John Reynolds COCK DFC

COCK , John Reynolds

Service Number: 40674
Enlisted: 13 March 1938
Last Rank: Squadron Leader
Last Unit: No. 72 Squadron (RAF)
Born: Renmark, South Australia, 3 March 1918
Home Town: Renmark, Renmark Paringa, South Australia
Schooling: Renmark High School, Prince Alfred College, Adelaide and Roseworthy Agriculural College, South Australia
Occupation: Horticulturist
Died: Natural Causes, Tewantin, Queensland, 20 August 1988, aged 70 years
Cemetery: Not yet discovered
Memorials:
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World War 2 Service

13 Mar 1938: Enlisted Royal Air Force, Pilot Officer, SN 40674, No. 87 Squadron (RAF)
10 Jul 1942: Involvement Royal Australian Air Force, Pilot Officer, SN 40674, No. 453 Squadron (RAAF)
16 Aug 1942: Involvement Royal Air Force, No. 222 Squadron (RAF)
1 Sep 1944: Involvement Royal Air Force, Flight Lieutenant, SN 40674, Air War NW Europe 1939-45
14 Feb 1946: Involvement Royal Air Force, Squadron Leader, SN 40674, No. 72 Squadron (RAF)

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Biography contributed by Ned Young

For teenagers in 2019, turning 16 is associated with one thing: the acquisition of their own learners drivers licence. At the same age in 1934, John Reynolds Cock wasn’t in the drivers seat of his fathers car being taught the art of parallel parking or the three-point turn; he was in the cockpit of a Hawker Hart Trainer at Parafield airport learning to fly. 

Early Life 

John was born in 1918 in Renmark, South Australia. From a young age, John lived for adventure. His afternoons were spent swimming in the Murray River and climbing trees in the backyard. When it came time for school, John attended Berri Higher Primary and later Renmark High before boarding at Prince Alfred College. It was during his time at Prince Alfred that John began training to become a pilot under Adelaide Aero Club instructor Mr J Buckham. After only a year of flight training, he was awarded his first ‘A’ licence in 1935, aged 17. Two years later, the Air Board in Melbourne recognised John’s incredible flying prowess by nominating him for a new scheme initiated by the Royal Air Force (RAF) in England that allowed young Australian cadets to join the RAF directly, by-passing the standard two-year course in Point Cook. John was the youngest pilot and only South Australian to be one of a group of twelve accepted by the RAF.

 RAF Training 

John arrived in London in March of 1938, where he began three months of special study at the Flying School in Uxbridge. Here he became accustomed to many military aeroplanes such as the Miles Hawkes and Magistrate, and de Havilland Tiger Moth. After his initial training, John and the ten remaining Australian cadets (Jim Innes had sadly died before the M.V. Cathay arrived in England) were transferred to the RAF base in Netheravon, Wiltshire where they joined local forces and other young cadets from all over the world including New Zealand, Canada and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) to create the 9th Intermediate Training Squadron. In Netheravon, John learnt to fly the famous Hawker Hurricane and Supermarine Spitfire, the former of which he would pilot for many years during the War. 

France 

Upon receiving his wings in 1938, John was posted to the No. 87 Squadron, who were later sent to France as part of an Advanced Air Strike Force. During his time in France, John had five confirmed kills. John’s first kill, the first by any Australian pilot in World War II, was a Nazi operated Heinkel He 111 on the 10th of April 1940. That day, John was also accredited with two instances of damage on other Nazi aircraft. When the Germans invaded France, Belgium and Holland in May, John damaged multiple enemy aircraft in various battles, including a Dornier Do 17 and a Messerschmitt Bf 110. He claimed a Junkers Ju 88 and shot down another He 111 on the 12th, which crashed near Armentières. Tragically, the smouldering wreckage of the He 111 suddenly exploded sometime after it had crash-landed, killing 36 onlookers. On the 14th, John shot down a Messerschmitt Bf 109E, and on the 16th another Ju 88, however this was never confirmed as a kill. In his final battle while posted in France on the 18th, John destroyed a Junkers Ju 87 Stuka just east of Brussels, claiming his fifth kill, whilst also damaging another enemy aircraft. Later that day, he shared a Henschel Hs 126. The 87 Squadron were evacuated from France two days later on the 20th, ending their short 9-month stint of service there. 

 The Battle of Britain

The Exeter Aerodrome became the new home of the 87 Squadron on July 5th 1940. During the Squadron’s first patrol mission on the 8th, John damaged a reconnaissance Dornier Do 17 that eventually managed to escape. The He 111 John spotted in his searchlights later that month on a ‘cats eye’ night patrol was not so lucky; the victory, believed to be the first night kill made by any Australian, adding to his accolades. 

John’s most incredible victory occurred on the 11th of August, 1940. The 609 Squadron were the first to encounter 30+ enemy aircraft, 30 miles from Catherine’s Point at 10:05. Around 60 enemy aircraft were also spotted north of Cherbourg. John, along with 5 other Hurricanes from the 87 Squadron, were then sent to assist in deterring the huge formation of bombers, the largest formation yet seen over Britain, who were now approaching Portland Bill. By John’s own account, “there was a total of about 200 of them spread out over Portland”. John did not hesitate to engage with the enemy, and remembers first peppering a Bf 109 with “several bursts,” sending “bits [of the plane]…flying off”. Next, he found a Ju 88, and managed to manoeuvre his way in behind the enemy aircraft. At this point, John realised one of his guns was jammed, but nevertheless he fired off his remaining ammunition. “One of the wings was well alight,” but before John had a chance to see the Junkers crash-land, “a line of bullets hit the left-hand side of [his] cockpit,” disintegrating the dash panel and causing the engine to “run a bit rough”. To make matters worse, shrapnel from the cockpit had embedded itself in John’s left arm. 

As the Bf 109 that had caused the damage “dived away,” John noticed two white bars on its wings, indicating the plane belonged to a German Wing Commander. The 87 Squadron Intelligence Leader would later tell John that the plane’s pilot was most likely Helmut Wick, a Luftwaffe Ace credited with 56 kills during the War. Wick was also the 4th recipient of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak leaves, Germany’s highest honour at the time.

John’s Hawker Hurricane (Serial Number V7233/LK-V) was badly damaged, and he was bleeding heavily from his left arm. With the engine set to explode at any moment, John “pulled back the hood and rolled the plane over” in an attempt to free himself from the cabin. Struggling, John’s leg became stuck on some of the damaged metal from the cockpit, leaving him with half his body dangling from the Hurricane. Thankfully, in the frantic effort to dislodge himself, John “kicked the stick (accelerator) forward, sho[otting himself] into space”. A report from the 87 Squadron leader later detailed the Hurricane “burst[ing] into flames” immediately after John’s escape. 

The parachute opened successfully, but John was not out of danger just yet. He recalls bullets and aircraft “whirling” around him, and flinched as another Bf 109 narrowly missed him with a round of ammoniation. John owes his life that day to Pilot Officer and 87 Squadron member Dennis David, who destroyed the Nazi plane before it had a chance to fire another round. 

When John and his parachute eventually landed in the water below the battle, the current began dragging him toward Portland. He released his ‘chute and started a long swim to shore, made more difficult by the pain of his injured left arm. To make the trek easier, John took off his boots and trousers, forgetting the fact that he had a 5 pound note in his pocket! Watching the money float away was John’s deepest regret of the day. After an hour or so of swimming, John dragged himself up Chesil Beach “dressed in his tunic and blue underpants,” a sight the Home Guards on the beach described as a “fearsome spectacle”. 

John spent a month recuperating from his injuries, but before long he was back in the cockpit of a new Hurricane. On the 26th of September, he destroyed a Ju 88 and damaged a Bf 109. On the 30th he destroyed a Bf 109, his 10th and final confirmed kill of the War, and on the 10th of October he damaged another. Sadly, two weeks later, the engine of John’s aircraft suddenly cut out, resulting in an unavoidable collision with Pilot Officer D.T Jay. John was able to regain control and make a safe belly landing back at Exeter, but P/O Jay was tragically killed. After this devastating accident, John left 87 Squadron to embark on a series of instructional appointments, helping young pilots gain their wings.

 Service After 87 Squadron

After his tenure with 87 Squadron, John was first posted briefly to 543 RAAF Squadron as an instructor, and later to the 93rd Fighter Squadron USAAF, where he advised fresh-faced cadets on the importance of tactics and gun-control. He had similar duties as part of the RAF 222 Squadron, and after this posting, returned home to Australia to join No 1 Spitfire Wing in June 1943. At this point in the war, John had logged over 400 hours of service. John acted as a mentor to the young Australian pilots, the majority of whom had never left Australia, let alone engaged in warfare. 

John returned to England on September 1944 and joined 3 Squadron RAF, 2nd Tactical Air Force. Here, he traded his Hawker Hurricane for a Hawker Tempest V, and flew mainly on armed reconnaissance missions in pursuit of highly elusive Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighters. John’s stint in 3 Squadron was the last time he would fly on a mission in the War. He became a technical advisor for instructional films about aerial combat in April of 1945, and also travelled to Boscombe Down for test pilot duties. During this time, he took 5 Tempest II’s to Khartoum, Sudan for tropical trials. In the meantime, the War in Europe ended. 

In February of 1946, John assumed the position of Squadron Leader of the 72nd Squadron, which disbanded in December. He then commanded RAF Station Bahrain for about a year before resigning from the RAF in 1948 after almost 10 years of military service. 

 Medals 

John was the recipient of many medals for his service during the War, most notable of which the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC). John was awarded his DFC in October of 1940 for his heroic actions during the Battle of Britain. Records from his Commanding Officer mention “Flying Officer John Cock show[ing] magnificent courage and initiative against overwhelming odds;” high-praise for such a young pilot. 

John would also receive the 1939-1945 Star (with ‘Battle of Britain’ Clasp), as well as the Air Crew Europe Star (with ‘France and Germany’ Clasp). At the end of the War, John was the recipient of his 3 more medals, the Pacific Star, Defence Medal 1939-1945, and the War Medal 1939-1945.

Post-War Life

John returned home to South Australia in 1948 and there after moved to Tewantin on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. There, he built and opened his own Supermarket, which he sold after retiring in 1983. John died in 1988, at the age of 70. 

One of the highlights of John’s life after service was his return to England to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain (BoB) in September of 1965. He was accompanied by 12 other BoB veterans from all over the country who had survived the War. John was an avid photographer, and captured many excellent photographs of the festivities. It must have been a strange feeling as the men toured the RAF facilities and studied the newest aircraft, something they had all done 27 years prior. 

In 1983, John was privy to a salvage attempt of his Hurricane V7233/LK-V that had crash landed at Portland Bill 43 years prior. Unfortunately, only small parts of the plane were able to be salvaged; the bulk of the wreckage was too heavy to be safely removed from the water. Nevertheless, John was reunited with small parts of the Hurricane, such as the cockpit handle and firing stick, items that are still treasured by his family. 

The salvaged parts of John’s Hurricane are not the only physical legacies he left behind. A mysterious portrait depicting John in his flight googles and helmet remains in possession of his family. It was painted by Hungarian artist Lajos Markos, who, prior to his death in 1993, was responsible for other portraits of famous Americans including John Wayne, Robert Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. The story goes that Markos depicted John on the canvas in exchange for a packet of cigarettes whist the two were held together in a Prisoner of War camp, however the camp itself, and how John, and especially Hungarian born Markos, found themselves there, remains uncertain. 

Bibliography

Bbm.org.uk. (2007). Battle of Britain London Monument - F/O J R Cock. [online] Available at: http://www.bbm.org.uk/airmen/Cock.htm.

The Murray Pioneer (1943). Flt.-Lieut. John Cock Back In Australia. p.1.

Newton, D. (2010). Australia's Battle of Britain Aces. Aero Australia, (27), pp.68-69.

Parry, S. (2010). Spitfire Hunters : The Inside Stories Behind the Best of the TV Aircraft Digs. 1st ed. Walton on Thames, United Kingdom: Air Research Publications.

Petr, K. (2007). Aces of the Luftwaffe - Helmut Wick. [online] Luftwaffe.cz. Available at: https://www.luftwaffe.cz/wick.html.

The News (1943). Grange Air Ace Home. p.6.

Tracesofwar.com. (2015). Cock, John Reynolds - TracesOfWar.com. [online] Available at: https://www.tracesofwar.com/persons/48635/Cock-John-Reynolds.htm.

Veterans SA. (2015). South Australian Air Ace, John Reynolds Cock. [online] Available at: https://veteranssa.sa.gov.au/story/south-australian-air-ace-john-reynolds-cock/. 

87 Squadron Operational Record Book.

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