Talk by Past-President Alan Cook
Past-President Alan Cook (centre)with President Steve Blayney and President-Elect Jim Henry
THE COOK FAMILY AT WAR
At a recent meeting of the Club Past-President Alan Cook gave a talk about the experiences of three members of his family in World War 2 - his father, his grandfather and his uncle.
Alan’s father, Lionel Cook began the war as a Merchant Navy Officer. In October 1942 he was Third Officer of the MV Brittany sailing in a convoy from South America to Liverpool when it was torpedoed in the Bay of Biscay. The ship sank quickly and Lionel only escaped when a cotton bale released from the cargo brought him back to the surface. He managed to scramble onto a damaged liferaft, pulled a number of other men onto it from the water and kept the group together until rescued the next day. For his heroism he was awarded the MBE and the Lloyd’s Medal for Bravery. When he had recovered from this ordeal he joined the Royal Navy and served through the rest of the war as Navigating Officer of a frigate.
Alan’s convoy had been diverted into the Bay of Biscay to lure U-boats away from transports taking troops to North Africa. One of the troopships was the Royal Ulsterman whose captain at that time was Alan’s grandfather, Alfred Thomas Cook. In 1940 his role had been as captain of a paddle steamer, the Medway Queen, which had taken a notable part in the Dunkirk evacuation. Although only originally ordered to undertake one trip to the beaches, Alfred took his ship back and forward 7 times in 10 days, surviving the maelstrom of bombs and bullets to rescue over 7000 soldiers. In the process the ship accounted for two German planes shot down and became the last boat to depart from the beachhead. Alfred was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and 7 more awards were made to crew members. The Medway Queen still exists and is currently under restoration at Gillingham in Kent. Alfred and the ship were the subjects of a BBC documentary in 2015 which was a follow-up to Alan bringing his grandfather’s medals to Antiques Roadshow.
Lionel and Alfred both survived to the end of the war but Alan’s uncle, Alan Ronald Cook was not so fortunate. He was a Flight Sergeant in RAF Bomber Command who was shot down over Mannheim in August 1942. The family believed him killed until they heard that he was being held as a prisoner of war in Stalag VIIIB. On Hitler’s orders the aircrew imprisoned there were treated particularly harshly in retaliation for the raid on Dieppe. His mother received one letter from him but a short time after it arrived he was shot dead while trying to escape.
Alan has preserved much memorabilia relating to the stories of his family members. He spoke movingly of his grandmother whose husband and two sons had been in extreme danger in the conflict, one of them making the ultimate sacrifice. Her suffering must have been immense.
In thanking him for a remarkable talk President Steve Blayney commented on the extraordinary impact that the war had had on the whole family and the distinction with which each member had carried out their roles.