Veteran Stories:
John Cooper

Air Force

  • John Cooper in his flying suit at #1 EFTS Malton, April 1941. Mr. Cooper did 30 days of military training in Regina in October, 1940, when he had already been accepted in the Air Force. He received his call-up to the RCAF on November 15, 1940.

    John Cooper
  • John Cooper with his crew from 432 Canadian Squadron. The squadron was known as the "Leaside Squadron," because the community of Leaside in Toronto had adopted them.

    John Cooper
  • Target token given to John Cooper by Air Vice Marshall after a successful bombing of Le Mans, France, on March 13-14, 1944.

    John Cooper
  • John Cooper at age 25 after 25 days of solitary confinement at the Dulag, the German questioning centre for aircrew. Mr. Cooper was shot down on July 18, 1944, in France and was later moved to Stalag Luft III in August of 1944.

    John Cooper
  • An improvised hat made by John Cooper from the sleeve of an Irvin Jacket of a British airman. Mr. Cooper needed the hat when the Germans marched the prisoners of war out of Stalag Luft III.

    John Cooper
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"I told the crew, "Boy, there's a lot of activity going on down there tonight". It wasn't until the next morning that we found out it was D-Day, and we had been involved in it."

Transcript

When I joined the RCAF on the 15th of November of 1940, I was sent to Yorkton, Saskatchewan, No. 11 Service Flying Training School to instruct on Cessna Cranes. I was there about sixteen months, and during the latter part of that time, a memo came around asking for any volunteers for overseas. I'm not the bravest person, but I thought that was what I'd joined up for.

So we went across the pond, the Atlantic, in the Louis Pasteur. When we did our first trips with our crew it was to Berlin, which was quite an introduction to bombing in Germany. We continued and began to do quite a few French targets. Marshalling yards and that sort of thing. On the 5th of June at about midnight, I guess, we had our briefing, and we were to bomb a German coastal battery on the coast of France at a place called Houlgate. The weather was supposed to be clear all the way down – of course it wasn't – but it was clear enough over the target that we were able to hit the target indicators dropped by the Pathfinder Force. We made a right turn and flew over Normandy, and there was all sorts of nonsense going on there – flares, shots and bomb bursts – and I told the crew, "Boy, there's a lot of activity going on down there tonight. It wasn't until the next morning that we found out it was D-Day, and we had been involved in it. We dropped bombs on D-Day at about four o'clock in the morning.

We did quite a few trips in the northern part of France in support of the armies. I did two trips to Caen and on the second, shortly after we dropped the bombs, we were hit by flak, and I didn't have any control over the elevators or the rudders. There were great big flames on the aircraft and we had to bail out.

I was picked up a couple of days later by the Germans and taken back to a field and a number of Allied military were there. There were some American pilots, our aircrew and some army types. From there we were taken to Paris, and by train to the German interrogation centre at Dulag Luft. I was there in solitary for twenty-five days. I was questioned a couple of the first days and then just left there. Finally, I was released out of solitary confinement, and shortly after that taken to Stalag Luft III, and that was southeast of Berlin. I got there at the end of August of 1944. It was quite a good camp. Well established with lots of activities, and we were given Red Cross parcels. One a week initially, but because of transportation difficulties in Germany, we had been reduced to half a parcel a week.

Towards the end of January, when the Russians were approaching from the east, the rumour started going around that we would be moved out. About the 20th of January we were told that we would move, so we had to make preparations for the move, carrying whatever articles we could. So we marched about six days westward, and some of us were taken by boxcar, or cattle car for a couple of days. Crammed into these places with no facilities at all. Sometimes we would stop and we'd get out and perform our functions, and then back in.

Finally, we arrived at a place called Tarmstedt Ost. This was a terrible camp with no facilities. However, we managed to survive, and around the end of April we were moved out again. We marched north, and finally arrived at an estate outside of Luebeck on the Baltic coast. This was an estate apparently owned by one of the directors of the Holland America shipping line. I was living in barns, and on the 2nd of May a British scout car or something similar to a jeep arrived, and the Commandant or the head man of the Germans handed over his sword and his rifles and gun, and we were free.

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