Fred Cooper POW

Warrant Officer Fred Cooper 115 Squadron R.A.F aged 24, a well-known Bacup cricketer and player for Lancashire CCC Second XI, joined the R.A.F on the 24th July 1940. Fred’s parents John and Margaret Cooper of 114 Bankside Lane received word that Fred had been reported missing after flying operations on Wednesday 29th July 1942.


Fred had been reported missing three weeks earlier in June when the plane in which he was a crew member was forced down into the North Sea about 40 miles from the English Coast where he and five members of the crew drifted over 16 hours in a rubber dinghy before being picked up, sadly one of the crew didn’t survive. Following his rescue in June, Fred came home on leave and gave an interview to a Bacup Times reporter saying: “It was a night in June when we set out once again to smash Bremen. The weather was again cloudy, but we had great confidence of hitting the target with our “Big Beautiful Bombs”. We flew along over the North Sea without incident, but when, approaching the Dutch coast, I saw smoke coming out of the starboard engine and immediately informed our captain. Naturally, we turned back, but in doing so we were hit with flak, for our front gunner saw a big hole at the rear of the plane. The captain cut out the faulty engine in case it fired, and we flew only on one engine.We lost height, but we thought we could reach this country ok. We were doing fine when the engine ‘coughed’ and we lost more height. We knew then that we would have to land in the ‘drink’. I sent out an S.O.S so that our position could be plotted. When we knew what we were in for we braced ourselves very tightly, and shortly afterwards we hit the sea. The water rushed in very quickly, but the navigator and myself got onto the wing and to our great relief the rubber dinghy was already there to command. We looked around the wreckage and saw our captain.We hauled him in, which was difficult, and then looked around for the other two. By this time the plane had gone under the water, and we gave up hope for the others. Suddenly we heard a cry for help from the rear gunner, who had been trapped in his turret but just managed to get out.


He wasn’t in very good condition, but he stuck it out well. I’m very sorry to say that our front gunner never got out; he must have been knocked out somehow, but no one will ever know It was just bad luck. “Well here we were about 40 miles from the English coast in the middle of the North Sea”, continued Sgt Cooper. We had no paddles and we had not time to collect rations. All we possessed was a wet cartridge, and our rations were only one Horlicks tablet every three hours. Our drinking water came out of the dinghy whenever it rained. We hit the sea at 1.30 a.m. and for the next few hours; we played dice on the floor of the boat. We heard a few aircraft, but we couldn’t see them. The rear gunner was not very well. We tried to sleep but were so wet that it was most uncomfortable. All our cigarettes were ruined, and we just had to stick it out until rescue came along. About dawn, we were caught in a heavy thunderstorm and the rain simply drenched us. We were very cold and hungry then. But we tried to be cheerful.

 At 9 a.m. an aeroplane passed overhead. We fired the only cartridge, but it didn’t go off – it was too wet. It was cloudy and the plane didn’t see us. Time went on, and we saw a few more searching aircraft and we waved and shouted, but none saw us. At 4 o’clock we were seen by a Boston aircraft, and we fired our gun, and at last, the cartridge went off.


The kite circled us for an hour, while another plane dropped a dinghy and rations, which unfortunately were out of reach. This was the happiest day of my life; we cheered ourselves hoarse and knew we were safe. At five o’clock we were picked up by the air-sea rescue launch and they gave us cocoa, food and dry clothing. We were taken to hospital and all of us were ok except being tired and worn out. It was a terrible experience and when I think of it I shudder. We all kept calm and made a good show. One life was lost, but he played his part well concluded Sgt Cooper.

Fred’s parents received the following letter from his commanding officer which read: “He was a most valuable member of the squadron, and his courage and determination were at all times an inspiration to all who knew him”.


Fred was taken prisoner following an operation on the night of the 21st-22nd July when the Wellington III X3726 bomber in which he was the wireless operator, was hit over Duisburg Germany. Parachuting out of the burning plane Fred landed on the house of a German family who wanted to shelter him but, fearing they would be shot, he walked into the street and gave himself up.

On Wednesday the 22nd of August, Fred’s parents received a postcard from him in which he had written “I am sorry I had to jump out over Germany, but it couldn’t be helped. However, I am A1. No need to worry about me. From August 1942 to March 1945 Fred was held at Stalag VIII-B Lamsdorf Upper Selsia later renumbered Stalag 344. Within days of arriving in the camp, a mass bid at escape was made after some army prisoners had cut the wire. But they were discovered before they could get away.


For the first nine months of his captivity, Fred and several other allied prisoners had their hands tied to each other with string from the Red Cross parcels in reprisal for the alleged chaining of German POW’s at Dieppe: the string was later changed for chains.


Whilst researching Fred’s story I came across the story of how in 1943, cricket tournaments were begun in the camp between Australian, English and New Zealand prisoners. In the summer of 1944, a contingent of South African prisoners arrived at the camp amongst them, unknown to the other teams, was Test Player Billy Wade. Fred of course played for the England team who won the second series with South Africa and Australia tying for second place. Driver Alan Roult R.A.S.C from Newchurch told a Bacup Times reporter following his repatriation that he had seen Fred in the camp and that Fred played some grand cricket”. Many of the players like Fred had been keen local cricketers in civilian life and, after the war, they continued to play. In May 1946 Fred made his first-class debut for his native Lancashire County Cricket Club against Oxford University where he made 6 and 20 not out. He then went on to join his brother, Eddie, who had also played for Bacup, at Worcestershire County Cricket Club. One English player a military policeman from Renfrew in Scotland went on to meet some of the Australian players again during the 1948 World Tour.


A rather amusing tale was told by Billy Wade after the war when he recounted how a German guard pushed his bicycle whilst leading a large guard dog right across the cricket pitch. He said “The crowd reaction and commentary made it fortunate that the German had no ready grasp of irate spectator English”


For six weeks before the forced march in January 1945, Fred told how he was one of about 200 prisoners who hid under the floorboards of the camp huts as the camp guards panicked and left. Thinking they were safe, they waited for the Russians to come and liberate them but a few weeks later some Germans turned up and herded them onto railway cattle trucks 50 at a time where they underwent a five-day journey through Czechoslovakia to within 40 miles of the Swiss border.


During the journey, they were only let out once to exercise and although they were ok for food as they had some Red Cross parcels, they had to bribe guards to get water which was water out of the engine. Fred said, “the fact that it was wet was the only thing in their favour”. Fred arrived back home in Bacup on Sunday 6th May 1945, after being liberated in Nuremberg on the 22nd of April. In 1942 whilst Fred was a prisoner, he wrote off to Judy Garland and was shocked to receive a beautiful, autographed photograph in return. In 1975 Fred said: “I wrote off to Judy asking for a picture and was amazed three months later to get one back – together with 250 cigarettes … Finding that photograph certainly brought back memories – I was a very big fan of hers”. Remarkably despite everything that Fred endured during his forced march the photograph arrived back in Bacup with Fred in pristine condition and is still owned today by Jonathan, Fred’s son

The crew boarding their Wellington on 21 July 1942, the evening they were shot down Sgt Maurice Colclough and Sgt Fred Cooper stand together in the far right of the photo, Sgt Colclough extreme right