The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (402316) Flying Officer Rolla Maxwell Cooke, No. 145 Sqn RAF, Second World War.

Accession Number AWM2019.1.1.308
Collection type Film
Object type Last Post film
Physical description 16:9
Maker Australian War Memorial
Place made Australia: Australian Capital Territory, Canberra, Campbell
Date made 4 November 2019
Access Open
Conflict Second World War, 1939-1945
Copyright Item copyright: © Australian War Memorial
Creative Commons License This item is licensed under CC BY-NC
Copying Provisions Copyright restrictions apply. Only personal, non-commercial, research and study use permitted. Permission of copyright holder required for any commercial use and/or reproduction.

The Last Post Ceremony is presented in the Commemorative area of the Australian War Memorial each day. The ceremony commemorates more than 102,000 Australians who have given their lives in war and other operations and whose names are recorded on the Roll of Honour. At each ceremony the story behind one of the names on the Roll of Honour is told. Hosted by Sharon Bown, the story for this day was on (402316) Flying Officer Rolla Maxwell Cooke, No. 145 Sqn RAF, Second World War.

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Speech transcript

402316 Flying Officer Rolla Maxwell Cooke, No. 145 Sqn RAF
Accidentally killed 4 November 1941

Today we remember and pay tribute to Flying Officer Rolla Maxwell Cooke.

Rolla Cooke was born in November 1917, the only child of Lionel and Ellen Cooke of Mosman, New South Wales. His grandfather, Professor William Cooke, had been the New South Wales government astronomer and professor of astronomy at Sydney University. His father had obtained his pilot’s license in 1915 and served with the Royal Flying Corps during the First World War. After attending Sydney Grammar School, Rolla worked as a bank officer at the Bank of New South Wales in Sydney, and paraded part-time with the 52nd Anti-Aircraft Company at Middle Head.

Rolla enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force Reserve in April 1940. While waiting to be called-up for the Citizens Air Force, he married Betty Mosman Harrison at St Thomas Church in North Sydney, after a week-long engagement.

Rolla began full-time service with the Royal Australian Air Force in September 1940 and trained as a pilot under the auspices of the Empire Air Training Scheme. After Initial Training at Bradfield Park, he completed Elementary Flying Training School at Tamworth and Service Flying Training School at Amberley in Queensland. In February 1941, while learning to fly the CAC Wirraway at Amberley, Rolla was involved in a forced-landing when the aircraft lost fuel pressure, but both he and his flight instructor were able to walk away from the incident without injury.

Rolla sailed for the United Kingdom to join the Royal Air Force Fighter Command in March 1941. Upon arrival he was posted to No. 57 Operational Training Unit at RAF Hawarden in Wales to gain experience in learning to fly the single-seater Hawker Hurricane fighter aircraft. In September 1941, Rollo was posted to No. 145 Squadron RAF based at Catterick airfield in North Yorkshire, which was re-equipping with Supermarine Spitfires while retraining pilots and conducting patrols of the North Sea in preparation for a move to the Middle East theatre of operations.

On the afternoon of the 4th of November 1941, Rolla’s aircraft, Spitfire P7624, crashed whilst climbing after taking off from Catterick airfield. According to his family, the landing gear on Rollo’s aircraft had not been retracting properly; the issue was fixed, and Rollo was instructed by ground crews to give the Spitfire a vigorous test fly. Upon climbing to 400 feet, Rolla began performing aerobatics and lost control of the aircraft which dived and crashed. RAF crash investigators later determined that the starboard undercarriage leg had failed to retract fully which led to low airspeed, stall and crash of the aircraft, killing Rolla instantly.

A letter written by the minister of the St Stephen’s Church of Willoughby to the RAAF authorities tells something of the impact of Rolla’s loss to his young wife, Betty. “I broke the news of the accidental death in England to the wife of Pilot Officer Rolla Maxwell Cooke as notified in the official telegram of yesterday”, the letter reads:
I was able to offer Christian condolences to the young widow –it is a very sad case – she is expecting her first babe in about a month’s time. She was wonderfully brave.

Rolla never got to meet his son, David. Aged 23 when he died, Rolla was buried at Catterick Cemetery in Yorkshire near the airfield where he died. A small epitaph written by his grieving parents and widow appears on his headstone: “His Duty Nobly Done”.

Rolla’s name is listed on the Roll of Honour on my left, among almost 40,000 Australians who died while serving in the Second World War.

His is but one of the many stories of service and sacrifice told here at the Australian War Memorial. We now remember Flying Officer Rolla Maxwell Cooke, who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.

Aaron Pegram
Historian, Military History Section
663 words

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