War veteran John honoured at last

PUBLISHED: 08:52 08 October 2008 | UPDATED: 22:25 15 June 2010

COLYTON man John Cochrane has received a Downing Street honour in recognition of invaluable work during World War II.

COLYTON man John Cochrane has received a Downing Street honour in recognition of invaluable work during World War II. But says it is too little too late as many of his compatriots are now dead. The 84 year-old, from Grove Hill, felt it was a great privilege - but was sorry that many other veterans had not lived to see the day.After failing to get into the Royal Air Force because he wore glasses, Mr Cochrane was given the chance to train and fly with the Air Transport Auxillary (ATA) at the age of 20.Set up as a civil organisation as part of British Airways, the ATA ferried arms from the factories to the squads - making a total of 300,000 trips during its lifetime.Although Mr Cochrane does not believe it was anywhere near as dangerous as being a fighter pilot, of the 1,200 who served, 150 were killed. "It was a great opportunity to serve the ATA," said Mr Cochrane. "I was always keen on flying and to be trained by the Air Force was wonderful. It was exciting in a way, and a very pleasant way to travel."We progressed to faster and bigger planes. It was like going from driving a car to a lorry."I had a few worrying moments when I was trying to get somewhere over a cloud and had to turn back. We had no radio then. One of my friends crash landed in a field and survived. Others were not so lucky."During his service, Mr Cochrane made numerous trips around England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.Though disappointed when his flying role came to an end, he believes the ATA had a positive impact on the war effort: "I was actually sad when the war ended. We were redundant air crew and didn't fly anymore. "But I saw a lot of the country and it had been a wonderful experience. The ATA made a big contribution to the war effort. If it wasn't for us, they would have had to use trained RAF pilots, who were more valuable. Churchill thanked us for all our good work."Mr Cochrane was one of 59 to be presented with a badge and certificate by the Ministry of Transport, Jim Fitzpatrick. Gordon Brown shook the veterans hands and gave a speech on their work.The day began with a Spitfire display, followed by a ceremony at Number 10.Mr Cochrane said: "It was a great day, really enjoyable and I felt it was an honour. It was very nostalgic to see the Spitfire close up again and peer into the cockpit. "It was very nice to meet the other ATA servicemen - some of whom I knew - and I liked catching up with them."His only criticism was that the government did not recognise the ATA contribution earlier: "It's so late in the day. Many of the original ATA are no longer with us.


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