scotland to an aerodrome called Scone which is near Perth. This was in the middle of winter. It was in January and when we got there we were suppose to do some initial flying to see if we were going to be airsick and that sort of thing otherwise we would have been thrown out. However when we got there it began to snow, we were only going to be there for three weeks but in three weeks we got one hours flying, because each day it snowed, or each night it snowed and each day we were spent clearing the snow off the runways. However the three weeks went by reasonably quickly and I found myself flying I think a couple of hours in a Tiger Moth. They satisfied themselves that I wasn’t subject to airsickness and so I was then delegated or instructed to go to America. We went over to the Clyde and boarded a relatively small American ship I think it was called the USS Neville it was a small one. We went in convoy then over to the State everybody was seasick without a shadow of doubt but we had a, went over in convoy and we didn’t have any, meet any trouble from the enemy at all. But when we got to New York that was that was a very pleasant environment in which to find oneself. Well the Americans had only just, that week I think it was just come into the war, Pearl Harbour had just occurred and they were forced into the war. They were then, as Americans are, very “gung ho” and everything was everything was sort of orientated to ensure that the troops were being prepared for war. Great celebrations, well not celebrations but incidents of patriotism in Times Square, New York where there were banners all over saying ‘let‘s go USA’ that sort of thing, it was all, they hadn’t experienced any war themselves at that moment. They were extremely kind to us, extremely generous, they enabled us to and provided us with tickets to go to any function almost, free of charge in New York whilst we were there. Personally I went to, I chose to go one night to a boxing match between Joe Louis and man called Abe Simmons at Madison Square Gardens. That was just one of the things I went to, but after a few days there they then arranged for us to board into trains to go to the Southern states of America, Alabama, Georgia, Texas, Louisiana et cetera.
DM. So after you left New York where did you end up.
JC. Well we then went by train to the Southern states, I was very much looking forward to getting, starting to fly because I remembered in about 1935 when I was about thirteen years old I went to Sir Alan Cobham’s Air Circus which was, which came to my local town in Lincolnshire and I was absolutely thrilled to go and also very anxious to fly in the future. So anyway we got down to Tosca Alabama initially on the train. There we were well received by the local population, they hadn’t experienced any war at all down there or in America at all at that stage and they couldn’t have been kinder to us they really gave us a warm welcome and in Tosca, Louis or Alabama. I was attached to the local aerodrome where we started our primary training, we were flying Steersman aircraft. I remember I had an instructor called Mister Allan who was a very good pilot, not an awfully nice man but a very good pilot. I think before he started working for the US Air Force he had been a crop sprayer flying, flying low level and he was a very good pilot indeed. Well I managed to survive the six weeks course there in Alabama having gone solo after a few hours and I think when we done sixty hours we moved on to Turner Field in Georgia where we were then flying a rather heavier type of single engined aircraft. We did sixty hours or so there. After that we went to our Finishing School at Ellington Field in Houston in Texas. There we were flying twin engined aircraft, the Cessna 89 and some much more sophisticated aircraft after about sixty hours there we qualified to receive our wings. I was one of the fortunate ones who was invited to remain there as an instructor of the American Air Force. The Americans of course had a war forced upon them unexpectedly after Pearl Harbour and they hadn’t got enough instructors to cope with the large influx of pupil pilots of their own. So a few of us were asked if we would remain as instructors for the American pilots.
DM. How did you feel about that, were you pleased to stay or were you keen sort of to get into the fray back in Europe?
JC. Well no, I was desperately anxious to get home quite honestly. But I got messages from my home saying please take this opportunity to be an instructor in America because they realised the dangers were less over there than they were back home.
DM. You were out of harm‘s way.
JC. Yes I was out of harm’s way. In any event it was a, it was a very pleasant experience we had a course, courses lasted about six weeks and each of us had six pupils and they, I think I did about four or five courses there until the end of the year. It was a very interesting assignment and we knew we were eventually going to come back into the general fray of things in England but we did enjoy it over there.
DM. How did the young Americans I assume they were mainly young take to an equally young Englishman teaching them how to fly an aeroplane?
JC. They looked upon us with great respect strangely enough. I think it was because we had come from England where the war had been going on for some time and somehow they thought they they.
DM. You were the experts.
JC. Yeah they thought we knew all about it, in fact we didn’t we had only just trained ourselves but I suppose we had been selected because perhaps we had done reasonably well in out training and we were commissioned and generally speaking we, we did enjoy it. I, we had lots of privileges there too, for instance we were enabled if we wished to have an aircraft each weekend and we could go anywhere within a thousand miles as long as we were back by Monday morning and that was fine. We could take anybody with us if they were in uniform and so each weekend, not every weekend but many weekends we did make use of this great advantage. I remember one weekend I flew from Houston in Texas to the Grand Canyon in Arizona and, and back again. There was one restriction which was placed upon us that was that we were not supposed to fly more than a thousand miles away from base. Well the Grand Canyon was in fact one thousand two hundred and ninety miles away. So what I had to do was to fly to an aerodrome called Winslow, Arizona and land there and that was about three hundred miles short of the Grand Canyon. I had to refuel there, fly into the Grand Canyon, we flew around I took a Sergeant with me who was my Flight Sergeant on the aircraft, on the ground staff and we flew in the Grand Canyon and then flew back to Winslow, Arizona to refuel. So in fact I hadn’t exceeded the thousand mile limit [laughs] but had cheated a little bit and it was a very pleasant experience.
DM. Did you have to do your own navigation for that?
JC, Oh yes, there was just the two of us in a twin engined aircraft and they were lovely aircraft Cessna’s very much heavier aircraft than our Airspeed Oxfords and over here over in England, a fine aircraft. Anyway but that was a privilege, that sort of privilege made life very congenial over there and I exercised it quite a lot. We used to go to New Orleans and Kansas City and Memphis Tennessee, each weekend if we wished, we didn’t do it every weekend, but if we wished we could make use of that facility.
DM. So you were flying around the United States visiting places like New Orleans and having quite a good time. Eventually all good things come to an end and you had to come back to England. So what, what was the journey like, how did that go?
JC. Well, the journey back from America was interesting; we actually came back on the Queen Mary. Now the Queen Mary at that time was plying backwards and forwards to New York, without, without any support, without any military support or naval support because it was so fast in relation to the other ships. And so when we came back there were only about twenty of us I think on the Queen Mary from the RAF. All the rest were German, were American Soldiers and there were sixteen thousand on board. It annoyed us immensely because they all thought it was an American ship as it was so large, the biggest in the world at the time they thought it must be American. It took a lot of convincing them it was in fact an English ship. My colleagues and I in the Air Force were invited or requested via the ships’ crew by the Captain to go onto the flying bridge I think they call it in the fore end of the ship and spreads right across the whole ship and we had to keep our eyes scanned for enemy shipping or anything which needed reporting to the Captain. We had eight on the bridge at the same time each of us had in front of him a disc which had a segment marked out for us and we had to survey that particular segment looking out for enemy activity. Another, occasionally we had the extreme edge of this bridge to do our observations from and that was right over the sea, it was over the sides of the ships. The object, the objective of having those observation points was that we could look back along the side of the ship to see if there were any portholes being opened or flashing of enemies or flashing of lights to the enemy. Of course we didn’t, all the port holes were in fact locked and so it would be a problem for anybody to make any signals to anybody, but that was the object of that particular exercise. It kept us busy, we used to, used to do it about one night in three on the way back but it, I think it took us about twelve days to get back which was a long time for the Queen Mary then, it was going across in about three and half days in normal conditions, but we came back via the Azores which for security reasons apparently we did came, did a long circuit that way, that way home. That’s why we took so long, but it was an eventful journey. The reason it was restricted to sixteen thousand on board was that they could only serve thirty two thousand meals a day. So we all had two meals a day but they were very good meals.
DM. What was the accommodation like?
JC. The accommodation, we were, we were housed in the cabins and they were probably about ten in each two man cabin. We had bunks there to sleep in and they were stacked up the walls of the cabins we had about three or four cabins, three or four bunks on each wall of the cabin, so we were very crowded. Nevertheless the food was, although we only got two meals a day they were absolutely marvellous meals for war time conditions.
DM. What port did you come back to?
JC. We came, we came back into Gourock I think in Scotland and then we would ship down to somewhere near Liverpool overnight and then we came, I think we were allowed some time to go home. We had a bit of leave, that was, that was before we started on any serious flying in England again.
DM.So at this time you have been trained, you have been a trainer, you have come back to Britain. You have obviously not been allocated a squadron or anything yet.
JC. No, no we hadn’t. We were allocated to our squadrons we had all done about a thousand hours of flying already. So we didn’t need a lot of flying training I would suggest but we had to obviously had to get used to the Wellington and the Halifax and then onto Lancasters. We went to different aerodromes for that purpose. We had a reception centre at Scarborough in Yorkshire where and, and we were billeted in hotels there till such time as we we were allocated to our next station for training. First of all, then a Wellington a rather heavy aircraft, I didn’t care much for them, but that was the first English aircraft that I flew really. I had flown Airspeed Oxfords and lighter aircraft but that was the first heavy one that I had flown. Then we went onto Halifax’s at another station and then further on, finally Lancasters. From that of course we were allocated a squadron and that is the begetting of another story.
DM. How did the crewing up for the Lancaster come about.
JC. Well the crewing was a bit haphazard in my mind. We were just let loose with the aircrew, potential aircrew and they said well ‘just sort yourselves out’, you know, ’pick somebody you like the look of and, and if you want him he’s yours.’ So It really was a hit and miss affair fortunately I picked a very good crew, they were all friends of friends they were all very capable at their jobs. They weren’t truculent or boastful or cocky they were just very good crew members. We didn’t have a lot of jollity while we were flying in fact we had none at all. I used to make sure that there wasn’t a lot of idle chatter over the intercom ‘cause that was a bit disturbing and I, I stopped any of that, but we, we always worked well together. When we were on the ground we would go out together, possibly into Lincoln to whoop it up a bit. I’d got a motor cycle I remember that was a great help to me, I could get into Lincoln in about twenty minutes time. One night I was coming home after having probably a spot of liquid refreshment and I hit the railway gates which were closed [laugh] and went right over the railway gates much to the. The signalman came out and admonished me, I told him ‘he hadn’t got his light on the gates’ and he said ‘of course you haven’t got it on because you have knocked it off.’ I threatened to report him to the authorities he said ‘you can do what you like’ [laughs] I didn’t get very far with him. Anyway in Lincoln itself the squadron there was 626 Squadron I joined at Wickenby eight miles outside Lincoln we also had the 12 Squadron on the same aerodrome and but by and large we kept to our own squadrons for community reasons, friendships but it was a well run aerodrome.
DM. When did you receive your commission because I assume -
JC. I got my commission in America.
DM. You did? While you were training?
JC. Well, at the end of training, yes, those who became instructors also were commissioned at the same time. So I had my commission and I was a Flight Lieutenant when I was flying from the squadron in Wickenby.
DM. Were all your crew British or?
JC. They were, there was a Scotsman but they were British as you say. But on the night that we were, we were shot down my rear gunner who was a Scot was injured on his motor cycle, he had been into Lincoln and he was coming home he he had a crash and he was injured so on that particular night of our, of our operations, when, when it was a bit fatal for us, I had another gunner allocated to me and he was a Belgian. I had never met him before but as far as I was concerned, he was a good gunner and but otherwise they were all English. Eh I’m sure they were all English, yes.
DM. So can you remember anything about your first mission what your thoughts were, how you felt.
JC. Well, I didn’t have any apprehensions at all in, in flying certainly early on my own crew were well trained by then we done a lot of practice flying together we were, we were a good happy combined unit. No I didn’t have any apprehensions about it, no.
DM. Now you were based at Wickenby and you came from Bourne so you were sort of a local lad to all intents and purposes but did that mean you were able to see more of your family than perhaps your colleagues at all?
JC. In fact it didn’t because we had, we had to remain on the station whenever there was a possibility of any flying and we didn’t know what the weather conditions were going to be so they couldn’t give us leave and the tour of operations would normally be relatively short. Either you got shot down or you finished your thirty tours, thirty operations and it wasn’t going to be spread over a long period. No it was nice to have my family close at hand but I don’t think I ever visited them whilst I was operating.
DM. So where were some of the places you flew over?
JC. You mean.
DM. Where were your missions to?
JC. Well my first mission was to Karlstad [?] and that was in December of that year. And then I went to Essen and to Ludwigshafen to Ulla and Bonne and quite a few more that was in about two or three weeks we covered those few. Subsequently I went to Gelsenkirchen, Nuremberg, Munich, Ludwigshafen, Wiesbaden, Kleve, [sound of papers rustling] Dresden, Chemnitz, Dortmund, Duisburg, Flashier, Dessau, Kassel, Essen, Dortmund and finally shot down over Nuremberg.
DM. Before that fatal, so to speak twenty-first mission when you were shot down had you had encounters with enemy aircraft or bad, bad experiences with flak?
JC. Yeah, yes on each occasion usually there was some, some enemy action which was, was a bit disturbing, on occasions we had a clear run. But places like Nuremberg and Munich and Chemnitz, was a long distances to go and Dresden was a long way to go. Off course there was a lot of criticism about our bombing of Dresden. We didn’t know before we went we were going to cause so much damage. It was of course because Dresden was built mainly of wood and burned rather readily. It was a great shame about that but it did help the Russians to get into East Germany and quite a lot sooner than they would otherwise have done. Because the Dresden railway yards were being used by the Germans to bring their troops up and the Russians were complaining that we weren’t doing much to help them. They had come back from Moscow driven the Germans back from the doors of Moscow almost to the borders of Germany again, but their lines of communication were so long it was causing them problems. Just as it had caused the Germans problems when they got were attacked Moscow. They got to the gates of Moscow virtually but the weather and the long lines of communication caused them to be defeated there.
DM. The criticism about Dresden, I have always assumed it was after the war. Was there any criticism at the time, do you remember, I suppose people didn’t know what had happened then?
JC. There was no criticism in the British press I don’t think, in fact it was hailed as a great success probably. When I was shot down which was not too long after my trip to Dresden it was shouted at me by the Germans, ‘Dresden, Dresden, Dresden’ and it had obviously hit home very hard there. And it was a, it was a very unfortunate affair that so many were killed. But at least it did help to shorten the war because within about a month or so the Germans, the Russians were in Berlin.
DM. So turning now to that mission to Nuremberg when you were shot down what, what led to your demise?
JC. Well, Nuremberg, we’d been before we thought we knew the way there, we did know the way there quite well. We had, we got caught in searchlights which was a frightening experience. The master searchlight got us at twenty thousand feet earlier on then all the other searchlights coned in on us and it was at twenty thousand feet the inside of the aircraft was lit up as though it was daylight. One felt very vulnerable because there was nothing you could do to get out of the searchlights. If you weaved about the master searchlight seemed to follow you then all the other searchlights coned in on you and for a few minutes it was, that was quite a frightening experience. But the last mission to Nuremberg when we were shot down, we were attacked by a Junkers 88 and we were about, we were on the bombing run in, we were the bomb aimer, the bomb aimer was at his gun sights giving instructions to the pilot who was me to change direction very slightly here and there as we went in and it was at that time that we were attacked by this Junkers 88, yeah.
DM. So can you tell us a bit about the night when you were attacked by the Junkers 88 and shot down?
JC. Yes indeed we had completed about two thirds, two thirds of our tour and we were therefore quite experienced we had been to Nuremberg on the 2nd of January 1945 and we had moments of excitement but were not unduly concerned about the second trip. My regular rear gunner had a motor car, motor cycle accident the day before and he was replaced by a Belgium that we hadn’t met before but he had been well recommended to us. The notes I made at the pre flight briefing show that we were to bomb in three waves, commencing at three minute intervals and our aircraft was to fly the second wave from 21:33 hours to 21:36 hours we were at twenty thousand feet and our bombs, we were dropping our bombs on a heading of 084 degrees. Mosc, Mosquito Pathfinders with illuminating flares would be available at 21:26 and then they would follow up with red and green flares. If the target was vis, if the target was visual then red target indicators would be backed up with green target indicators. The aircraft would be staggered between eighteen and twenty thousand feet and the bomb load was one four thousand pound bomb and six thousand four hundred pounds of incendiaries. The, we witnessed considerable night fighter activity on the way there particularly south of Stuttgart where we had seen one or two aircraft going down and they were shot down by heavy flak. We were not concerned with night fighters and we successfully took evasive action when the rear gunner reported the Junkers 88 on our tail but it was out of range. The searchlights were plentiful as we approached Nuremberg but not too troublesome except to the extent that it made our silhouettes more easily seen. At 21:24 hours we were just short of the target and contemplating our bombing run although our bomb bays were not yet open. Without any warning we were attacked from underneath and set on fire in the centre section flames and choking smoke funnel, funnelling forward to the cockpit. I had no intercom response from the crew. Almost immediately I, the Lanc went out of control and into a steep dive and I am convinced some part of it must have fallen off or a control linkage severed. Having regard to the nature of our bomb load I still cannot understand why we did not explode as it appeared to me that the incendiaries were on fire. Immediately I gave instructions to bale out, not knowing if my order was received but mid upper gunner and wireless operator were presumably either injured or prevented by the fire from escaping. The bomb aimer and rear gunner were captured on landing about thirty miles from the crash site. The flight engineer did not survive and I can only assume that after he jumped he was caught up by some sort, part of the aircraft which was in a very steep dive. The parachute of the navigator failed to open and he was buried in the neighbouring village of Burgoberbach. For my part I must have been no more than a few hundred feet up when I baled out. I saw the Lanc explode on the ground just below me and within seconds I landed about three hundred yards from the burning aircraft. A compound fracture of the right leg resulted in a series of bone graft operations in various RAF hospitals for the next, for the next three years and I was eventually invalided out of the Air Force at the end of 1948. The exceptionally large losses that night I think could be attributed to the fact that the German night fighters were able to penetrate the bomber stream at an early stage and on a clear night. From Stuttgart onwards we were very vulnerable. Nuremburg was always a hot target.
DM. Ok so you you you parachuted, you managed to escape the aircraft, you baled out, you landed near to the aircraft, it was obviously night. What what happened after that once you were on the ground. Did you hide, you were injured clearly so you weren’t very mobile.
JC. It wasn’t a question of hiding, it was a question of, I fell in a pine forest and the trees were very close together. Looking at it from as you parachuted down it looked like a pin cushion that you were going to fall into which I did fall into it and my leg, I could see that as I parachuting down my right leg was bleeding and that and my boots had come off both, both boots had come off and it was my fault because I hadn’t got the straps tied sufficiently tightly around them. So that was a mistake on my part but I, when I landed and crashed through the trees, there was no way which I could avoid crashing through the trees. I was there with a, with a shell wound in my leg, no boots on at all, my feet were absolutely bare and I was lying at the bottom of a pine tree in the middle of the forest. I thought my chances of escape from there were pretty limited. After that I didn’t know, I couldn’t do anything for myself, I couldn’t my leg was busted, broken completely with a shell wound and I was, I thought that was going to be my end because there was no way I could attract attention of anyone being in the middle of a forest. It was the next morning probably about six o clock or six thirty in the morning when it was just daylight I could see just through the trees the silhouette of an old lady who was gathering firewood. The Germans were very short of any sort of fuel and she was obviously thinking about her fires at home and gathering firewood. Well I, I hailed her through the trees and she didn’t see me initially because the trees were so closely together but then she did see me and she scuttled off. Well I thought at least somebody knows I am here. Then I was waiting then, I could only wait to see what happened. There was no way I could move with my leg as it was, no shoes, there was no way of escaping and I just had to trust to the Lord for my future. Well after about an hour I saw a soldier coming through the trees towards me. He was a very well dressed soldier and he was part of the, we were to call it the Home Guard in our country but had a much, much more military style about him and he had two guns in his belt but he came, he didn’t take the guns out of his belt or anything like that, he saw that I was helpless lying at the bottom of this tree and he looked at me and then indicated that he would come back. Well he went away and I didn’t know how long it was but an hour or two later he came back again and this time hauled me to the side of the forest that we were in and he had a hay cart there. Well, and he helped me onto this hay cart and started trotting away back towards the village. On the way back he, he also picked up the body of my navigator who was dead and I notice that the navigator had no parachute and I can only assume that he had not attached properly his parachute when he clipped it on, leaving the aircraft. I saw him leave the aircraft and I thought he’d got the parachute with him then but obviously somehow or other he he lost it on the way out. So I am afraid he was dead and they put him on the side, on the straw in this hay cart that I was on alongside me and trotted into the neighbouring village of Burgoberbach.
DM. Where did you go from there, what happened after that?
JC. Well after I got there of course they were very hostile, the local inhabitants and they continued to shout the name of Dresden to me quite frequently. I couldn’t do anything by way of response except look a little bit contrite and they took my, the body of my navigator off the hay cart and decided that the local hospital where they took me wasn’t appropriate for my particular wound which was quite serious, they couldn’t deal with me and so they transferred me to a pony and trap, put me on this trap and the same soldier who had picked me up out of the forest drove me about probably four or five miles to a German hospital and left me there. There is no doubt about it they were pretty hostile towards me and I wasn’t in a position to do much arguing with them.
DM. Was the hospital you ended up in, was it a military hospital or a civil hospital?
JC. It was a German, it was a military hospital, it was housed entirely with German soldiers and a place called Troisdorf and they, they received me there and they took me into the operating theatre, they looked at the leg and they put a plaster cast, plaster cast on it and they left a hole in the side of the plaster cast where the shell had gone in so they could treat that. In fact it, it was a good idea but it didn’t really work because of the leg didn’t improve. They weren’t antagonistic towards me in the hospital they were I thought reasonably, not friendly that would be stretching it too much, but they tolerated me and put me in a ward of soldiers. There were forty in the ward the beds were so closely packed, they were all injured German soldiers except me. There was a gap between each bed of no more than six, eighteen inches just enough so the doctor could come round between each bed but they were very, very, very closely parked the beds in the hospital. They I wasn’t treated badly, they didn’t give me a very warm reception. The soldiers in the ward strangely enough were not antagonistic. They were in the same boat as I was, they were all injured and I received a daily visit from the doctor, he couldn’t do anything because they probably got more important things to do. I was there for some weeks in the hospital hoping that one day the Americans would come along and release me.
DM. Did you receive any information as to what was going on in the war, did you manage to glean anything when you were there?
JC. The only, no, I had a, I was concerned that nobody knew where I was and furthermore the Red Cross weren’t aware of where I was so I couldn’t be reported as a prisoner of war. I was concerned my parents back home would assume that I had been killed because the Red Cross were normally pretty good within twenty four hours or so indicating that either members alive or he wasn’t. And there was no way in which I could ask the Germans to do anything for me in that regard no I felt very lonely and I was more concerned about my parents at home must be believing I had been killed and I wasn’t able to communicate with them and that happened, that applied for quite some weeks afterwards, so I was very sorry about that.
DM. Did, did you get a chance to write a letter before, before you left to your parents or you never had a chance to communicate with them?
JC. Oh there was no way at all, there was no question of writing letters it was a question of surviving really and this was on my mind the whole time that my parents would believe that I was dead because normally when one was shot down they went to a prisoner of war camp. The Red Cross would immediately take action to ensure the parents was advised that the son was still alive at least and in a prisoner of war camp. And of course the food in a prisoner of war camp would have been better than we were getting in the hospital. Our meals were very very sparse, mind all the German soldiers were getting the same food as I was. But we used to live on sort of a very watery soup if I remember and I lost quite a bit of weight there, yeah.
DM. When did you come to leave the hospital what happened?
JC. Well, I think it must have been about six weeks or so that I was there before the Germans, before the Americans came in.
DM. So was the hospital evacuated or ?
JC. Well they were on the brink of it and there was a lot of disturbance and I wasn’t quite clear what was going to happen. Certainly there was a lot of activity at the local railway station and I suspected that they, the patients were going to be evacuated, but on the other hand there wasn’t much sense in evacuating the only way they could go was further into Germany and into that part of Germany and the Americans were going to follow them anyway, so there wasn’t much point in it. So in the end I waited until I could hear the guns coming of the Americans I could hear them in the distance a couple of days before they actually arrived. They were approaching at about fifteen miles a day and when they got to the hospital they were, they had a man come, I managed to contact them. The hospital wasn’t evacuated and the Americans were not delighted to see me, I was just a nuisance to them. I got my leg in a full length plaster, they didn’t know what to do with me, but the only thing they could do was take me along with them. And I went along [laugh] with General Paton [laugh] and his officers for quite some days but I was going in the wrong direction, they were approaching at about fifteen miles a day into Germany and I was going the wrong way with them, but my main concern was still that I couldn’t get a message to my parents. I couldn’t ask couldn’t ask the Germans to do anything, they weren’t interested and General Paton was too busy with his troops and not of, not of an inclined nature to be helpful. It was interesting to see how they were progressing, they would do about fifteen miles a day and they would go through three of four villages during that time and there was no resistance of any substance at all for them they were just rumbling through. They would ring up the next village and say ‘we want to see the white sheets coming out of the windows by way of surrender otherwise we will come in shooting’. In no time at all you could see the white, look at the next village, and the sheets were coming out of the bedroom windows and they had pretty well a free run. But they had bypassed so many Germans on the way through and this is why they couldn’t do anything with me, they couldn’t send me back by ambulance. So many Germans had been by passed and there was still a great danger, well nuisance anyway, but General Paton was only anxious to, plough on through, through that part of Germany and he had no, virtually no opposition at all. We went, they always used to choose the best building in the village that they were going to stop in that night and kick anybody out if they were, if they were residing there and make that the Officers Mess. Every now and again they would pick up a village halls one night we stayed in a school the village school and I was interested to walk round the school. I thought whilst I was there I might as well walk round the classrooms and I was, it was very interesting to see that their style of education was obviously very much similar to ours. On one occasion I saw that there was a map on the wall and it was the south coast of England and the north coast of Europe there the English Channel between them, but I notice they called that the German Channel. I thought this was a bit off side, [laugh] I thought it was the English Channel but no it was the German Channel, never mind.
DM. How did you eventually come to leave General Paton’s army.
JC. Well eventually they began to get the Germans cleared behind them so that it made it, it made it possible to bring ambulances forward and eventually I, I was put in an ambulance together with about six of their own soldiers that were injured and brought back. I was about a fortnight day by day moving backwards from one medical station to another, Russian, American medical stations to another and I saw some. The Americans were treating the German injured as well as their own. I remember on one occasion there was a nurse giving a blood drip to an American to a German soldier and he was, he was in agony, crying out and she slapped him across the face and she said ‘shut up will you’ she said, ‘you should be grateful to get good American blood’ [laugh]. Anyway eventually I, I got back by ambulance to Rheims, “did I tell you this?”
DM. “No you didn’t.”
JC. Went there, Rheims where there was a very big American camp and these chaps were being sent back to England to go on to America the war was over as far, they weren’t, they were just American soldiers, they were surplus to requirements then in France and I was the only Englishman in this camp there must have been a thousand American troops there. Very basic. They were living in tents in the middle of Rheims and from there they were flying them back to England, the Americans were flying their own troops back to England and I, I eventually came back with them. On one occasion I looked along the line and I saw outside one tent a table, it was a big tent a table was displaying lots of little parcels on it. There was a master sergeant there sitting by this table and these, the soldiers were lined up receiving one of these little parcels and I so said to one of them ‘what are they queuing for?’ and he said ‘they are queuing to get their Purple Hearts.’ So I said ‘oh yes so I will try and get a Purple Heart’. I was the only Englishman in the camp it was all various Americans. So [laughs] I went, I got in the queue they were lined up and signing and taking their Purple Heart away and I, when I got there the master sergeant looked me up and down and said ‘what outfit are you in?’ you see and I said I was in the Royal Air Force and he said ‘well I shall have to see the colonel about you’ “I said, ‘don’t bother’ [laughs] and passed on. I didn’t get my Purple Heart.
DM. So did you fly home from Rheims?
JC. Yes they, I was the only Englishman on the flight it was especially for the Americans really they all, the pilot asked me to go and sit with him in the cockpit so that I could see the White Cliffs of Dover as we came over. We landed at an aerodrome in the south of England its name just escapes me, but I was there for a fortnight and it was only there that I could arrange for a phone call to made to my parents to say I have landed in England and that was a happy release for me. Then I went from there to Cosford near Wolverhampton which was the general reception area of all RAF prisoners of war as they came back. Whether they were injured or whether they didn’t, they went there. The prisoners of war went to Cosford where they had an absolutely marvellous organisation. These chaps came back like I did with ragged clothes, and that sort of thing, and they were fitted out with new uniforms. If they got brevets to put on their uniforms they were put on, and if, they were fitted up with new boots, fully fitted up and after a medical examination they were sent off home, to their homes which they were anxious to get to of course but as far as I was concerned I went and there was no way they could get me home immediately but I was there for about a fortnight being looked, having my leg looked after, put in another splint and then they did allow me to go home. There were some very good natured people about at that time who were prepared to drive these ex prisoners of war from Cosford Hospital to their homes where ever their homes may be. I was in Lincolnshire, my home was in Lincolnshire a long way from the hospital but some kind chap drove me all the way there all the way home. And he wouldn’t, he wouldn’t stay, with my parents to have a chat with or anything, he said ‘I must now turn round and go back’ and he went all the way back to Wolverhampton very nice of him. But I suppose that in those days there was rationing of petrol but these people who were prepared to do this, the transfer to patients back home to their homes obviously got a special allowance of petrol to do that. Yes, that was pretty much the end of my story.
DM. You didn’t stay on in the Air Force after the war?
JC. I stayed on for three and a half years not because I wanted to but because my leg, was needed treatment and, I was in hospital, Cosford Hospital for two years with various operations on my leg. I had bone grafts and that sort of things the first ones wouldn’t, wouldn’t heal l so I had new ones and it was a very long winded job. And then they sent me or allowed me to go to an RAF Regiment camp near my home in Lincolnshire where I was assistant administrating officer or something like that not having to do any work but it was a place to put me whilst my leg was continuing to heal. Anyway it was three and a half years before I actually left the Air Force. Meanwhile they paid me all the time which was good of them, in the Officers Mess.
DM. Did you go back into banking?
JC. Yes I went back into banking, first of all I went to the Lincoln branch of the bank. I couldn’t accept any pay from them because I was getting Air Force pay, so I was working for nothing but as far as I was concerned I was getting back into my line of business. From then on I, I took up various appointments in the bank I went to Northamptonshire, I went to Birmingham, I went to Coventry and different branches each time receiving a bit of an uplift in by way of promotion, eventually I, I, I managed a big branch in Birmingham and then I went to London and I was reluctant to go back to London because I was so happy in Birmingham. We lived in a nice house and got well settled but I had to go back to London. When I got there I objected in a mild manner, I know I agreed to the move, but they said be patient and within six months they had made me Manager of the largest branch in the bank in Threadneedle Street which was a surprise to me and obviously they had moved me around with this in mind from Birmingham. But I was there for about five years and then was eventually made a General Manager of the bank from which I retired.
DM. Did you keep in touch with colleagues from the war?
JC. No, well my Canadian bomb aimer he, he went back to Canada, I lost touch with him. The remainder, of course I lost four of the crew for one reason and another and the Belgian he went back he went straight back to Belgium he didn’t come back to England before going home, I don’t blame him either he went straight back home. So I,I didn’t have any more contact. I did have a lot of contact with the Germans afterwards at various reunions and entirely different.
DM. That’s the Germans that shot you down basically?
JC. Oh yes, I met them, they turned out to be quite nice chaps really, yes there we are. They visited me in England, came over and had a holiday then they went on to Ireland to extend the holiday a little bit and I took them round the RAF Museum. They wanted to look inside the Lancaster but they wouldn’t open, they wouldn’t allow them to open the door.
DM. That was mean.
JC. [laugh] So that is more or less the end of my story.
DM. Do have any thoughts, opinions about how Bomber Command were treated after the war. About the public reaction or lack of recognition?
JC. It didn’t unduly concern me but I, I agree that they did justify rather more publicity than they got publicity of a favourable nature, but that’s the way it is they weren’t, I don’t think people understood for a long time just the percentage of losses which were really incurred it seemed to be about one in two that were likely to not survive. No I didn’t get worked up about it, it was one of those things. Now of course some attention is being paid to that remission, yeah.

Collection

Citation

David Meanwell, “Interview with John Cox,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 16, 2024, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/3385.

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