Robert Barson COWPER DFC&Bar, OAM

Badge Number: S37109 , Sub Branch: Plympton Glenelg
S37109

COWPER, Robert Barson

Service Number: 407666
Enlisted: 10 December 1940, Adelaide, SA
Last Rank: Squadron Leader
Last Unit: No. 456 Squadron (RAAF)
Born: Broken Hill, New South Wales, 24 June 1922
Home Town: Roseworthy, Light, South Australia
Schooling: Adelaide Queens College
Occupation: Engineering draughtsman/Farmer
Died: Natural causes, Adelaide, South Australia , 19 June 2016, aged 93 years
Cemetery: Centennial Park Cemetery, South Australia
Cremation RSL Wall 112, Niche E003
Memorials: Brooklyn Park T*
Show Relationships

World War 2 Service

10 Dec 1940: Enlisted Royal Australian Air Force, Aircraftman, SN 407666, Aircrew Training Units, Adelaide, SA
12 Dec 1940: Involvement Royal Australian Air Force, Leading Aircraftman, SN 407666, Aircrew Training Units, Empire Air Training Scheme
6 Apr 1941: Involvement Royal Australian Air Force, Airman Pilot, SN 407666, Aircrew Training Units, Empire Air Training Scheme
28 Jul 1941: Promoted Royal Australian Air Force, Pilot Officer, Aircrew Training Units
9 Sep 1941: Involvement Royal Australian Air Force, Pilot Officer, SN 407666, Aircrew Training Units, Empire Air Training Scheme
1 Nov 1941: Involvement Royal Australian Air Force, Pilot Officer, SN 407666, No. 153 Squadron (RAF), Air War NW Europe 1939-45
28 Jan 1942: Promoted Royal Australian Air Force, Flying Officer, No. 153 Squadron (RAF)
1 Feb 1943: Involvement Royal Australian Air Force, Flying Officer, SN 407666, No. 89 Squadron (RAF), Middle East / Mediterranean Theatre
15 Mar 1943: Promoted Royal Australian Air Force, Flight Lieutenant, No. 108 Squadron (RAF)
16 Mar 1943: Involvement Royal Australian Air Force, Pilot Officer, SN 407666, No. 108 Squadron (RAF), Middle East / Mediterranean Theatre
15 Aug 1943: Involvement Royal Australian Air Force, Squadron Leader, SN 407666, Aircrew Training Units, Empire Air Training Scheme
10 May 1944: Involvement Royal Australian Air Force, Flight Lieutenant, SN 407666, No. 456 Squadron (RAAF), Air War NW Europe 1939-45
15 Feb 1945: Honoured Distinguished Flying Cross and bar, Air War NW Europe 1939-45
8 May 1945: Promoted Royal Australian Air Force, Squadron Leader, No. 456 Squadron (RAAF)
29 May 1945: Involvement Royal Australian Air Force, Squadron Leader, SN 407666, No. 456 Squadron (RAAF), Air War NW Europe 1939-45
19 Nov 1945: Discharged Royal Australian Air Force

Award of the Distinguished Flying Cross

This officer has completed 68 sorties and has displayed great courage and determination. During a sortie in January, 1943, Flying Officer Cowper was compelled to make a forced landing behind the enemy’s lines but he displayed great resource in outwitting the enemy and regained our own lines on foot. One night in July, 1943, he engaged a Junkers 88 and caused it to explode. The enemy aircraft disintegrated and a large portion struck and so disabled Flying Officer Cowper’s aircraft that he – was forced to leave it by parachute. He was later rescued from the sea and rejoined his squadron to resume operational flying. Since then, Flying Officer Cowper has destroyed another Junkers 88.

Read more...
Showing 1 of 1 story

Biography

This biography thanks to Steve Lewis, Bob's biographer in "Chasing Shadows"

 

Born in Broken Hill in June 1922, from an early age Bob enjoyed a semi-rural upbringing north of Adelaide, where his father, Henry Cowper, worked at Roseworthy Agricultural College. Bob’s Father, himself a veteran of World War 1, was one of thousands who suffered horrendous gas burns on the Western Front, and was no doubt an inspiration to the young Bob Cowper.


On the day of his eighteenth birthday, Bob cycled from the family home north of Adelaide to North Terrace in Adelaide City, signalling his intentions to enlist at Number 5 Recruiting Depot of the RAAF.

He was accepted for basic air force training in December 1940 alongside other South Australian volunteers who would ultimately contribute to Australia’s reinforcement of the RAF.

Before his nineteenth birthday, Bob graduated from EATS (Empire Air Training Scheme) which he undertook in Western Australia and Canada, and with the extra bonus of a commission (Pilot Officer) was on his way to Scotland for further assessment and ultimately for training as a night fighter.

Decades later, he describes this Atlantic crossing as one of the most harrowing experiences of his eventful wartime career, with freezing weather, overcrowding and the constant fear of attack from German U-boats.

Apart from his ace status, gained with his fifth victory during the Normandy invasion (another of which would follow), Bob Cowper had the fairly unique distinction of belonging to all three of the RAF’s ‘clubs’ – The Goldfish Club (escape by use of emergency dinghy), The Late Arrivals Club (for returning to his squadron on foot after abandoning his aircraft due to enemy engagement) and The Caterpillar Club (for having saved his life by using a parachute).

From 1941 – 1945, Bob predominantly flew Beaufighter and Mosquito aircraft in three World War Two operational tours in Northern Ireland, Malta and the UK.

Prior to his Malta secondment, whilst enroute to Malta from Gibraltar, Bob was forced to ditch his Beaufighter when he ran out of fuel over the Sahara Desert. He and his navigator were subsequently harrassed by desert natives whose reputations for rough justice at the end of their lengthy swords raised fear in the hearts of all airmen. Fortunately this crowd were more anti-German than English and the pair survived, albeit with more ‘adventure’ to come shortly afterwards.

During a contact with a German Junkers 88, Bob managed to cripple the enemy aircraft which subsequently exploded in front of his (new) Beaufighter, with terminal damage sending it into a spiral. Sadly his navigator would not survive the subsequent impact into the ocean, though somewhat miraculously Cowper was able to exit the plane and scramble into the dinghy that accompanied his parachute before being picked up by a hospital ship the following morning.

At the war’s conclusion, Bob had risen to the rank of Squadron Leader in command of 456 Squadron, Australia’s only night fighter squadron. In this position, the old head on young shoulders was committed to the task of tempering the enthusiasm of the newly arrived younger pilots who had witnessed men become household names during the war’s lengthy duration. Such greats as Bader, Gibson, Cunningham, Finucane… some living, some dead – these were just some of the wartime pilots these young men were anxious to emulate; too brash, or in many cases in too much of a hurry to listen to the pitfalls of air warfare before joining the hundreds whose final resting place became that watery grave - the English Channel.

Bob’s desire to survive was no doubt motivated by his WWI veteran father who had posed the simple question to Bob, prior to his departure overseas, “what if they win?”

“In hindsight, it would have been unthinkable,” maintains Bob.

Bob doesn’t consider himself a hero, far from it.  Despite all that he has managed to survive, in his view he is just an ordinary bloke who was one of the ‘lucky’ ones.  It’s a sobering reminder of how ordinary men are forced to do extraordinary things in war. Throughout the Anzac Centenary we are reminded of all the ‘ordinary’ men who in our eyes are heroes, but who in their eyes, like Bob, claim  they ‘didn’t do anything other than what was required of them at the time’.

A more detailed account of Bob's combat operations can be accessed via the link in the sidebar. 

Steve Lewis

Read more...