Interview with William Cooke


Interview with William Cooke








01:30:24 audio recording


IBCC Digital Archive


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MH. So good afternoon to persons listening to this tape today is the 2nd of September 2015 eh I am Mark James Hunt I am one of the volunteers with the International Bomber Command Centre at Lincoln. I have today the privilege in interviewing Mr William H Cooke at his home address in Mansfield eh, em what we are going to do is Mr Cooke is going to commence the interview and take us through his activities prior to being called up then through his time with the RAF subsequently to the RAF and then onwards to his association etc. So at this time I am going to ask Mr Cooke to take over and recount his tale please.
WC. Ah well I left school at fourteen into not much of a job an errand van come drivers job eh which I stayed with until I got called up at eighteen.Eighteen and a half I actually almost to the day when I went down to St Johns Wood for Aircrew training. Eh the usual thing there we, eh the usual tape, parades etc one which I remember quite well, it was about midday eh we were doing a great coat parade, which meant we were on parade in full kit with our .great coats on. As I say the middle of the summer this was, so it was a bit warm and eh the the Sergeant in charge and the Officer in charge who was taking the thing were going behind each mans’ great coat and measuring it from the floor to see the correct length of this great coat, which went on for quite a while. Until all of a sudden there was a bit of a commotion and one of the lads in the back row of the collapsed, obviously it it had got a bit too much for him, the weather had finally managed to get to him. So that was the end of that parade. From there we eh went to Bridlington, I can’t remember the name of the unit there but we did the initial square bashing and the start of training on morse code and aircraft recognition etc and the Browning Machine Gun of course. From there we went to Bridgenorth I believe I can’t remember what that station was called but from there [cough “excuse me”] I believe we had a, had a brief week or so leave and then we went to the Gunnery School, Air Gunnery School in Northern Ireland, Eh, that course lasted till just before New Years day on eh that would be Nineteen Forty Four. Eh I was lucky I got through that very well and passed that top of the course so I did ok there. I went back to England Eh, again a bit amusing we came back on the eh, eh Steamer from Larne onto Stranraer and we couldn’t actually dock properly at the eh Stranraer, so we had to off load from the Steamer onto a smaller boat, with full kit, kit bags etc and then we went to the dock and we had to climb up a wooden ladder up the side of this dock again with full kit etc and half way up eh an MP, Service Policeman called to us “have your passes ready when you get up.” You can imagine what the result of that was. Somebody said “ I was…..[unreadable] do you want that as well?” Anyway it was a great relief when we first actually got hold of the side of the dock to see two RAF Police Corporals meeting up with a bunch of bolshie Sergeants with bright shining stripes on their arms. We just went in for a bit of a fun do, you know. Anyway from there, I think from there we went home to leave and I was on leave for a few weeks because the passing through process then was held up along the line. And from there I went to [cough] Upper Heyford I think it was to start eh, OTU training.OTU eh em at Upper Heyford and its satellite Barford St John. And from there, “where did we go from there?” Let me think, I think from there we went to Scampton I believe was the next one for a short, what was supposed to be a Commando course, turned out to be a few weeks filling in again. So from there er, the process gets held up you see. And from there we went to eh Winthorpe on 1661 Heavy Conversion Unit and eh aft, after getting through that we went to Scampton, no, yes, no, yes we did a few weeks at Scampton and then we went to Syerston No. 5 Lanc Finishing School. From there the big day we were posted to a Squadron. Eh at Squadron I think we arrived one day and we did a short test run with another Pilot and then our Skipper went on the next Operation and after that we were said to be ready for Operations and the first one was Guiros. And eh that was the Operation where the man I had been hoping to be crewed up with eh went on and he got lost. His crew didn’t return. Anyway from there on it was just a matter of doing ops, getting leave every six weeks or whatever it was and eh until we completed the, well eh partly completed, I beg your pardon, partly completed the tour because then the station, the squadron transferred to Fulbeck Station and we completed our Operational Tour there just before Christmas 1944. Again short leave, end of tour leave and we came back and the Skipper went into the Flight Office, came out looking as though he had seen a ghost, because he said “I have been posted to India” and he was due to be married in Easter but anyway he got special leave and got married.So four of us after a brief minutes think said “oh we’ll come with you Skipper.” And eh from there then of course it was a case of, I think we went to Morecombe I believe for holding until we were ready to board the Troop Ship. The Troop Ship was the Union Castle Line, “Cape Town Castle” and the length of time on board I think would be a month or something like that to India. I always remember I did a Guard Duty on there. Believe it or not we had WAAFs on board whither it was a case of keeping the WAAFs from the Aircrew or the Aircrew from the WAAFs I don’t know. We were on parade, we were on guard rather. We’d eh take a number of lads round the ship and on one, one of the guards that I was on, I had to take these chaps round and take them down below decks, and of course it was dusk while I was doing this and at dusk I believe on board these Troop Ships all the doors are automatically closed. So I went down looking for this bloke and I had lost him, I was about quarter of an hour relieving him because I couldn’t find my way from this side to that side, I had to go up and round. Anyway I got. I found him and that was that. We eh docked at Bombay, Mumbai as it’s called now and eh from there we went to Poona, Poona for a short while and in that time we were transferred to a place called Mahabulishma for a eh eh Jungle Training Course they used to send us out with water bottle and rations and a map and find your way back and that was it. And eh it was quite interesting that because we did I think the last one we did was about two or three days out we had to stay out and manage on what we got. The day we went on that particular course we were taken out on lorries and before breakfast everybody had been into the local shop stocking up on whatever food they could get, hiding it so that the CO wouldn’t see it and then loading it on at the last minute, you know, off we went. Eh and unfortunately with some of the chaps they got back a bit early, they got back a bit early and instead of staying out for the last night they went back in, going into their own beds you see. The CO being a keen sort of bloke went round next morning and rousted all these people out and said “what you have brought back with you, that’s it for the day” and he took them out and they had to go for another days walking back. Eh uh hm anyway when we had finished that we were posted then to Kola Airfield. Eh we were then converted onto the American B24 the Liberator Bomber. And eh I was there if I remember rightly, I was there on VJ day no,no, beg your pardon VE day and eh they put the airfield out of bounds because they thought maybe some bright spark would go down there and start one up and run it down the line with the other aircraft. All that, we had a bit of a booze up but that is about all we did get then on VE day. And then we were posted to, from there we would go to a Squadron which was 99 Squadron Dubalia, after riding across India on the railways, not the railways we got now [telephone ringing] “excuse me” 99 Squadron, yes the Pilot went on eh eh eh another Operation with a different Crew just to get him set in as it were and then we did two Operations. The first one was down to, I believe it was Billing, near eh, now what was it, Rangoon I think in that area which I think was suppose to be a, a, a Japanese transit camp but anyway. The second one was a ten thousand ton tanker in the area which was supposed to be the largest tanker the Japanese had there. Obviously if we could get that out of commission that would do a big deal towards the ending of the War, because no petrol if they couldn’t get that sorted. Ah it was the middle of the monsoon, bad weather all the way, I think we sent seven aircraft four of which had to turn back due to bad weather and , and one thing and another. The other three got through and they were all damaged some way or another, either by weather or anti aircraft. In our case we were damaged badly by anti aircraft fire, it took the starboard fin and rudder off. By a eh eh miracle we managed to keep flying and get back from the Gulf of Siam area to Burma, to Rangoon, Burma. Eh we were on on the last approach to landing and just at the last minute or so it fell out more or less fell out of the sky and unfortunately the Skipper was killed. That was the end of our flying as it, because shortly after that eh, the war ended. You know the, the Japs, the Yanks dropped the Atom Bombs and that was the end of fighting for everybody. From then on that would be from nineteen forty five, June I think it was June forty five until forty seven, March forty seven we were employed on any sort of thing. We were virtually spare, all aircrew were virtually spare men after that and I did work in a canteen liaison office in Calcutta. Eh I then was transferred to Dumdum Airport which I think is now the airport for Calcutta and eh we were loading freight and mail onto various aircraft and all that kind of stuff. Then I from, before, shortly before I left there I went to flying control recording landings and take offs and all that kind of stuff. Eh I remember I was on duty, I think it was on it would be the night, either the afternoon shift or the night shift when the demob numbers came up and my number was among them. So that was it, next day, get your clearance chit, get around everybody get a signature and on they eh, fifteenth of February which was my birthday I was on the bus eh I think it was on the bus, I think it was to …[unreadable] station in Calcutta to travel from there to eh Bombay again to return home. In fact the Officer that I should have been working with passed me on the bus and asked me what I was doing on the bus. “I said I’m going home, thank you very much Sir.” And as I say again about a eh months journey back again. I thought I was going to go on board the Troop Ship as a Warrant Officer because they called me out as a Warrant Officer on parade but when I got on the ship I was suddenly down to Sergeant again, I was remustered as a Sergeant, so I didn’t get a cabin, I got a hammock down below somewhere. And eh it was ok but that was on the P and O Liner Moortan one of the older liners. Very deep draught and it was quite reasonable that was apart from the fact that the food was awful. [Laugh] I am not sure whither it was coming back from India or when we were going out. We went down for a mid day meal and eh we were served tripe and onions, that was the meal. Of course it takes, it takes, it was also the meal for the afternoon meal. One thinks somebody here is doing alright out of in catering. If you take the fact that about three, I think it was about three thousand were on board the Cape Town Castle and some of them was coming back. Well how many people out of three thousand would eat tripe and onions for a meal? [laugh] So you know they would obviously not make up much anyway and what was left was buckshee. [laugh] Anyway we landed in Southampton and eh this was in nineteen forty seven and eh eh the country had been under a deep freeze and snow and everything all over the place for several weeks. It had just started to thaw. So we managed to get up from there by train to somewhere on the East Coast of England I can’t remember the name of the place, to be discharged you know. I got me civvy suit and all me bits and pieces and several, I remember we had to have a medical and for some reason I was, I had to go back and have a check up several times. I don’t know what it was, Anyway they got rid of me, I must have been fit enough to have got rid of [laugh] and as I say I was back home. I managed to get as far as Nottingham on the train I think it was. Well all the local trains and buses had finished then. So remembering what my Dad had said about being in the Eighteen War and getting back from Nottingham one time by cadging a life on the GPO van I went round to the side of the station where the GPO place was and the Gentleman was good enough to give me a lift back to Mansfield. He dropped me on, on White Hart Street and I had about say ten minutes to quarter of an hours walk to get home. Course it was chucking it down with rain and I had no great coat or mac, I got my kit bag and all that I needed and I was home, that was it mate. Knocked my Mum and Sister up about two o clock in the morning and eh tears all round you know, that was it I was back. After that it was a case of trying, seeing my Old Boss eh having a word with him, I didn’t go back to that job. For the next few years I was in one job or another, on insurance, trying to be a travelling salesman then I went onto a bakers round.I done delivery to shops on a bakers round. Then I finally got to work with a the local, one of the local water authorities which later became incorporated in the other water authorities. I worked there on a pumping station for about eight years and then on in in Mansfield in an office with the water authority and finally when Severn Trent took over I finished my, I did thirteen years travelling to Nottingham in the control room in Nottingham before being eh one day before my sixty fifth birthday. Well at least with the, with the holidays I had saved, one day before my sixty fifth birthday. From then on I have been enjoying a life of leisure. Apart from working at home of course, the wife kept me busy on various things, altered the house quite considerably so I have used my time fairly well. And a few years ago my son, youngest son got me involved with the 49 Squadron Association and the Lincolnshire Lancaster Association so I have been involve with them up to the present time. Eh hopefully I shall live a short time longer and enjoy the rest of my time.
MH. Good, ok I have been scribbling notes as you can see. Can I take you all the way back to when we commenced eh, you were fourteen when you left school, what year would that have been?
WC. Nineteen thirty nine, just prior to the war starting. That summer when the war started.
MH. Do you remember how or where you were when Neville Chamberlain made his famous statement on the 3rd of September?
WC. Off hand no I, I was probably at work I suppose because it was in the daytime, as I say I was an errand lad and I was learning what needed doing on that particular day at work and that was my job to do it [laugh].
MH. Do you remember when you first heard that war had been declared?
WC. I can’t remember that, no I am afraid not, no.
MH. And did you have any Brothers, Sisters?
WC. Yeah I,I had an elder brother who was just about twenty years older than me, he was called up to the RAF and he was on 106 Squadron Lancasters as a rigger. My sister was also on a Lancaster Squadron in the WAAFs before I got called up. So obviously I was going to go on Lancasters one way or another. I went for Aircrew selection and I think I might have been ok for Pilot, Navigator, Bomb Aimer but I knew that if I went for that I probably would not have got into the war, it would be over before I was trained. So after that I didn’t know what would have happened if I had stayed in there so if I go for Gunner at least then I shall be in and six months training and I shall be a Sergeant. Again cash played a role in it although we weren’t paid handsomely I think we got, I think we got seven shillings a day, Sergeant plus a shilling a day flying pay [laugh] that’s five pence now.
MH. Forty pence a day, crazy. Were you influenced at all by your brother and sister and the service they were in?
WC. Oh yes, obviously they were in the RAF so I decided more than anything else going in the RAF. I always wanted to fly from a lad just to be up in the air. I didn’t think somehow I would be able to be a Pilot, Navigator, I might have been but I thought I can do the other I am sure so I’ll be a Gunner.
MH. You did some training at Bridlington and Bridgenorth and you went Air Gunner Training in Northern Ireland. Can you describe the conditions overall, where you slept em and you food and that sort of thing?
WC. Well, it rained a fair bit in Northern Ireland which it usually does [laugh] generally speaking it wasn’t, I didn’t think it was too bad although I was taken ill while I was training there. I had two in hospital or at least off sick and that changed the course that I was on. I was put back two weeks and that’s when the chap that I was already picked out to fly with carried on, on his course and I followed on a fortnight later, you see. But eh all in all it wasn’t too bad I didn’t think there, it seemed to be ok you know.
MH. And the food was that ok?
WC. Food was reasonable yeah, yeah.
MH. ‘Cause rationing was in heavily wasn’t it?
WC. Oh yeah rationing yeah as far as food concerned food yeah against the Civilian diet it was as good as some better in some ways. All through, until we got to India, all through the foods been quite reasonable I thought myself in the Services.
MH. You were able to maintain your weight?
WC. Yeah in fact I put on some, I was a lad when joined up I was more of a man when I got through it all.
MH. You would be the first person in Military History to put weight on. OK so you came out top of your course in forty four and you then got sent to the OTU at Upper Hayford. Do you remember what aircraft you were on at that time.
WC. Wellingtons, on Wellingtons, Ansons on the Air Gunner, Wellingtons on the OTU.
MH. How would you describe them, how would you, you know describe them as far as aircraft go?
WC. It was, I reckon it was a good aircraft the Wellington, very good. There is only one thing that I found with that eh I don’t know what happened with the design. We used to do air firing to a drogue, we used to tow a drogue behind and you had to feed this drogue out through the middle, a hole in the floor, half way up the aircraft. And you let it out, I beg your pardon no not a drogue, no no I think when you had been flying about two hours you had to pump oil from one tank into the engine tank. The pump was located in the middle of the aircraft. The only snag was there wasn’t an oxygen point at the middle of the aircraft. So when you went down there you pumped for a while and went back and had a few breaths of oxygen [laugh] and then went back and pumped a bit more. I don’t know how it, it come about it was just a fault, a tiny fault really but important if you were doing the pumping. Other than that I thought that the Wellington was a fine aircraft.
MH. And within the Wellington, the basic design, they have a front turret and a rear turret but on the odd occasion did they have any other weapons?
WC. Well I was never involved where there were other weapons, I believe I’m not sure I believe possible there was a fitting half way through the side window but I never saw that in Operation at all.
MH. Being an Air Gunner how did you find the turrets, were they restricting?
WC. No, they were reason, being sort of small I fitted in quite well. They were ok, there was no problem as far as I was concerned for room, they were a bit draughty occasionally but apart from that, I was always, I was always comfortable in the turrets on the Wellington and the Lancaster. But the mid upper turret on a Lancaster, the Halifax was the same. The seat was a block of rubber on a, on hanger on a sort of canvas strap. You got in and you pulled it underneath and you hung it on the other side and that’s where you sat for the next four, five, six hours or seven whatever it was the length of the trip. But it was ok, I was ok with it.
MH. For those not in the know can you take us through and what you would have done upon entry into the aircraft, like your pre flight check as far as a Gunner was concerned, what would you have to do?
WC. Well eh both the Rear Gunner and myself we had to go into the turret check the guns, make sure the fire and safety switch was in the right position, safe to take off. When you were airborne on an operation put them onto fire. Check the sights all these kind of thing like that, make sure you could see round the turret, operate the turret controls, make sure everything worked ok. As far on a Lancaster, the mid upper gunner before he got into his turret actually had to check, there was a compass, a compass that hung, I can’t remember what, what the kind of compass it was but it was hung just inside the door of the Lancaster if I remember rightly we used to have to check that, call it back to the Pilot or Navigator to see that it tallied, they were all tallying the same reading you see. That was about it then as far as, as far as the Gunners were concerned. Of course others up the front end they had their own checks to do.
MH. Did you come across any problems at any time?
WC. Well, not again the only problem I had, we were doing a DI you know Daily Inspection and I was checking the front turret and there is a pin which fits in so that you can loosen the guns to move them around to do the delivery and I dropped one of these pins and it fell down on the, and it took me quite while to cause its just a little cotter pin that fits in you fitted it in, put it in and that was it and it took me quite a while to find that but other than that, that was about it it was quite ok. Can’t think on anything else, we had a period on the Lancaster when we were introduced to this new radar turret, it was highly secret and according to what the boffins told us if even in in tenth tenth clouds shall we say if you have got an enemy aircraft and got it sighted correctly you could guarantee seventy, sixty percent hits even without seeing the targets.It was good and that was it you know. We trained on that and I don’t think it lasted long, I don’t know why but you know, I don’t think that for some reason. I don’t know whither it was never used for any time I don’t know. I really as I say we didn’t use it as such, we nearly did but [laugh] very nearly did.
MH. Would you like to take the listeners through the time that the Mosquito decided to follow you.
WC. Well that is the time that we nearly used it. We were flying in cloud and the Rear Gunner picked up various Lancaster’s giving the code back. Then he picked up a signal that didn’t give any recognition. He said it’s coming in I can see it’s so far and think the Wireless Operator read out the range to him you know. He said “I’ll give it a bit longer” and we kept going and I said to the Skipper better cork screw Skipper and see if we can loose him that way but this particular aircraft followed us down in a cork screw which he shouldn’t have done if it was an RAF one. But as I say he wasn’t giving a signal and I said “well this is it looks like this is it you know”. The Rear Gunner said “I’ll give him another few seconds and then I will open fire” and in those few seconds we all came out of the cloud and I looked at the aircraft and it was an RAF Mosquito and I said “for Christ sake don’t shoot” you know. Or somebody will be in trouble. Anyway he must have seen us at the same time and he broke away and that was it. But that was the only time we were nearly in trouble [laugh]
MH. You were saying to me earlier about the use of your guns.
WC. We never did, not on the first set of Operations. No we were lucky we didn’t get picked up by any German Fighters and we didn’t have any incidents where we were close enough to fire at anything on the ground would have been a waste of time. Beside of which we were carrying tracer bullets in the rounds so we would have given our position away pretty sharpish. So we counted ourselves being lucky we got away without any problems. We did the full tour and that was it.
MH. You mentioned tracers emm, for those not in the know. What would have been the make up and how would they have fitted in with the rounds that you were firing?
WC. If I can remember it was a group of five, there was one tracer one incendiary eh no, no yeah one tracer one incendiary one armour piercing and the others would be general pup., the ordinary bullet you know. So as I say you got the tracer every fifth round and it, it would show up fairly well and as I say it would show up where you were as well, that was the only trouble. [laugh] I don’t think we had that eh eh amount of tracer wouldn’t have altered it all as far as I can remember. We didn’t load the guns, the armourers did that for us, you know and as I say we didn’t fire them anyway so we were ok. Other than air to air firing if there was somebody towing a drogue and we sign like that. But I know when we used to do this Village Inn in training we used to do some camera gun tests and the result when we saw it on the screen, it was remarkable. On an ordinary camera gun exercise without this Village Inn the sight would be wandering around very well. On that it wandered straight on and that was it, it stayed on pretty well, just floated around a little bit, not bad, not much. So it would have guaranteed some good, good results.
MH. So you went to 1661 Heavy Conversion Unit at Winthorpe and then onto the Lancaster Finishing School at Syerston which always tickles me. A finishing school for the Lancasters. I will take you back to St Johns Wood if I may just briefly em, how did you and your Skipper, how did you all come to meet up?
WC. Well we met up at Upper Heyford at the OTU there and it has been said in lots of ways and lots of programmes, it was a kind of hap hazard setting up. You all met in the Squadron, Sergeants Mess I think it was, and you went round, or in a hanger somewhere and you went round. “do you need a couple of gunners Skipper?” or do you need, you know and that is how you met. You picked up, we tried with a couple of other I think Australian we tried to Crew up but they were already Crewed up. See and we came across our own Skipper, Jack Parkin he was a Flight Sergeant then, he had been flying, I think on a Gunnery School, Ansons on a Gunnery School. Anyway we, that’s how you met up, we met him and he had already got a Navigator and a Bomb Aimer or something and we finally got the crew of six before you got the Flight Engineer. The Flight Engineer joined at the Heavy Conversion Unit when you went on to four engines.
MH. Right, em ok, so you eventually got posted to a Squadron and now you are all together, all seven having all completed and everything having gone LFS. Eh what can you tell regarding the Missions, the type of Missions that you had, where they went em, bomb loads, that sort of thing?
WC. Well the first one was just over eight hours to that French railway depot Gefores I think it was eh so that was, I can’t remember actually the details of the various trips, but eh “have you got that list?” Yeah got that.
MH. And got your log book there if you wanted to refer to it.
WC. Yes if you wanted to, that gives you the exact ones. We landed away from our own drome on two occasions, one was to a eh I think it was another Lancaster Squadron at Burn in Yorkshire and the other was Horsham St Faith the American Base flying Liberators. We rather shook them up a bit when we told them what eh bomber we had landed with and what we had dropped, especially next day when we opened the Bomb Doors and showed them what a bomb bay looked like [laugh]. Eh well apart from that we, we were pretty ok you know. We went, we came back we were lucky we didn’t encounter any fighters or anything like that, so it was ok.
MH. Did you see any other aircraft when you were on a Mission coming to grief?
WC. Oh on occasions yes we did see occasions, I can’t remember again which trips, but you we, we I think we, in fact I think it was on the first day light they did, the just, all the Lancasters were on a day day light, probably about two hundred or so and they had been on night trips. Well on a night trip you each went your own individual way. What was happening on this day light, they were all flying on odd heights and odd courses. And I saw one Lancaster release its bomb load and there was another one underneath and it went straight through the wing and that was it. That was seven men down. I can’t remember seeing anyone getting out of it because it just went down. Anyway we did see one or two aircraft come to grief with flak or fight. Well I don’t know if it were flak or fighters they were in flame generally and eh.
MH. So how did you feel at that time, how did that make you feel in seeing that, because I couldn’t imagine that and I’m sure the listeners can’t imagine seeing that side. How did you feel personally and how in any way did that affect you.
WC. Well if I said it bothered me a great deal, I would probably be right. It did upset me of course but you were doing a job and you got to keep your eyes on what you were doing. You could not give too much thoughts to the other people unfortunately. I mean it sounds a bit horrible that, this is it you know, you have a job to do and you generally speaking on these trips you had to concentrate all the time. Especially at night, you know, you were staring into darkness and you are trying to look for other aircraft and find out anything you can about what’s going on. So you didn’t have much time to worry about other aircraft. Other than when you saw something that was it.
MH. When you were in the Bomb Stream on a night time, how, how did you feel the presence of another aircraft, how did affect how you?
WC. You got the turbulence, you know you would be flying along straight and level then suddenly, it would be, that meant that you had crossed the turbulence from another, the slipstream from another aircraft. You know you would probably we weaving slightly like this and you just hit one of those and you knew that somewhere up front there was another Lancaster. So you had to be even more aware then because they were damned near as dangerous as what the fighters were. If you were in, I mean you didn’t stand a chance if you did collide with one, that was it.
MH. Fulbeck, Christmas forty four, end of tour any high jinks went on?
WC. Actually we were flopping away, although we were finished we had a drink, we took the ground crew down to the local, Leadenham I think, I can’t remember the name of the place, just from Fulbeck. But as I think I said I had volunteered to go with the Skipper and we started having injections for getting ready. So we went of course to have a drink of beer on an injection you knew you had it Matey [laugh]. I, I vaguely remember I had a girl friend on, on that Squadron a WAAF and she had more or less to support me all the way back to the Squadron. I hadn’t had much to drink really but eh. Then that was, that was it when we cleared the Squadron we went to, “where did we go from there?” I think that was Morecombe I think from there and wait until the Troop Ship was ready. We spent about a week or more in Liverpool docks. Because for one reason or another they couldn’t get the, we couldn’t make up the Convoy. I remember actually the day we were moving out of the dock, the Captain of the ship ordered everybody away from the rails “get away from” because what was happening of course everybody was looking over the rails several hundred, probably a thousand people on one side and it was tending to. It only had a narrow gap to get through, so instead of going through straight he was going through at a slight angle. It would have scaped his paint so he said “everybody away from the rails.” But that was, that, I think about it and laugh every time, I still do guard duty on board a Troop Ship. There weren’t many chances for the SS to catch us there you know in the middle of the ocean, not really. [laugh]
MH. So you land in India, what were your first thoughts about India it must have been completely different to Mansfield. What were your first thoughts when you got to India?
MC. Well they talk about the mystic East in my impression it was the mystic, where the smells were coming from. It was it was hot and it was a bit smelly you got used to it after a while and of course you had to watch out for everything you got in India. You got the Delhi Belly as it is sometimes called and then you got any kind of skin infection that was floating around at the time. Prickly heat, boils, tinia all these things all due, all due to the sweat on your uniform irritating your skin you see. And eh you could get things for some of those, if you got Tania which is a rash in the private parts and that’s putting it politely, well the treatment was Whitfields, either Whitfields ointment or Whitfields lotion which I think Whitfields lotion is surgical spirits with a max salts, Epsom salts or something like that in it you know and the ointment is just Vaseline with this stuff. Well Vaseline and, and that is not too bad, it stings a bit but the the lotion it stings a bit sharpish[laugh] A friend of mine got it and he said “they have given me this from the sick bay and they have to bath it with this, you see” I said “be very careful, don’t, don’t be too liberal with it because it stings, I have had the ointment on mine and I know that’s a wake up call anytime” He put it on, dabbed it on, Ohhh! It suddenly hit him what he’d done. He was very cautious from there on, very cautious. There was a, I remember in one of the magazines that the services used to send out, there was a joke in the re and it was a picture of the CO sitting at his desk, and there was a recruit fresh out from England in a uni, you know different type almost different type of uniform and he said. Of the Medical Officer that was it, where he was going he said “I’ve got prickly heat sir” and and you know and under, underneath him like “Prickly Heat!” and the CO and the MO were absolutely covered in these spots.Printed with an explanation mark “Prickly Heat!” [laugh] It could be a very irritating thing that, you know you just came out in spots, little red spots all over you. It wasn’t dangerous or anything, it was very uncomfortable at times, you would be sitting there then OH! It was just like somebody sticking a pin in and as I say it could be uncomfortable.
MH. Did you suffer anything else in India?
WC. Yes I did after the crash we had when we got back up to Calcutta to the Squadron then back up to Calcutta we had to go through various medicals after a crash you know, you were checked up and everything and I went to the eh, the other Gunner went in and he was ok, they checked him out alright. The MO took my temperature and pulse he says “are you feeling ok?” I said “I’m fine thanks” “There is something wrong, come back tomorrow” So I went back the next day and same thing again, he said “there is definitely something, come back tomorrow” Next day I didn’t go back to him I went to sick quarters, I got Denghi Fever and it hit me then. It’s very similar to Malaria, they only way they can tell is by a blood test and if it’s Malaria if not it’s Denghi Fever. I had a fortnight, I think it was a fortnight in hospital then and part o.f the time, I’m not sure what was going on or anything, you get a bit delirious. You know it’s a fever and is spread again by a Mosquito just the same as Malaria. The time I came out of that the rest of the Crew had also come to Calcutta and the second Pilot had been posted home sick. My other Gunner he had been moved to somewhere, he had been posted away and that was it. I was on my own then in the Transit Camp for a couple of months or so more before the Wireless Operator who had been injured in the crash actually came up from Rangoon and I met him then. And from then on we spent time together, more time actually as odd job men you might say than we did as Crew.
MH. I want to get if possible your impression of the Avro Lancaster as an aircraft, be honest and then the B24 Liberator and be honest.
WC. This won’t get me thrown out will it? Well the Lancaster was the four engined bomber in my opinion, I believe the Halifax was just as good of course more was made of the Lancaster, the Dambusters and all these sort of raids and that special 617 Squadron made it a well known and well thought of aircraft. It was very good there was no doubt about that. As I say, I never flew the Halifax but as I say it was equally as good. And as I say don’t make too much of it but I think the B24 Liberator in my opinion because there is no doubt it saved my life, that it was almost as good as the Lancaster. Designed for a different area of Combat. The Lancaster was designed to go three or four hours out and three or four hours back and carry a bigger load because it was lightly armed as well. The Liberator the same as the American idea was we will go in and fight our way in and fight our way back. It didn’t work that didn’t but nevertheless it was designed with that idea for use over the Pacific on long range jobs. [pause while the telephone is answered].
MH. So in your impression B24 was a good aircraft?
WC. A very good aircraft, yes, no doubt about it.
MH. But the Lancaster would be your pick of the two?
WC. Yeah well as I say they were designed with different aims and you can’t, you can compare them but you can’t compare them as to what one would do against another. Not really because they were designed for a different purpose. Long range, far more long range is the Liberator the B24 otherwise it was a good aircraft.
MH. Comfort wise on Operations.
WC. Well yeah, yeah they were reasonable you know eh. Having said that on a, on a Lancaster when you went on an Operation you got a flask of coffee, sandwiches, bars of chocolate and chewing gum. The two trips we did out in India on a Liberator it was take your water bottle and here’s a K Ration. So, again that was not due to anything other than the, the area you were in, there was no doubt about that. The Far East didn’t get the same treatment as the European war got. It was definitely a forgotten War in some respects.
MH. For a Layman like myself can you describe your flying kit for a European Operation and then your flying kit in India?
WC. Well for a, a, an Operation in England you were issued with long johns and long sleeved vests to start with and your shirt, no collar and tie because of the possibility if you ditched you could get strangled with it. Then your Battle Dress and then on that we, I used to have a, a an electric inner suit and a padded brown outer suit, gauntlets, goggles, helmet, oxygen mask and eh that was about it as I say your sandwiches and everything were already on. On the Far East you didn’t need that kind of thing, of course your parachute etc and May West of course. But that in the Far East it was just shorts, KD because you were warm enough you see. KD and eh parachute and May West again and that was it. It was, it was perfectly ok because we didn’t fly to any height that would be cold any way you know. We were ok.
MH. I will briefly take you back to your second operation but I am not going to dwell on it as we spoke before. You were after this ten thousand ton tanker, you know I think we have the name of it here, Eh “Toho Maroo” ten thousand tons and got later sunk, so she did eventually get sunk.
WC. Yeah she did eventually get sunk yeah.
MH. So you set off in heavy rain, monsoon, four aircraft had come back and the three of you continued. Independently or in a flight?
WC. Independently, because the weather was so bad, you couldn’t fly together, it wouldn’t have been safe I don’t think but in any case we were all individually sent you see.
MH. And then, could or couldn’t see the target, couldn’t find the target?
WC. Well we found the target yeah, in fact we were running up towards the target, we could see that there was a Lancaster, eh Lancaster, a Liberator just flying away from it , I don’t know if he had tried to do a successful bombing run or not, but he tried to get away from it and eh. Then as I say we went in, we were a sitting target really, the, the Destroyer just sat there and waited till we got there and wallop and that was it.
MH. So the Tanker was being escorted at the time.
WC. Escorted yes, by a Japanese Destroyer, yeah.
MH. It was that, that caused the ack ack.
WC. Yeah, I can’t remember, I don’t, I don’t know if I blacked out or what, but the actually bracketing of the anti aircraft fire, our aircraft was all over the place. I don’t know if it, what happened as I say and for a few, maybe half a minute in there I had no idea what was, what was happenening and then we, and then we started flying level. Well up the front I couldn’t see anything of the back, what the aircraft was like at the back but we were flying something like reasonable. I saw that my intercom had gone would, would do anyway that, I thought that I’m no good here, I can’t sit as a no, nothing in front, no way I can be of any use, so I will get out and see what’s happening. So I centred the turret, unlocked the doors, turned round and got out the turret and as I say there should have been two men there instead of which the bomb, the nose wheel doors were open and nobody was there. I was a bit worrying for a second or two, I could see that the Pilots were still there. So I got out and reported to the Skipper what had happened up front. Then I went back, then I found out that the bombs were in a mess. We could jettison some but there was just this one. I was sort of hanging like that you know instead of being, right and it wouldn’t jettison so I just had to get rid of it by unscrewing the whole fixture, it was only about, it was only about so big. But four bolts you know, just had to get them off and then had to get these bolts away from the thing and let it drop. It. It went eventually, thank God. [laugh]
MH. When you came out of your turret, who did you expect to find there?
WC. I should have found two men there, there should have been the Navigator and the Bomb Aimer there, but there was nobody.
MH. Great, and then you could what, see the feet of the two Pilots?
WC. Yeah you could see the feet, look back up the aircraft and you could see the feet you see. Not far but you could see, I think it went underneath them in the middle and you could get by. But you could just see the feet on the flight deck you see.
MH. I think you mentioned to me earlier that having gone back towards the bomb bay and everything that at that point you were able to see the damage that had been caused.
WC. No I didn’t know, I didn’t know, I knew there had been some damage, I didn’t know what it was at all. I knew actually, I knew once I got to the bomb bay, there were two long range fuel tanks should have been in the bomb bay, in the first part of the bomb bay and they had gone. I think when the ack ack hit us and we were thrown about they must have broken loose and fell away. Anyway I thought, that’s it we are obviously now not too well off for fuel but we are flying. So I went back and had a look, got rid of the bombs, eventually and that’s why I went back and the Rear Gunner said “look out there” [laugh] and it wasn’t there.
MH. So for clarification for persons listening, Mr Cooke has gone back to the rear of the aircraft eh the rear, turret, gunner has pointed to where the starboard fin and rudder had gone, totally.
WC. Totally just as if it would have chopped of or taken a hack saw, it was as clean as a whistle.
MH. So you were down to a Crew of how many at that point ?
WC. One, two, three, four, five, six I think it was. One, two, three, four, yes six.
MH. So six persons are still on board.
WC. Yeah.
MH. Your Skipper has decided to keep going.
WC. Keep going, get back home.
MH. Even with the loss of fuel.
WC, Yeah
MH. And you are flying from the Gulf of Siam to Rangoon.
WC. Rangoon in Burma yes.
MH. Would you like to say what happened in Rangoon or not?
WC. Yeah, no problem as I said we, we, we hadn’t again with the Navigator going we hadn’t any maps. It was just keep going until you find somewhere, you know and we found the Irrawaddy Delta I think it’s called the river that runs down through Burma and we found a way, we found Rangoon. We came in to try and land at Rangoon and the ground control says you shouldn’t land here because it is not a fight, bomber airfield, you can’t land here it’s not a bomb etc. Eh I mean, a bit of a daft thing to say when you saw the state we were in. Anyway we carried on, we made I think one circuit and on the second circuit we were coming and in an now whither then the Skipper applied flaps and undercarriage down and that altered the characteristics or what I don’t know, but we were going round and I suddenly heard the engines rev up to full power and we went straight in Wallop and that and the aircraft itself broke into, broke up roughly where we were in the middle and the eh you know. One engine was still running the prop had sheared off and it was still going full belt. The Second Pilot said I switched it off and it stopped. [laugh] anyway I didn’t realise then that the Skipper had, I went up front, got out went up front “are you ok?” I’ll go and get, I can see some lights I’ll go and get help. So I set off across this Paddy Field, they tell me it was six foot deep in places, I don’t think that was right, but anyway I was well muddied up with the Paddy Field. Got to what was an ambulance and I said “I’ll take you back” They said “No, no you stop here, we’ll find it, it’s ok” I was then I got out of my uniform because it was stinking mud, anyway got rid of that and then we just waited until the Second Pilot and the other Gunner he was just behind me, we were on board, I think the Flight Engineer to, I can’t remember, I can’t remember that Chappie, I didn’t know, the one we picked up on Squadron you see. Anyway from there when we were unloaded we went off to the Hospital and they got us into the Hospital and got us a bed and got me some pyjamas, I don’t know I think Butch got some pyjamas as well, I am not sure, Anyway they said get into bed and take this tablet, don’t take it until you get into bed which I did. I took the tablet and that is the last thing I remember until the next day.[laugh] It worked efficientyly, it knocked me out like a punch up the hooter. Anyway the next day when we were more or less able to get about you know, they brought the Wireless Operator in. Off course the two, the Flight Engineer and the Second Pilot were Flying Officers so they went to a different place than we did and eh and they eh as I say the Wireless Operator came in and I asked him how the Skipper was and he said “He’s dead” That shook me up quite a bit, and then we were there for a couple or three days and they managed to get the Wireless Operator to start drinking and eating because they said if he doesn’t he will have to be put on a drip. We got him working and then probably the next day after that when we got to something like a normal carry on we were shifted to, out of the Hospital to a sick quarters and eh down step on shall we say because we did have a bed in the Hospital when we got to the Sick Quarters we got a stretcher on the floor with a bit of a mossie net over the top. Again neither of us had anything to cope with, so we were in a room with an Army bloke, Army Private I think he was. So when he went for his a meal he said can we borrow you tackle. I think we had a plate and a mess tin and a knife and fork between us, two of us and we were there for another two or three days, I can’t remember when. Then the Second Pilot came in there and said “get writing back to your Mum or they will be getting word that you have been injured, you know” We did that and from there I say we, I got this uniform, they got me a uniform, in fact we all got one. The Second Pilot had gone into the Stores Officer for something and said we need some uniforms for these two and eh I think there was about six uniforms in the stores ah eh, eh green eh forest green, a dark green. Anyway and they were all the same size. The Second Pilot I think he was about five ten or six foot so you can imagine what mine looked like. I got, I got a local, local dirty wallah, a Taylor Bloke came along and he took it and measured me and I could get it, I could wear it the next day but eh the waste was here and sort of went out like that [laugh] and he didn’t know much about stripes and crowns so I got three stripes, they sort of went like that and a little bit less and a little bit less and the crown on top of that. It made virtually a diamond on my arm you know. I got them and I had no hat as I say we flew back with that kind of uniform, best we could get. They took us, they took us up to the Squadron and they sent us down to a transit camp then in Calcutta, and I have got that entry from the CO in the log book. And eh from then, that’s when I was taken ill when we were doing this medical after the crash and when I came out of Hospital I was on my Todd, there was nobody and I spent some time in that Transit Camp doing nothing, just virtually doing nothing. The local as far as I can remember it, the local eh Indian Officers Clubs and various things, they would send around an invitation for twenty or thirty men to go and use their swimming baths and have tea and that. You were on your best behaviour no, eh,no eh I am not mocking it, it was ok but it was still them and us you know what I mean ,but it was ok [Pause to answer telephone]
MH. We will just pause for a second.
MH. So you were then in a Transit Camp and then ?
WC. Yeah I was coming up for Warrant Officer at the time, you know in Aircrew you were Sergeant for a year, if you lived you were Flight Sergeant after a year and if you lived again you were a Warrant Officer after another year. So I was coming up for Warrant Officer, I went to see the Adjutant I suppose, he said “We can’t actually promote you if you are not doing any specific work” So I got a job in this Canteen Liaison Office in Calcutta. I went down there and we were sending parcels back for the lads, they’d come in for a chitty and pay the cash and we. They’d buy something in town and we’d make it up, we had a Taylor on running and he would make it up, sew it up, stick the labels on and sent it back and we would supervise all that you see and eh, and eh as I say I spent a while doing that, then I was, then I was shovelled onto another Officer who was doing actually Canteen Liaison, that was it he was working out the beer and liquor rations for the various stations in the Calcutta area. He got demobbed and he went off sharpish and I was left doing that for while and then they came round as I say looking for odd bods not doing important work and they got posted to Dumdum. And I was working on fleet mail there working on loading aircraft, that was ok and eh.
MH. How about your apprentice loader?
WC. Yeah, yeah he was a new starter on the, on the he was one of the Native Bearers we used to call them I think and eh we got this load to put on a Dakota and we backed up to the Dakota and we were going very merrily and chucking the parcels off and chucking them on the aircraft. Well he grabbed a parcel that he thought was a parcel and chucked it up the aircraft, but it was a dinghy. Of course doing that triggered off the CO2 bottle and the dinghy went up like, almost like a miniature bomb inside the aircraft and eh the next thing I looked up the runway and this lad was going like the clappers up the runway. But we fetched him back and I explained it to the, the Officer in charge of loading area, aircraft and he said “ok” he could barely keep a straight face he said “ok we’ll let him off, get him back to work and it will be ok”
MH. Your time in India and your time at Dumdum airport wasn’t the only incident you had, you had one particular one on the Lancaster I believe, on the FIDO trip?
WC. Oh yeah that was on 49 Squadron I was eh an ordinary trip as far as I can remember, I can’t remember where it was supposed to be. Anyway we got down to our aircraft, got on board and everything checked out or seemed to be, then we got a Mag drop on one engine a very big one and they couldn’t fix it so that was it. The CO said “get onto the standby aircraft and take that one” So we get onto that and all this takes a fair bit of time you know. And we gets on checks up again and by now the bulk of the other aircraft had now taken off. So we gets into the line, last in line and as we gets up to the runway we see that there is a Lancaster, burst tyre, right at the end of the take off runway which means we had to go up to the end of the next junction runway, come back on that and down the runway and turn at the bottom and then take off. All the others went and we were called to the runway and nipped on at a fair pace you know, And eh as I say that is when the Skipper said words to the effect of “Oh dear, Oh dear we haven’t go any brake pressure” and the only thing he could do was to rev up engines on one side to turn the aircraft that way and run half off the runway, over the grass and over the FIDO pipes which eventually stopped us. There were three, I think they were about inch and a half diameter pipes on a, sat on a triangle you know, they went, they got two nice marks where the wheels went and that was it. We thought this was it were ok now, we’ve had our crisis tried to take off but we couldn’t hack it but we should be alright. We got off and the CO was asking what had happened and all that and another officer came up and said “if we get permission to take off straight away and fly direct it could just about get there for the rest of them” you see and that’s where I suddenly nearly kneed a no, no area [laugh] I think it was one of the most frightening times that was, those few minutes. The CO he knew what he was on about and he said “no way” and that were it, we got away with it. But I still think back to that, if you send them direct, Oh my God [laugh]
MH. How much damage did you do to the stand by aircraft, how much damage was done to it?
WC. Well it was it it wasn’t any as far as I remember it wasn’t any real damage. The brake pressure had gone and it had just spun it off and the FIDO pipes actually stopped it. It went over it and it had stopped any momentum on the grass and I don’t think there was any real damage other than the loss of brake pressure.
MH. So we come to demob fifteenth of February 1947.
WC. Yeah it was March before we got in and it was the end of the very bad Winters frost and snow, it had started to melt and there were floods all over. “is one ok, not far of” and eh and as I say I managed to get back by train to Nottingham but there were no more trains or buses into Mansfield from there, so I cadged a lift on a GPO van. He dropped me in Mansfield about ten minutes, quarter of an hour from home. It was throwing it down with rain, but I was home and that was it mate. [laugh]
MH. You said that you were greeted by your Mum and your Sister.
WC. Yeah
MH. What happened to your elder Brother.
WC. Well he was married, of course, I think he was demobbed by then but he was at home obviously you see.
MH. So he had beaten you out of demob then?
WC. Oh yeah, yeah he was in before me and out before me.
MH. Was your Sister still in the WAAFS at this time.
WC. No, no actually she got pregnant and she got out of the WAAFS you know and she had a very bad time of it too. But anyway she survived that and as I say by then got these arrangements made to go to America.
MH. And 49 Association, going strong. How long have you been in it?
WC. I would say, I would say five years I think, I think Steve got us in about the turn of the century something like that and we had a, a reunion and it was at Woodhall Spa. Can’t remember the name of the Hotel but this Hotel during the War was the Officers Mess for 617 Squadron.
MH. The Petwood.
WC. The Petwood that was it yeah and we had the reunion there and we went to the Memorial on the November. We didn’t get into the, the reunions after that for some reason, well the wife has not been too well as I say being Diabetic and her eyes are now beginning to go so she really needs someone to set the things up for her you see. But eh we did, we did get to last years reunion, just overnight and she went into the local care centres in town and stayed there and eh as I say we went and had a reunion, quite nice too. A fair number turned up you know and then the Memorial, on Memorial Sunday we went to Fiskerton Church and then we go up to the Airfield, lay a wreath, we have had a fly past there to. The Lancaster you know comes and sees us.
MH. Could I ask you finally then for your opinions of how Bomber Command is thought of, how you think it is portrayed by the public of today em and what you see as Bomber Commands legacy from the War as such?
WC. Well I didn’t realise that when I came back from India but there was a bad time when the you know, we were not all that popular it, it didn’t fit with the Politicians what we had been doing. But I think now it is generally turning round, they are beginning to realise what has been done by Bomber Command and how useful it was, because they were the only branch of the Forces who could actually fight the Germans all the time, they were going all the time you see. I think eh nowadays they are still a good deterent, I think, I think you know we can, they do well for what they are doing, eh. I think the general public has a better regard for Bomber Command now than it did some years ago. It went through that bad spell you know when everybody thought that we were naughty boys bombing like the Germans did and all that. They are getting now to think that they did a damn good job and that’s it. So I think it is getting, getting a better publicity now shall we say, better rating shall we say. I hope that there is not any chance that we have to do what we did then. I don’t think it will come to that because, anyway anyone with common sense can see if, if it comes to that where there is a World wide, there won’t be any World. It’ll, It’ll be done if they every use the Nuclear Weapons, it only needs one to use them and I am afraid we shan’t be able to stop it. We will have to, we will have to retaliate whither we want to or not and unfortunately everyone will have to retaliate and it will be all over. Which is as long as the Politicians keep this in the back of their minds it’s a good thing, it’s a good thing because I shouldn’t think anyone will be daft enough to let it go that far.
MH. So is there anything else you would like to add, is there anything else you would like to say in relation to your time in Bomber Command and susequently.
WC. Other than since I have been out, I have had one or two rough spells but ok I am doing nicely now thank you very much and this retirement job is the best one I have had. [laugh]



Mark Hunt, “Interview with William Cooke,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed October 25, 2021,

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