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Spirit of Discovery blog

Clifford Cole MBE

29th March, 2023

At the start of WWII Clifford was a 17 year old junior clerk in a solicitor’s office. On reaching 18 he joined the Royal Air Force volunteer reserve with the goal of becoming a pilot.

It turned out that due to war time blackouts of UK Airfields pilots were being trained overseas, and there was a 6 month waiting period. He then offered to train as a navigator instead which would be done in the UK and with immediate effect. Basic training, followed by both ground and air navigation training took 18 months, whereupon he was granted his “Brevets” (half wing) Sergeant Chevrons.

Posted to an operational training unit Clifford became part of a crew of 5 in a Whitley Twin engine Bomber. Before the completion of the course he was posted to St. Eval, Cornwall to carry out operations over the Bay of Biscay to find any enemy submarines (which had to surface to charge batteries). They were equipped to fly 10 – 15 hour patrols, but the enemy had aircraft in France that attacked them on their return.

Two days after his 20th birthday the team had a problem, the aircraft was on fire and the pilot ordered them to “bail-out”. Due to the pilot’s bravery they all made parachute landings in Cornwall, but unfortunately their brave leader was killed in the crash landing. After a short leave Clifford married his fiancé (she died in December 2021 after being together for 78 years), and he was posted to a Wellington twin engine Bomber Squadron in North Yorkshire and granted a wartime commission (of the 110,000 air crew in Bomber Command 55,000 were killed).

Only a third of the squadron were British, others were Canadian, South African, Rhodesian and New Zealand (3 New Zealanders in his crew were given distinguished flying medals). While the crew had a short leave mid tour, Clifford was sent on a leaders course so he did not see his wife for the next 6 months.

At the war’s end he took an 8 year extended commission and during that time flew 136 trips on the Berlin Airlift from an old Luftwaffe base on the Schleswig border. Other postings followed, and he finally became Station Adjutant at RAF Lyneham (The Transport Command main airfield). In the 1953 New Year’s Honours List Clifford was Gazetted MBE, and this was presented to him by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II just before her Coronation.

Clifford left the RAF in the mid-50’s and pursued a career in finance for the next 30 years, he has been retired for 40 years and counting. He has done numerous cruises, including 2 Saga Rose world cruises, and some distance sailing in friends’ Yachts (60 – 80 ft.).

It has been a great pleasure meeting this decorated veteran onboard Spirit of Discovery.

Kind Regards
Captain Darin Bowland, MSc

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.