Remembering the Fallen: on this day in 1943, Pilot Officer Patrick Cloud Cotter, 50 Squadron, the Royal Air Force, drowned after his plane went down in the Channel after a failed bombing raid.
The eldest son of a vicar, he was educated at Oxford Preparatory School, where he won several academic prizes and was a noted cricket player. He won a scholarship to Lancing College, where he joined the Officers’ Training Corps, and went on to achieve a B.A. at Hertford College, Oxford. He spent a year teaching at Marlborough College before attending Wells Theological College. In 1933 he became Deacon of St. Mary’s Church in Hendon.
At the outbreak of the second world war, Pilot Officer Cotter was employed as an Inspector of Probation Officers with the Police Court Probation Branch of the Home Office. He was then seconded to the Ministry of Home Security. In 1942 he joined the Royal Air Force, completed training as a navigator and was posted to 50 Squadron.
On the day before his death he went on his first operational mission and flew as second navigator, taking off in the evening from R.A.F. Skellingthorpe for a raid on the Skoda factory at Pilsen in Czechoslovakia. The factory had been forced to provide armaments for the Wehrmacht.
Towards midnight Pilot Officer Cotter’s plane was on the way to the target and twenty miles to the west of Saarbrucken when an enemy plane approached and attacked. They opened fire and before the plane hit the ground another appeared, which they outmanoeuvred and continued on until caught in searchlights, the plane being greatly damaged. (Despite it being a moonlight evening, the bombers launched an attack on a large building some seven miles from the target, and killed two hundred German soldiers who were stationed in nearby barracks).
It was four o’clock in the morning when Pilot Officer Cotter’s plane was forced to ditch in the Channel on the journey home. Their dinghy was damaged and could not accommodate all of them, so the pilot, Flying Officer Henry Elderfield, set out to swim to the French coast, five miles away, and was not seen again. Sergeant Harold Hinchcliffe also died that morning.
A school friend of Pilot Officer Cotter said of him: “It was a fine ending to a life that was full of heroism from the day when, at his own urgent request, he was released from a safe job for war service and training of an arduous kind, which must have imposed on a man of his temperament a terribly heavy strain”.
Patrick has no grave, and is remembered on the Runnymede Memorial in Englefield Green, Surrey. From Chirton, Wiltshire, he was 33 years old.