Medals to the R.F.C. and R.A.F. from the Collection Formed by the Late Squadron Leader David Haller

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Date of Auction: 25th March 2014

Sold for £1,800

Estimate: £1,600 - £1,800

A Second World War D.F.C. group of five awarded to Squadron Leader S. L. Cockbain, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, who was decorated for his gallantry as a pilot in No. 44 Squadron in March 1944 - already a veteran of a tour of operations in No. 102 Squadron in 1941-42, he was killed in a flying accident in January 1945
Distinguished Flying Cross, G.VI.R., the reverse officially dated ‘1944’ and privately inscribed, ‘S/Ldr. S. L. Cockbain, 44 Sqn., R.A.F.V.R.’; 1939-45 Star; Air Crew Europe Star, clasp, France and Germany; Defence and War Medals 1939-45, M.I.D. oak leaf, these last four privately inscribed, ‘S./Ldr. S. L. Cockbain, 44 Sqn., R.A.F.V.R.’, good very fine (5) £1600-1800

Footnote

D.F.C. London Gazette 9 June 1944:

‘In March 1944, this officer was pilot of an aircraft detailed for a mine-laying mission. On the outward flight the aircraft was attacked by a fighter and sustained much damage. One engine was useless, the upper cupola of the mid-upper turret was shattered and the hydraulic gear was damaged. Despite this, Squadron Leader Cockbain succeeded in evading a second attack and went on to the target to complete his attack-task. This officer has completed a large number of sorties and has displayed great skill, leadership and devotion to duty.’

Stephen Legh Cockbain was born in 1916, the son of Thomas and Edith Cockbain of Verwood, Dorset. Educated at a Preparatory School in St. Leonard’s-on-Sea and at St. Wendelin’s, Arundel, he enlisted in the Royal Air Force in late 1940.

Having then gained his “Wings” and been commissioned as a Pilot Officer in June 1941, he was posted to No. 106 Squadron, a Hampden unit operating out of Coningsby, in October of the latter year, and he remained actively employed until August 1942, by which stage the Squadron had converted to Lancasters, via two or three months on Manchesters.

Cockbain flew his first sortie - against Lorenz - in October 1941, and went on to complete at least another 20 missions before being posted to a conversion unit. Thus trips to such targets as Bremen, Cologne, Dortmund, Essen, Hamburg and Mannheim, in addition to more specialist strikes - such as those against Schipol airfield and the Heinkel factory at Warnemunde. And squadron records reveal that His Manchester was hit by flak on a strike against Cologne on the night of 30-31 May 1942.

In December 1943, and having been advanced to Squadron Leader and mentioned in despatches for his good work at his conversion unit (London Gazette 14 January 1944), Cockbain returned to operations with an appointment in No. 44 (Rhodesia) Squadron, a Lancaster unit operating out of Dunholme Lodge. But it was not until 15 February 1944, that he flew his first sortie - a strike against Berlin. Leipzig, Frankfurt, Essen and Aachen followed in quick succession, prior to No. 44 turning its attention to French targets around April - thus strikes on such targets as Paris La Chapelle and Salbris. And on D-Day itself, Cockbain was detailed to attack bridges around Caen.

A fortnight later, in a strike on Wesseling on the 21st, his Flying Log Book records that his Lancaster was jumped by a night fighter and most of the starboard elevator and rudder controls shot away. Such was the extent of the damage that he ordered his crew to bale out, four of them taking to their parachutes before he regained some control and decided to go for base. He made it.

Cockbain was now ‘rested’ with an appointment in Ferry Command, in which capacity he was killed while piloting a Stirling to Maghaberry in Northern Ireland on 14 January 1945 - ‘One of the starboard engines was seen to be on fire and the aircraft started to turn, which became steeper, and went into cloud and crashed out of control in a diving turn at Home Farm, Annesley Park, Mansfield, Nottinghamshire.’ Cockbain was buried in Oxford (Botley) Cemetery.

Sold with the recipient’s original R.A.F. Pilot’s Flying Log Book, covering the period June 1944 up until his death in January 1945, the opening page with the following endorsement: ‘Certified that the times shown on the opposite page are correct and have been brought forward from Log Book I’. The times shown undoubtedly reflect his recent appointment to No. 44 Squadron - and the whereabouts of his first Flying Log Book, incorporating a total of 906 hours flying time, and his first operational tour in No. 106 Squadron, remains unknown.