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Gunning World War Two veteran Lance Cooke attends VP Day Service

Legatee Lance Cooke – WWII Anniversary Service – Australian War Memorial Canberra

When Leading Aircraftsman Lance Cooke heard rumours that World War Two had ended, he didn’t quite know what to believe.

But the full reality sunk in on the day in August, 1945 that Air Force pilot Johnny Carter flew over Kuching to check the airstrip was serviceable. Leading Aircraftsman Cooke was on board as the plane passed, dropping leaflets advising the war was over.

“There were three prisoner of war camps there; the civilian one for women and children, the military section and the other for civilian men,” Mr Cooke said. “When we flew over the military camp, the men were waving their hats like mad. We learnt later they’d found out from ‘Granny’ that the war was over.” ‘Granny’ was the name the men had given to a radio they had built and secreted in a boiler and hole in the ground.

The flight back to Labuan Island took two and a half hours. “When I got back, the boys asked me what sort of trip I’d had. I had a lump in my throat (from seeing the men so happy) and couldn’t talk. I just shook my head and walked away,” Mr Cooke said.

It was just one of the memories recalled on Saturday as the 95-year-old Gunning World War Two veteran attended the 75th anniversary of Victory in the Pacific commemorations in Canberra.

He was one of four veterans invited to the Australian War Memorial event, for which numbers were restricted due to coronavirus. Accompanied by daughter, Rosalee Miller, he sat quietly as Defence Force Chief Angus Campbell AO DSC and Prime Minister Scott Morrison delivered moving speeches and dignitaries laid wreaths for the 39,000 killed in World War Two. Goulburn district man Warren Brown was MC for the event.

Mr Morrison paid tribute to those who had served, including Mr Cooke, who serviced Beaufighters, the war’s ‘workhorses’ as part of No. 93 Beaufort Squadron. He was based on Labuan Island. “Lance was a flight mechanic…He checked every spark plug to keep our pilots and navigators safe. As Lance said, ‘they were my mates,'” Mr Morrison told the gathering.

Mr Cooke said it was an honour to attend the commemoration. “It brought back a lot of memories,” he told The Post. “Something would be mentioned and I’d think of my mates.” Mr Cooke kept a diary and noted rumours of the war’s end on August 15. On August 14 he’d gone to bed at 9pm but was called out to service the aircraft. He retired at midnight but was up again at 5am to see the planes off.

“The idea was for them to fly around for three-quarters of an hour to signal unconditional surrender to the Japanese. They didn’t want to be talking terms,” he said. “After the Japanese surrendered I thought I might get a few days off but no, I was up at 5.30am the next morning doing the planes.” He returned to Australia on leave in November, 1945 to his father who was dying from bowel cancer. Mr Cooke was discharged the following year and devoted much of his life to the Gunning and Goulburn Sub Branches and Goulburn Legacy.

He served as treasurer of the latter up until last year and has remained as Goulburn RSL Sub Branch vice-president. Mr Cooke said his war service had taught him to value and respect things, qualities he believed were largely lacking in today’s younger generation.

He also felt deeply for the Asia-Pacific islanders whose land was occupied. “They weren’t fighting a war but they were  treated like scum. They were the victims,” he said. This and the many facets of his three-year Air Force service came flooding back as he sat with war veterans, now all in their nineties.

“I hope they didn’t see me wiping my eyes,” Mr Cooke said. “It brings back memories of people I knew who are no longer around. We’re all getting a bit thin on the ground.”

“An active Legatee addressed a Meeting of the Gunning RSL Sub Branch in 1983 calling for people to join Goulburn Legacy. I knew of the Gunning Legatees and the good work they were doing and I decided to join. It’s been a very rewarding experience being able to assist Legacy widows and I’ve never looked back”.

VALE LANCE COOKE – 4th June, 2021