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Flight Lieutenant Lew Cody

Flight Lieutenant Lew Cody

Born: May 15th 1918, London. Died: December 2009 Age: 91


Flight Lieutenant Lew Cody, who has died aged 91, was engaged in flying operations from the first day of the Second World War to the last, including bombing missions during the Battle of France and the Battle of Britain; after El Alamein he dropped paratroopers on the island of Kos and then flew on the three major airborne assaults in Europe.
Cody left for the Middle East in July 1942 to join No 216 Squadron, flying unarmed Hudsons in the transport role. He flew countless resupply and casualty evacuation flights in support of the Eighth Army, using rudimentary desert landing grounds, sometimes just hours after the withdrawal of German troops. On other occasions, as the Army retreated, he took off as the airstrips came under enemy shell fire.

In September 1942, Cody took men of the Long Range Desert Group into Kufra Oasis, the first of a number of such operations. On the night of October 23/24, as the Battle of El Alamein began, he flew one of four Hudsons behind enemy lines.

Each aircraft carried eight dummy parachute troops, which were dropped to divert the enemy’s attention; the dummies were equipped with time-delay fuses, and were set to explode after landing on the ground.

Over a period of 30 minutes, the aircraft released flares and dropped their “parachutists”. The close attention of light flak confirmed that the enemy was well aware of the “airborne landing”.

In mid-November the RAF established in great secrecy a landing ground deep inside enemy territory where two Hurricane squadrons were deployed to carry out attacks on the enemy’s rear. Cody flew in the initial supplies and supported the outpost until it was withdrawn a few days later.

After flying 700 hours in a year, Cody left to instruct at the Dakota training unit in Palestine, but his rest was short-lived. On the night of September 14 1943 he flew one of six Dakotas that made a low-level approach to the island of Kos in the Aegean, where he dropped men of the 11th Battalion Parachute Regiment.

The Germans soon gained air superiority, and the presence on Kos became untenable. During this ill-fated operation he made numerous landings on the basic airstrip, delivering more troops and supplies for a fighter squadron and evacuating casualties before the island fell.

Cody then dropped supplies to the garrison on Leros before it too fell. Finally, on two consecutive nights at the end of October he flew nine-hour sorties from Cairo to drop men of the Greek Sacred Squadron on Samos, the last Aegean island in Allied hands. He was awarded a DFC.

The eldest of seven children, Alfred Cody was born on May 15 1918, within the sound of Bow bells. He was brought up at Clerkenwell and educated at the local school. An outstanding boxer, he was London Boys’ Club flyweight champion; it was a skill he put to frequent use during his off-duty time in the RAF.

After two years’ service as an ordinary seaman in the RNVR, in November 1938 he enlisted in the RAF and trained as an observer before joining No 40 Squadron, equipped with the outdated Fairy Battle.
His squadron was sent to France on September 2 1939. Halfway across the Channel, the aircraft’s engine failed and the pilot was forced to ditch. Cody was picked up by a rescue launch but was unable to speak – he had a month’s pay in his mouth.

He flew reconnaissance sorties during the “Phoney War” before the squadron was re-equipped with the Blenheim. After the blitzkrieg on May 10 1940, they were immediately in action. The losses in the Blenheim force were among the highest, and Cody’s aircraft was the only one of four to return from the squadron’s first operation. By early June most of the original crews had been lost, and on two more occasions his was the only aircraft to return.

During the height of the Battle of Britain he attacked the German invasion barges gathering at the Channel ports. After 35 operations he was one of a handful of survivors. He was rested and awarded a DFM.

Cody was then trained as a pilot and commissioned, and his flying career continued to be full of incident. On his first operation as a pilot, his Blenheim was badly damaged by flak over Holland and – with most of his controls shot away and no hydraulics – he made a belly-landing back at his base. Soon afterwards he left for the Middle East.

Early in 1944 he returned to Britain to join one of the new squadrons preparing for the airborne invasion of Europe. Cody joined No 233 at Blakehill Farm, near Swindon, and on the night of June 5/6 joined a stream of 362 transport aircraft dropping men of the 3rd Parachute Brigade at Toufreville. The following night he dropped supplies to the paratroopers at Ranville.

Ten days after the invasion Cody took supplies to one of the hastily prepared landing strips (B2) in Normandy, and on his return flight brought out 22 wounded, the first of many such “casevac” flights.

On September 18 he took off for Arnhem, but the glider he was towing broke loose over Suffolk. A second attempt the following day was successful. As the situation on the ground became desperate, he flew resupply sorties over the next two days; his aircraft was badly damaged by flak on each occasion.

On January 9 1945 Cody took off from Eindhoven in poor weather. His Dakota was struck by another aircraft and six feet of his aircraft’s wing disappeared. With his slight build, he could control the aircraft only by standing, while his co-pilot placed both feet on the starboard rudder pedal. Yet he managed to land the heavily-laden transport, and was awarded an AFC.

Cody’s final airborne operation was to tow a Horsa glider on Operation Varsity, the crossing of the Rhine. On the last day of the war he was ordered to fly to Copenhagen, which had just been liberated. His was the first Allied aircraft to land. On his return via Lubeck he brought 30 PoWs back to Britain.

In June, Cody and his crew were selected to be Field Marshal Montgomery’s personal crew. Cody celebrated the news in fine style and had to be woken the next morning for a VIP flight. His navigator taxied the aircraft from dispersal whilst the rest of the crew attempted to sober up their pilot – they failed. Cody missed his appointment with Monty and within days found himself posted elsewhere as a flying instructor.

A pugnacious and irreverent character, Cody’s favourite phrase late at night was: “I can punch my weight.” Fortunately, his wireless operator, who accompanied him everywhere, was well over 6ft tall and a former commando. His navigator commented: “For all his high spirits on the ground, he was marvellous in the air and immensely brave. It was men like Lew who won the war.”

Cody remained in the RAF as a flying instructor and served in Rhodesia and with the Germany Training Mission before becoming a photographic interpreter. He left the RAF in 1964 and for five years he and his wife ran a country pub at Thorpe Waterville in Northamptonshire.

He then returned to flying, and from 1970 to 1976 was a flying instructor at King Faisal’s Air Academy in Saudi Arabia. He later worked in the travel industry, retiring in 1987.

“Lew” Cody married, in 1941, Marie Bulbrook, who cared for him selflessly in his final years. She survives him with their son and daughter. Their eldest daughter died in infancy.

Reprinted with the kind permission of the Daily Telegraph obituaries column.
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Article prepared by Barry Howard.

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 • Last Modified: 02 July 2019, 13:40