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Cooper, Glen Albert (1915–1986)

by Don Lancaster

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Glen Albert Cooper (1915-1986), air force officer, was born on 20 November 1915 at Glenferrie, Melbourne, second child of Victorian-born parents Leslie Claude Cooper (d.1934), carpenter and later butcher-shop proprietor, and his wife Nellie, née McDowell. Baptised into the Churches of Christ, Glen was educated at state schools at Mitcham, Kew and East Kew, and to Intermediate certificate level at Melbourne High School, before finding work as a manchester salesman. As a boy he had learned the trumpet. Family tradition has it that the money earned in competitions and in dance bands enabled him to remain in school.

On 16 July 1934 Cooper enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force as an aircraft-hand. He remustered as a clerk and bandsman, and in 1936 began flying training, an unusual privilege for a man of his rank in the 1930s. Graduating as a sergeant in December, he spent five months with No.1 Squadron at Laverton before being recalled to No.1 Flying Training School, Point Cook, as an instructor, another indication of rare ability.

Cooper was commissioned in the Permanent Air Force on 1 June 1939. On 24 June that year at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Melbourne, he married with Catholic rites Doreen May Freeland, a hairdresser. He resigned his commission in August and the couple moved to Adelaide, where he was appointed chief flying instructor with the Royal Aero Club of South Australia. In July 1940, however, he was recalled to the Active List of the Citizen Air Force. Promoted to flying officer in August, he filled instructional posts at Parafield, and at Camden and Narromine, New South Wales. In July 1942 he was posted to No.2 Operational Training Unit, Mildura, Victoria, where, by this time a flight lieutenant, he trained as a fighter pilot.

From October 1942 Cooper flew for short periods with Nos 23, 83 and 86 squadrons, gaining operational experience with the last of these at Merauke, Netherlands New Guinea. Finally, in September 1943 he assumed command of No.80 Squadron at Townsville, Queensland, as a temporary squadron leader. Flying Kittyhawks, the unit was based successively from February 1944 at Nadzab, Cape Gloucester, Aitape, Hollandia, Biak and Noemfoor, advancing with the army as it occupied New Guinea and the nearby islands. For the `utmost daring’ with which he led his squadron in many dive-bombing and strafing attacks on the enemy throughout the campaign, Cooper was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Relinquishing his command in July 1944, Cooper returned to Australia and in October was posted to No.2 OTU as an instructor. In January 1945 he was promoted to temporary wing commander. He converted to Spitfires and in March succeeded Group Captain Clive Caldwell as officer commanding No.80 Wing at Morotai, Netherlands East Indies, where the RAAF was concentrating for the forthcoming invasion of Borneo. After the war ended, he was promoted to acting group captain in September and given command of No.81 Wing, equipped with Mustang fighters, which arrived in Japan in March 1946 as part of the occupation forces. He returned to Air Force Headquarters, Melbourne, in June 1947.

In September 1948 Cooper received a permanent commission as an acting wing commander. Although lack of seniority prevented promotion to the highest ranks, his talents were rewarded with an unusual number of commands: No.1 FTS (1949-50); No.21 Squadron, one of the first Australian squadrons to fly jet fighters (1950-52); North-Western Area, Darwin (1952-54); No.78 Wing when the Sabre aircraft were deployed from Australia to Malaya for active operations (1957-60); and the RAAF Base, Williamtown, New South Wales, during the introduction of the supersonic Mirage fighter (1966-70). For his leadership at No.78 Wing, Cooper was awarded the Air Force Cross (1959).

Cooper was superintendent of the RAAF at the Weapons Research Establishment, Woomera, in 1962-63. Between 1963 and 1966 he was air attaché in Paris, where he was involved in planning for the introduction of the Mirage into RAAF service. For this work he was appointed a commander of the National Order of Merit by the French government in 1967. Having risen to group captain in January 1957, he was promoted to acting air commodore in November 1966 (substantive October 1968). He retired in 1970 to bayside Melbourne and the challenges of the Victoria Golf Club. That year he was appointed CBE.

Compact and athletic, gentlemanly in manner and appearance, with fair hair and a clipped moustache, Cooper epitomised the contemporary ideal of a fighter pilot. He commanded with generosity and good humour, expecting high self-discipline from his pilots but encouraging them to enjoy the adventure and high spirits he associated with flying fighters. Survived by his wife, and their son and daughter, he died of cancer on 6 April 1986 in East Melbourne and was cremated with Anglican rites and full air force honours.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Odgers, Air War Against Japan 1943-1945 (1957)
  • G. Odgers, The Royal Australian Air Force (1965)
  • A. Stephens, Going Solo (1995)
  • Units of the Royal Australian Air Force, vol 2 (1995)
  • J. H. Harding, It Had to B.U. (1996)
  • F. Morton, taped interview with Cooper (1980, National Library of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Don Lancaster, 'Cooper, Glen Albert (1915–1986)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/cooper-glen-albert-12352/text22103, published in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 31 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

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