No part of this material (unless credited to another source) may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the written prior permission of the author. Excerpts on this site are from the books, Immigrants of War - American Volunteers With the RAF and RCAF During World War II and Before the Battle - Life on a RCAF Station During World War II.
(January 18, 2009 San Diego Union-Tribune)
As a youngster, when people would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, of course my answer was “I want to be a pilot!” With Selfridge Air National Guard Base near Detroit, where I lived, I used to watch the planes fly over on my way to school. I had my mind set from a very young age, and was not going to settle for less, despite the color of my skin.
When I was in high school, I was offered the option of an aviation class or an auto mechanics class. I wanted to take aviation in order to begin my mission of becoming a pilot. Unfortunately, my teacher said they would never let a colored man be a military pilot, so I was directed to the auto mechanics class.
Just a couple of years after I graduated, the war began. I knew it was not only a chance to fulfill my destiny, but also an opportunity to fight for my country. I left the Lawrence Institute of Technology and headed to the local military recruiting office to join the line of men waiting to sign up. When I got to the front, and they told me that my only choice would be to serve as a cook, I took my application and headed for the door. There was only one option I wanted, and that was to fly and fight for the right side.
Having seen advertisements around Detroit for the Royal Canadian Air Force, and not knowing if and when colored pilots would ever be allowed in the United States, I headed north to Canada. Since I was the only black man in my class up there, I was naturally integrated with the white pilots. After I received my wings, I returned to the United States.
Nathaniel Carr, a good friend of mine from high school, told me about the Tuskegee program. I leapt at the chance to be a part of such an unprecedented experience. That was what I had been waiting to hear my entire life, the chance to fly and fight for our country!
There were some tough times; being that it was a nearly colorless military at the time, we were segregated to all-colored bases. At certain other bases, we were not even allowed to go to the Officers Club, and white airmen were reluctant to salute colored officers. It was routine to be separated, and although the discrimination was uncomfortable, we were too determined to let that stop us. We were not just fighting for our country, we were fighting for our dreams, and we were willing to give our lives for it.
The military was integrated in 1948, and that made things somewhat easier; it was another step toward being recognized for what we did rather than the color of our skins. We were given more opportunities to fly larger, more powerful planes. The bigger the plane, the more I liked it! I absolutely loved flying the B-29 Superfortress, a four-engine heavy bomber, in the Korean War. Being in the air gave you a sense of freedom you never felt on land.
After serving for over 20 years, I retired from the military. Despite fighting in wars across the world, and a war for equality in my own country, I met my beautiful wife while stationed in England in November 1949. I have the experience to thank for a lot of wonderful things in my life (including eight children and 18 grandchildren!), and for paving the way for change in our country.
We were not just fighting for our country. We were fighting for our dreams and we were willing to give our lives for it.
(Photo: Claude Rowe and fellow Course 92 pilot trainees at No. 2 Elementary Flying Training School, Fort William, Ontario, Canada December 1943.)
(Photo: February 22, 2013 - Tuskegee Airman Claude Rowe and Nelson Robinson, left, chat with each other after the dedication/unveiling of the Tuskegee Airman Highway sign with the Senate Concurrent Resolution 90 that designates a 3-mile section of Interstate 15 as the “Tuskegee Airmen Highway” to honor all the men of the 332nd Fighter Group and the 447th Bombardment Group, who faithfully served this country while fighting the enemy in Europe and segregation at home. - D. Boomer photo)
Photo: Veteran Bob Cowper at home with his great-grandchildren Lily and James, 13-year-old twins. (Matt Turner)
April 24, 2015 By Craig Cook - The Advertiser - Former Squadron Leader Bob Cowper, one of the nation’s most highly decorated war veterans, has seen more than most in his 92 years but nothing will match the Centenary of Anzac commemoration.
The World War II flying ace is the embodiment of all those who have served their country since the first Anzacs landed on the beaches of Gallipoli on April 25, 1915.
His “keep calm and carry on” attitude helped the Netley resident survive dozens of missions as a fighter pilot.
His 12 medals include the Distinguished Flying Cross (with bar) for gallantry, the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) and the French Legion of Honour, awarded last year in France on the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings commemorations on June 6, 1944.
But Mr Cowper knows better than anyone that the commemoration of the Anzacs is not about personal glory.
“It’s our chance to tell the real story of war and to know that all those we lost didn’t die in vain,” he said.
“But no matter how bad things were in war, the outcomes if we’d lost would have been far worse and we always felt confident what we did was necessary.”
Robert Barson Cowper joined the RAAF on his 18th birthday in June, 1940 and was assigned to 456 Squadron (RAAF Night Fighters), flying radar-equipped Mosquito night-fighter aircraft.
He lived with the firm assertion he would die well before war’s end, just as dozens of his mates had done. He walked through enemy lines in the Sahara Desert after crash landing and defied death on another occasion, ditching into the ocean.
On his return to Australia, to be with his great love Kay — who passed away last year after 70 years together — the airman’s disquiet that he survived while others led to a recurring nightmare.
“I used to wake up every few nights, bolt upright in bed desperately trying to get out of my aircraft,” he said.
“I did that for many years but I was so busy trying to raise my young family and do my job that you just had to get on with it.
“It was a different world and a different time and we had never heard of post-traumatic stress — we all had it but we had to manage it ourselves.”
Squadron Leader Bob Cowper, born June 24 1922, died June 21 2016 (The Telegraph) Squadron Leader Bob Cowper, who has died aged 93, is thought to have been the last surviving Australian fighter “ace” of the Second World War; flying night fighters, he was credited with destroying at least six enemy aircraft.
During the air operations to support the Allied landings in Normandy in June 1944, Cowper and his colleagues of No 456 Squadron RAAF, mounted standing patrols over the beachhead and in a few days accounted for 35 enemy aircraft. On the night of June 9/10 Cowper and his navigator, Flying Officer William Watson, were on patrol near Cherbourg when they attacked a Heinkel 177 bomber and damaged it so severely it was forced to crash land. Later in the sortie, they intercepted a Dornier Do 217 bomber and destroyed it near Beaumont.
A few days later Watson picked up a contact on his radar and homed their Mosquito on to a Junkers 88 bomber. He opened fire and hit the port engine, which soon caught fire, forcing the crew to bale out. The Cowper/Watson team achieved their fourth success on the night of July 4/5. They identified a Heinkel 177 attacking enemy shipping south of Selsey Bill and shot it down into the sea.
Later in July the squadron was tasked to attack incoming V-1 flying bombs launched from the Pas de Calais region and claimed the destruction of 24 of them. Cowper claimed one but it was later credited to an anti-aircraft battery. In February 1945 he was awarded a Bar to an earlier DFC and Watson was awarded the DFC.
Robert Barson Cowper was born on June 24 1922 at Broken Hill, NSW, before his family moved to South Australia. He attended Queen’s College in Adelaide before working as an engineering draughtsman. In 1940, on his 18th birthday, he joined the RAAF. He completed his training in Canada and arrived in Scotland in September 1941. He trained as a night fighter pilot and in November joined No 153 Squadron in Northern Ireland. The squadron was replacing its old Defiant aircraft with the powerful Beaufighter when he teamed up with Watson.
After almost a year flying patrols over the Irish Sea, Cowper and Watson were posted to the Middle East. They ferried a new Beaufighter to Gibraltar but on the onward flight to Malta became lost. Running out of fuel Cowper crash landed behind enemy lines in the desert at night. Arab nomads sheltered them until they were picked up by a British armoured patrol. Their adventures entitled them to join the “Late Arrival’s Club”.
They joined No 89 Squadron based in Malta and flew interdiction raids over northern Sicily and attacked trains with bombs. In March 1943, they transferred to No 108 Squadron and a month later had their first combat in the region. They were engaged in a long duel with a German night fighter off the west coast of Sicily. Cowper’s fire damaged the Messerschmitt 210 and it disappeared into cloud. The invasion of Sicily, Operation Husky, was mounted on the night of July 9/10 and two nights later the crew engaged a Junkers 88 that was attacking Allied shipping. Cowper opened fire and the enemy bomber exploded, showering the Beaufighter with debris.
The night fighter was badly damaged and the navigator (a stand in for Watson) baled out never to be seen again. Cowper had great difficulty leaving the stricken Beaufighter. He lost consciousness but came to as he fell and pulled the ripcord of his parachute landing in the sea moments later. With deep cuts, a broken nose and bruising he waited until dawn to fire his distress flare when he was spotted and picked up by a naval vessel. His experiences entitled him to join the Caterpillar Club and the Goldfish Club giving him the rare distinction of membership of the trio of survival clubs.
Despite his wounds he was flying again a few weeks later and he and Watson destroyed a Junkers 88 off Sicily. By mid-August his tour was over and he was awarded the DFC for his “great courage and determination”.
After a period as a night-fighter instructor, during which he met and married an Australian WAAF, he joined No 456 Squadron in March 1944 when Watson, who had also been on a rest tour, rejoined him.
In March 1945 the squadron re-equipped with a more powerful Mosquito and from an airfield in Essex provided support for bombing raids over southern German. By the end of the war, Cowper was the acting squadron commander of No 456, the only Australian night fighter squadron.
After the war, he and his young family returned to Australia where he worked for Dunlop before owning a service station. He later became a farmer and racehorse owner.
He worked tirelessly to achieve recognition of No 456 Squadron’s war record and was instrumental in having the squadron’s logo adopted as the official badge. In September 2008 this was laid in a slate tile in the floor of the RAF’s church of St Clement Danes in the Strand. In 2004 he was appointed to the Légion d’Honneur for services during the Liberation of France and in 2010 received the Medal of the Order of Australia. In 2007 he published his autobiography, Chasing Shadows.
Bob Cowper married Katherine McCall in December 1943; she died in 2014 and two of their four daughters survive him.
1922 - 2010 Frank was born in Hjorring, Denmark and immigrated to Canada with his family when he was 17. He enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force at age 18 and was eventually sent to Wales where he was trained on Spitfires to become a fighter pilot. He was wounded over Dieppe, but was able to ferry his Spitfire to home base where he survived the crash landing. Frank's Squadron was sent to North Africa to fight against Hitler's top General, Rommel, the Desert Fox. During a mission in April 1943, Frank failed to return to base. He had been shot down in Tunisia and crash landed behind enemy lines where he was taken prisoner and shipped off to a German POW camp called Stalag Luft III. He spent two years in the camp and took part in the Great Escape in March 1944. He was number 81, however number 76 was in the tunnel when the German guards discovered the escape. Of the 76 who escaped, only 3 reached freedom. Of the 73 captured, 50 were shot by the direct order of Hitler. In January 1945, the 10,000 Allied Officers of Stalag Luft III, being used as human shields against the advancing Russian Army were ordered to evacuate camp. The long march started in Sagan Germany, now part of Poland and ended with a much diminished company of prisoners eventually reaching an area east of Hamburg where they were intercepted by Allied Forces in May 1945. During the forced march, the men suffered through the coldest winter Europe had experienced in decades.
They had only the clothes on their backs and had to forage for food once their supplies were exhausted. The German guards shot any who fell by the wayside, and had the POWs carry German flags to elicit friendly fire from the Allied forces. Once the prisoners were met by Allied tanks, the German guards readily surrendered. One guard gave Frank his Luger as his sign of surrender. Frank spent weeks recuperating in a hospital in Bouremouth, England and was repatriated to Canada in July 1945 at the age of 23.
(Photo: Sitting in Harvard at 11 SFTS).
Frank met Betty Bodley on the tennis courts at Queen's University, Kingston and they were married in December 1946. Frank entered Dental College at the University of Toronto and graduated in 1951. He practiced dentistry for 38 years, starting his first practice in Leamington, Ontario, eventually settling in Kingston in 1954.