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Air Vice Marshal H A C Bird-Wilson (40335)


Harold Arthur Cooper            

b: 20 Nov 1919                    

r: 1 Jun 1974                

d: 27 Dec 2000

CBE - 1 Jan 1962, DSO – 9 Jan 1945, DFC – 24 Sep 1940, Bar – 29 Oct 1943, AFC – 1 Jan 1946, Bar – 1 Jan 1955, DFC (N) – 10 Jan 1947, MoM1 – 20 Apr 1948.  

For a list of foreign decoration abbreviations, click here

Act Plt Off (P): 30 Nov 1937, Plt Off: 27 Sep 1938, Fg Off: 27 Jun 1940, Flt Lt (WS):  27 Jun 1941, Act Sqn Ldr: xx Apr 1942?, (T) Sqn Ldr: 1 Jul 1943, Act Wg Cdr: 2 Feb 1943?, Sqn Ldr (WS): 2 Aug 1943, Sqn Ldr: 1 Aug 1947, Wg Cdr: 1 Jan 1953, Gp Capt: 1 Jan 1959, A/Cdre: 1 Jan 1963, AVM: 1 Jan 1970.

xx Sep 1937:           Initial Officer Training.

30 Nov 1937:          Granted a Short Service Commission.

30 Nov 1937:          Initial Officer Training, RAF Depot.

11 Dec 1937:           U/T Pilot, No 3 FTS.

 9 Jul 1938:              Pilot, No 17 Sqn.

xx xxx 1938:            Attended Navigation Course (Brough)

19 Sep 1938:           Hospitalised and Recuperation.

xx xxx 1939:            Pilot, No 17 Sqn.

24 Sep 1940:           Recuperating

xx Nov 1940:          Instructor, No 56 OTU.

xx Apr 1941:           Flight Commander, No 234 Sqn.

xx Aug 1941:           Instructor, No 52 OTU.

xx Apr 1942:           Officer Commanding, No 152 Sqn.

xx Aug 1942:           Hospitalised.

xx Nov 1942:           Supernumerary, No 118 Sqn.

xx Nov 1942:           Officer Commanding, No 66 Sqn.

27 Sep 1941:           Transferred to RAFO and re-employed

xx May 1943:           Wing Leader, No 121 Airfield

xx Nov 1943:           Wing Leader, No 122 Airfield.

xx Jan 1944:             Attended Command and General Staff School, Levenworth, Texas.

xx Apr 1944:            Wing Commander - Training, HQ No 85 Group.

 9 Jun 1944:              Wing Commander - Flying, Perranporth/Harrowbeer Wing.

xx Dec 1944:            Wing Leader, Bentwaters Wing.

16 Mar 1945:           Air Staff, HQ No 11 Group

2 Apr 1946:            Appointed to Permanent Commission in the rank of Flight Lieutenant (retaining rank current at the time). [effective 1 Sep 1945 antedated to 1 Dec 1942 on 25 Feb 1947]

xx xxx 1945:             Officer Commanding, No 1335 Jet Conversion Unit.

xx xxx 1946:             Officer Commanding, Air Fighting Development Sqn, Central Fighter Est.

xx xxx 1948:             Air Staff - Operations, HQ Middle East Air Force.

xx xxx 1949:             Attended RAF Staff College.

xx xxx 1949:             PSO to AOC, Middle East Air Force.

xx xxx 1951:             Attended RAF Flying College, Manby.

xx xxx 1952:             Officer Commanding, Tactics Branch, CFE.

xx xxx xxxx:              Officer Commanding, Air Fighting Development Sqn, CFE.

23 Nov 1954:           Staff Officer - Fighter Operational Development, B.J.S.M., Washington.

xx xxx 1957:             Staff, Air Secretary's Department.

xx xxx 1959:             Officer Commanding, RAF Coltishall.

xx xxx 1961:             Air Staff -Intelligence, Air Ministry.

 4 Feb 1963:             Commandant, Central Flying School.

15 Dec 1965:            AOC, RAF Hong Kong.

xx xxx 1967:             Director of Flying (Research & Development), Ministry of Technology.

 6 Feb 1970:             AOC, No 23 Group.

31 Mar 1973:            Commander, Southern Maritime Air Region.

Throughout his his service career he was known affectionately as 'Birdy' and was born in Prestatyn, North Wales, although he spent the next four years in Bengal, where his father managed a tea plantation.  He returned to the UK at the age of four and an half to attend school, along with his two elder sisters.  He and his sisters spent their school holidays on the Isle of Wight and here he was captivated by flying, when he witnessed the Schneider Cup Races and had his first flight with Alan Cobham's Flying Circus.  

Leaving school in 1937, he decided to join the RAF and was awarded a short service commission and was then posted to No 3 FTS at Grantham.  His operational career started on Gloster Gauntlets with No 17 Squadron at Kenley.  Shortly after joining the squadron he was sent to  Brough, near Hull to undertake a navigation course.  Whilst on this course, in September 1938, he was flying with another officer in a BA Swallow and their aircraft was caught in a storm near Cranwell and crashed, resulting in the death of the pilot and 'Birdy' being seriously injured, losing his nose.  During his recovery, he was placed in the care of Archibald McIndoe, who was able to rebuild his nose and 'Birdy' became No 2 in the famous 'Guinea Pig Club'

On regaining his fitness, he returned to No 17 Squadron, which by this time had re-equipped with Hawker Hurricanes.  He operated from bases in the UK, but was detached to France for a short spell prior to the collapse of the French.  On 24 September 1940, he was shot down and his aircraft sent on fire, however, he was able to bail out and luckily landed in the Thames, which helped alleviate his burns.  He was soon rescued by a Royal Navy MTB, but it was November before he returned to flying duties as an instructor..

He returned to operational flying in April 1941, as a flight commander with No 234 at Warmwell, flying Spitfires, with the squadron carrying out convoy patrols, bomber escorts and 'Jim Crows'.  In August he returned to instructional duties but in April 1942 he took command of No 152 Squadron Eglinton and remained with the squadron until just prior to it's departure to the Middle East, due to a further period in hospital.  Returning to operations in November 1942, he assumed command of No 66 squadron, also equipped with Spitfires, before promotion to Wing Commander, brought with it command of No 121 Airfield and later No 122 Airfield (later Wing) consisting of No's 19, 65 and 122 Squadrons.  His final score was three destroyed, a share in a further six, three probable, three damaged and one destroyed on the ground.

With the end of the war he found himself in command of the first Jet Conversion Unit in the RAF and the following year he took command of the Air Fighting Development Squadron of the Central Fighter Establishment.  On 5 May 1947, he was carrying out a practice interception on some Spitfires near Grantham, when his Meteor disintegrated, however, he was able to separate himself from the remains and deploy his parachute just in time, this was before the days of ejector seats and this incident hastened their introduction.  In 1953, he led four Venoms in inscribing by sky writing the letters VIVAT in 5 mile long letters at the Royal Review at Odiham.  Whilst serving in the USA, he was able fly all the latest USAF fighters as well as a captured example of the MiG 15.  Following a short spell in the Air Secretary's department, he was tasked with establishing the first base for RAF supersonic fighters at Coltishall, for which he was awarded the CBE in 1961.

He became the first Commandant of the CFS who had no experience as a QFI, although he had quite a wide ranging experience of developmental flying and whilst at Little Rissington, he authorised the formation of a permanent aerobatic display team, equipped with Folland Gnat trainers, and christened them the Red Arrows.  His was next appointed AOC in Hong Kong and then he joined the Ministry of Technology as Director of Flying (Research and Development).  Returning to a RAF command, he took command of No 23 Group, Training Command, before becoming Commander of the Southern Maritime Air Region in 1973, retiring at his own request the following year.  He then joined the British Aircraft Corporation as their Deputy Chief Executive in Riyadh until September 1975.  He then became Assistant to the Military Adviser at British Aerospace until ill health forced him to retire in 1984.  His first wife, Audrey, died in 1991, but in 1994 he married again, to Margaret, a widow and family friend.

My thanks to 'Birdy's' son, Captain Stuart Bird-Wilson TD, for supplying additional information for this biography.

Citation for the award of the Distinguished Flying Cross.

“Flying Officer Harold Arthur Cooper BIRD-WILSON (40335).

Flying Officer Bird-Wilson has shot down six enemy aircraft and shared in the destruction of several others.  He has shown fine fighting qualities and determination in his attacks.”

(London Gazette – 24 September 1940)

Citation for the award of the Distinguished Service Order

“Wing Commander Harold Arthur Cooper BIRD-WILSON, D.F.C. (40355), R.A.F.O.

Since being awarded a Bar to the Distinguished Flying Cross, this officer has participated in a very large number of sorties.  He has continued to display the highest qualities of leadership, skill and gallantry, qualities which have been well illustrated in the fine fighting spirit of the squadrons he commands.  Within the past four months. Wing Commander Bird-Wilson has led large formations of aircraft on a variety of sorties during which much success has been obtained.  Many enemy aircraft have been destroyed, whilst a good number of  locomotives, wagons, mechanical transport and armoured fighting vehicles have been most effectively  attacked.  Throughout these operations. Wing Commander Bird-Wilson has set an example which has inspired all.”

(London Gazette – 9 January 1945)

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