The Airmen's Stories - Sgt. H R Cooke
Herbert Reginald Cooke was born on 6th March 1911 and joined 601 Squadron Auxiliary Air Force in October 1938 as an Aircrafthand. He was called up on 24th August 1939 and later remustered as an Airman u/t Air Gunner.
He was serving with 23 Squadron at Collyweston by June 1940 and served with the squadron in the Battle of Britain.
At the end of August Cooke was posted overseas for service with the Takoradi Ferry Flight on the Gold Coast of Africa.
Promoted to Flight Sergeant, Cooke was posted in April 1941 to 70 Squadron, operating Wellingtons in Egypt. The Squadron was engaged in attacks on ports and bases in Libya, Italy and Greece to restrict supplies to the enemy during the campaign in the Western Desert. In 1941 some operations were flown over Iraq and Syria to support local campaigns. As the frontline moved westwards, the squadron left Egypt for bases in Libya and Tunisia. Cooke flew in a large number of operational sorties between May 1941 and January 1942, his logbook records:
2nd May 1941 Daylight Bombing & M.G. Gunning on Iraqi Army Gun Positions Attacking RAF Stn. Habbaniya. Petrol Tanks Holed’. Daylight Bombing & M.G. Gunning on Iraqi Army Gun Positions. Attacked by Breda 65 Fighter Over Target & Chased For 30 Mins (190 - ‘0’ Feet). Attacked By Fighter - 7 Times - 3 Out of Sun - Guns Definitely U/S in Turret (Old Links etc) Short Bursts Only of 6 - 10 Rounds - Successfully Beat Off Fighter.
18th May 1941 Bombing Attack on Hassani Aerodrome (Athens Greece).
26th May 1941 Bombing Attack on Harbour Etc at Benghazi (Libya).
1st June 1941 Fuka - Beach Near Komitades, Southern Crete - Food Supplies & Medical Supplies For Evacuating Troops.
12th/13th June 1941 Raid on Calato Rhodes.
30th June 1941 Raid on Beirut (Syria) Harbour Installations Etc.
28th September 1941 Raid on Bardia.
6th October 1941 Piraeus (Athens) Large Oil Fire Etc.
Tour-expired, Cooke returned to the UK and was posted to 15 OTU Harwell. The unit contributed several Wellingtons to the Thousand Bomber Raid on Bremen on 25th June 1942 but Cooke's aircraft had to turn back at the Dutch coast and land at Lakenheath when the starboard engine failed.
Cooke served as an instructor at 19 OTU Kinloss from January 1943. Two months later he was attached to Coastal Command at St. Eval and flew in 8 anti-shipping patrols as a Whitley rear gunner.
After converting to Lancasters at 1660 CU Cooke was posted to 619 Squadron, operating Lancasters at Woodhall Spa, in June 1943. He flew in at least 17 operational sorties with the Squadron including Krefeld, Gelsenkirchen, Hamburg (3), Essen, Mannheim, Milan, Munchen-Gladbach, Berlin, Munich (2), Antheor Viaduct on 16th September 1943, a joint operation with 617 Squadron, Hanover (2), Leipzig and Kassel.
The Kassel sortie on 22nd October 1943 was Cooke’s last operational sortie of the war and for which he was awarded the DFC (gazetted 10th December 1943), having previously been promoted to Warrant Officer.
The citation read:
As air gunner, Warrant Officer Cooke has taken part in a very large number of sorties and has displayed great devotion to duty. On a recent occasion, during an attack on Kassel, Warrant Officer Cooke saw an aircraft being attack by a fighter. He immediately informed his captain who made the necessary combat manoeuvre and Warrant Officer Cooke was enabled to deliver a burst of machine-gun fire which hit the enemy aircraft with destructive effect. His vigilance and skill were highly commendable.
Cooke was given the Air Efficiency Award in November 1945 and released from the RAF in 1946 as a Flight Lieutenant.
He lived in Chichester in later life, serving as a Special Constable.
He died in September 1994 in Chichester and arranged for his ashes to be scattered from an aircraft flying over the former airfield at Tangmere.