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The Airmen's Stories - Sgt. H W Coussens

 

Herbert William Coussens was born on 18th May 1920 and educated at the Catford Central School for Boys in London.

 

Above: Coussens (right) with his boyhood and family friend Peter O’Donnell (11th April 1920 – 3rd May 2010), who went on to be an author and created the character 'Modesty Blaise'.

 

He joined the RAFVR in March 1939 as an Airman u/t Pilot. Called up on 1st September 1939, he completed his training at 9 FTS Hullavington on No. 19 Course which ran from 13th May to 17th August 1940.

Coussens arrived at 6 OTU Sutton Bridge on 18th August, converted to Hurricanes and joined 601 Squadron at Exeter on 11th September. He went to 73 Squadron in November 1940 and was with it when it moved from Debden to Birkenhead on the 9th, to embark for the Middle East.

 

 

Above: Coussens in Gladiator K7913, probably on a visit, the aircraft served with 80 Squadron RAF and 3 Squadron RAAF in Egypt before being written off in Kenya in 1943.

 

He was commissioned in March 1942. On 26th June 1942 a large force of Ju87s and Me109s attacked the airfield at Mersa Matruh. 73 Squadron had been scrambled to intercept them and in the ensuing dogfight Coussens was shot down in Hurricane II BE280. He baled, landing in a minefield, but was able to extricate himself.

 

 

 

 

Above: memorabilia from his bale-out.

 

Coussens later served with 607 Squadron, firstly in Italy then in Burma in June 1944. He was released from the RAF in 1946.

 

 

Above: postwar Coussens married Barbara Mary Hill.

 

Coussens rejoined the RAFVR in 1947 and went back into the RAF in 1949 in the Aircraft Control Branch.

 

 

Coussens retired on 18th May 1963 as a Flight Lieutenant. He later instructed in Nigeria.

He died in March 1996 in Henley-on-Thames.

 

**************

 

Amongst Coussens memorabilia was a composition on 73 Squadron, though it must have been written before he joined the squadron as it refers to service in France in May/June 1940:

 

73 Squadron Song

(Lament)

There is a squadron and we know it well,
The boys sometimes wish it was in B****y Hell,
And everything going we get buckshee,
You can guess that this squadron is 73,
None for you and none for me.....
And our squadron number is 73.

-----------------

The boys are all right and as gay as can be,
That is the spirit in 73,
And if they want stunting we can show what to do,
For of Sgt. Pilots we have quite a few.

There is one 'Tubby' Campbell, a bit of a spray,
Whom once was a copper down Whitechapel way,
But now his position in cockpit is tight,
So he'll have to stay put when they start flying nights.

Our S.M. ! is alright if he's in the right mood,
But sometimes he's spiteful and awfully rude,
They say that he's clever with nut and with screw,
But I'm damned if I'd care to be one of his crew.

Our Officer Pilots are really quite hot,
But there is a chap who can beat all the lot,
He takes up a kite, stunts for just half a day,
And then he is missing for the rest of the day.

Our M.T. reservists from out of the blue,
They are the Boys and know just what to do,
Once they get orders to go 'Christ knows where',
In the course of a week you can bet they get there.

It's a good job we moved from a place called Le Havre,
The Boys had their life and for food they did starve,
The NCO's also knew of this quiet spot,
And needless to say they were there quite a lot.

When back to Blighty all of us go,
We hope that our CO says 'Jolly fine show',
And stands us a pot or two somewhere in town,
For the few dozen 'Huns' that our Squadron shot down.

Smith.

**************

 

The Campbell referred to is probably Sgt. CNS Campbell.

The only Smith serving with 73 at that time was F/O JD Smith of Canada (KIA 14th April 1941).

 

Additional research and all images courtesy of Michael Coussens (son).

 

 

 

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