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The Airmen's Stories - Sgt. J Cowley


James Cowley attended the Royal High School, Greenwich. He joined the RAF as an Aircraft Apprentice in January 1931 and passed out in December 1933 as a Metal Rigger. He later applied for pilot training and was selected.

Inevitably his nickname was 'Morris' after the motor manufacturers.

Cowley completed his flying training and according to the RAF Halton Magazine for summer 1934 his first posting was to the School of Army Co-operation at Old Sarum.

He was serving with 87 Squadron at Debden on 1st January 1939 as a Sergeant-Pilot.



Many of the squadron records were lost in the retreat from France, an ORB entry shows him serving with 'A' Flight on 2nd March 1940 at Lille/Seclin but he may have arrived much earlier.

His flight commander was F/Lt. IR Gleed who in 1942 published 'Arise to Conquer', detailing his wartime experiences to date. He gave his colleagues pseudonyms and cross-referencing dates etc shows Cowley to be labelled 'Sgt. Horsham'.

On page 51 of the book Gleed describes the retreat from France, all Hurricanes having been destroyed or abandoned the pilots were attempting to leave via Boulogne. He then writes:

'Sergeant Horsham had distinguished himself by bayoneting a Jerry parachutist in the back. The Jerry had been one of thirty who had tried to capture a hospital on a river bank. Horsham had a rifle with no ammo, so he waited until one of the Jerries got caught in a tree, stabbed him in the back, then ran like hell and was violently sick.'

By the end of July the squadron was operating from Exeter. On 15th August Cowley made a forced-landing at Symondsbury, near Bridport, after a combat over Portland, in which he destroyed a Me110.

His Hurricane, P3465, was written off and Cowley was admitted to Bridport Hospital, his wounds recorded as ' splinters in the buttocks and thigh, a broken arm and facial injuries'.

He rejoined 87 Squadron on discharge from hospital but did not fly operationally with it again.

On 14th October 1940 Cowley was posted away.

He was commissioned in July 1942 but his subsequent service is currently undocumented until 1946 when he was released from the RAF as a Flight Lieutenant.


Additional research courtesy of Brian Cleary.


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