1921/05/31 - Born Rotherham, Yorkshire
Son of Charles and Eliza Cook
Royal Air Force
413 Squadron was a Canadian Squadron but in early in 1942 it was staffed mainly by British RAF and based in the Shetland Islands. After the Japanese entered the war 413 Squadron was moved to Ceylon as a reconnaissance force.
On 4th April 1942, 48 hours after their arrival at Ceylon, Squadron Leader Birchall and his crew, which included William were patrolling the Indian Ocean South of Ceylon in a PBY Catalina flying boat (AJ155/QL-A). Nine hours into the flight, with the plane about to return to base, ships were spotted. Squadron Leader decided to investigate and found it was a large Japanese fleet, the Nagumo Task Force. This force was involved in the attack on Pearl Harbour and including five aircraft carriers. The Japanese force was now heading for Ceylon, which at that time was the base for the Royal Navy's Eastern Fleet. Birchall's crew managed to send out a radio message warning of the Japanese approach, but the Catalina was soon shot down by six A6M2 Zero fighters from the carrier ‘Hiry’.
The Japanese continued to fire on the wreck and Sergeant John Henzell, in the front turret, was seriously wounded. The Catslina finally sank taking both Sergeant Henzell and Warrant Officer Lucien "Louis" Colarossi with it. The Japanese continued their attack on those crew members who had taken to the water and Sergeant Davidson was killed. The Japanese destroyer ‘Isokaze’ picked up William and the other five remaining crew members.
The Japanese attack on Ceylon went ahead but the warning from the Birchall’s crew put the Allies on the alert and allowed the harbour to be partially cleared before the ‘The Easter Sunday Raid’ went ahead.
Because of Squadron Leader Birchall warning he was nicknamed ‘The Saviour of Ceylon’ and Post War became .
1942/04/04 - Captured Indian Ocean
For the first few days the crew were locked in the ships paint locker. They were then moved to the Japanese flagship as the Japanese were worried that Ceylon had been warned of their approach, they were brutally interrogated. By not telling the Japanese that a warning was given the attack had gone ahead.
William was taken with the rest of the crew to Yokohama, Japan and they were paraded through the streets, being stoned and spat on by the crowds in retaliation for a bombing raid by the Americans which had just taken place on Tokyo.
Ofuna Interrogation Centre awaited them just South of the Centre of Yokohama.
PoW No. II 311
Japanese Index Card - Side One
Japanese Index Card - Side Two
New PoW No. 4414
Transferred to Tokyo 5B
New PoW No. 726
1945/09/05 - Liberated Tokyo 5B, Japan
William, or Uncle Bill as Arthena Trevitt knew him, was too sick at the end of the war to be repatriated to Britain . His leg had been shattered during the action and he was mostly unable to walk.
He is said to have been a tailor in the PoW Camps.
Bill went to New Zealand on the hospital ship HMHS Tjitjalengka. On arrival in New Zealand he was sent to Cornwall Park hospital in Auckland.
William ‘Ginger’ Cook far left Arriving at Auckland
Some New Zealand RAF nurses had volunteered to go to Auckland and nurse, what they were told was a boat load of women and children fresh from the camps in the Far East. They bought a whole load of female comforts for them and the ladies turned out to be men ! Bill was one of them.
After Bill had his leg removed he fell for one of the nurses, Aileen Warburton, and they were married. They were due to return to Britain for his demob but the day before sailing he had a medical and was told he wouldn’t survive the journey. Bill is buried in a serviceman’s plot at Waikumete Cemetery.
Aileen was Arthenia’s mothers sister.
Bill and Aileen had no children.
Arthena Trevitt - Niece
Saviour of Ceylon
KEW Files:- WO 361/1970, WO 361/1970, WO 392/23, WO 345/11,