University of Oxford
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David's Memories of the War in Beverley and Hull

online resource
posted on 2024-06-05, 19:51 authored by Their Finest Hour Project Team

I've brought in some things in relation to my Great Uncle, Harold Cooper, who was a gunner in the RAF. He flew in 214 squadron out of RAF Stradishall in Suffolk. On 20th November 1941, his Wellington bomber flew on a mission to bomb Emden in Germany. They reported engine trouble on the way out and tried to return to base, giving radio messages to their location. Approximately 80 miles from the coast they lost radio contact and it was presumed that the Wellington crashed into the North Sea. We have already framed his telegram and medals, but I have brought in a box of letters and various other correspondences. He was posted missing on 20th November 1941. The family was informed via a telegram from the Air Ministry to say that he was missing on operations. There are also letters in there from fellow members of the squadron to his father.

He was the elder brother of my grandfather. My grandfather rarely spoke about it, he was obviously very affected by it his entire life. When my grandparents passed away, I was the historian of the family, I framed my Great Uncle's medals and I've been researching his life. I think it is important to keep these artifacts and catalogue them. My grandfather was around 13-14 years old when this happened. He later went on to join the army a few years later and served himself. He never got over the loss of his elder brother, nor did his father.

My grandfather talked a little about his own service during the war, but not much. He didn't see any action, he told us that he was about to be posted out to the Far East with the Royal Engineers, but he caught pneumonia. So that affected where he was posted - he ended up serving in Greece and Palestine towards the end of the war and afterwards.

I remember, my father taking us to a RAF memorial at Runnymead down near Windsor when I was a child. His brother's name is on the back of the wall. I knew the story from a very young age, but rarely did he ever talk more about it. I wish I had asked more - I like to get to the bottom of stories. He was the tail-gunner in the Wellington bomber. I'm not sure why my grandfather joined the army rather than the RAF. I haven't accessed his service record yet.

I've brought in my great grandfather's World War 1 photographs as well - he was with the 6th Suffolk Cyclists and based at the Khyber Pass. We have a postcard with a Wellington bomber with a Union Jack background. I have a photo of Harold Cooper. More photos and a telegram from Buckingham Palace. Various letters with regard to research. This one is from the Wing Commander at RAF Stradishall in Suffolk. One here from the Squadron Commander to his parents.

I think the likelihood of survival coming down in the North Sea in November was low. At the beginning of the War, the loss rate was extremely high and the Station Commander would have needed to write similar letters to all those who were lost. Other members of the squadron went out in a search plane. There's a letter from a sweetheart - I would love to know what happened to her after the war. The handwritten from the Station Commander was written the day after Harold was lost - it was very personal. My grandparents kept all of these letters and photos. Trying to understand the handwriting is difficult in some letters, although Wing Commander McFadden has very legible handwriting. I also have probate papers here waiting for his death to be confirmed.


Item list and details

1. Family photo. 2. 2 pages of notes submitted by David

Person the story/items relate to

David Gawan, mentions father Gilbert

Person who shared the story/items

David Marson Gawan

Relationship between the subject of the story and its contributor


Type of submission

Shared at Ahmadiyyah Mosque Hall, Warwickshire on 7 October 2023. The event was organised by Leamington History Group.

Record ID

94067 | LEA060