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Fl/Lt. Neill Cox DFC and Bar

Fl/Lt. Neill Cox DFC and Bar. 

Born June 12th 1923, Weybridge Surrey. Died July 16th 2011 Age 88

Cox and his navigator, Bill Spearey, flew their first operation in a Beaufighter on September 23 1943, flying from Tunisia in search of German transport aircraft evacuating troops from Corsica. They intercepted a force of five Junker 52 aircraft and attacked, Cox destroying two after his leader had been shot down. As he left the area, he was fired on by German fighters; the undercarriage of his aircraft was damaged, forcing him to crash-land when he regained his airfield in Tunisia .

The next day the two men took off on a similar mission with five other aircraft. Off Bastia, in Corsica, they intercepted 15 Junker 52 transports and attacked them head on. Cox damaged one before homing in on their escorting fighters, one of which he probably brought down. As he left the scene, Spearey was badly wounded as the Messerschmitts opened fire. Cox’s tailplane was badly damaged, but he managed to keep control and evade the enemy before being forced to ditch off the Sardinian coast.

As the aircraft settled on the water, Cox scrambled out of the cockpit. He then broke into Spearey’s cockpit, extricated him and dragged him into their dinghy . Cox then swam for the shore, a mile distant, with the dinghy in tow. Arriving exhausted, he dragged the dinghy on to the beach before climbing some low cliffs. He was met by Italian soldiers who rushed Spearey to hospital, where he eventually recovered.

Cox was flown back to his Tunisian base by an American aircraft. He had been posted missing four days earlier, and was awarded an immediate DFC — a gesture that some of his colleagues felt did not adequately recognise his gallantry.

Neill Dudley Cox was born on June 12 1923 at Weybridge, Surrey, and educated at Charterhouse. 

After a short course at Oxford, he enlisted in the RAF in March 1941 and trained as a pilot . 

Posted to a Blenheim squadron, in May 1943 he set off from Cornwall to take an aircraft to the Middle East. The fuel gauge was faulty, and he landed at an American airfield in Morocco with only a few gallons left. 

He joined No 614 Squadron, flying coastal and convoy patrols off North Africa, before volunteering for No 39 Squadron and its Beaufighters.

After his adventures off Corsica, Cox had a brief period at Marrakesh, in January 1944, providing defensive patrols during the meeting of Roosevelt and Churchill at the Casablanca Conference. 

He then led many long-range fighter patrols, and during one such operation commanded six Beaufighters which broke up a large force of German torpedo bombers.

No 39 Squadron then embarked on night operations attacking shipping, flying from Alghero, in north-west Sardinia . 

During an attack off St Tropez, Cox scored a direct hit with his rockets on a 2,000-ton merchant ship. The vessel exploded, and the flying debris damaged his Beaufighter; Cox managed to land safely before discovering a large hole in the aircraft’s floor just behind his cockpit. He was awarded a Bar to his DFC .

After a spell as ADC to the Air Officer Commanding the Mediterranean Allied Air Force, Cox returned to England and in the New Year of 1945 he arrived at a Spitfire training unit. On February 14 he was taxiing his aircraft to the runway. There was a strong wind blowing, but he was unaware that a WAAF flight mechanic was sitting on the tail of the Spitfire to reduce the risk of the aircraft tipping on its nose.

When he received a green light to take off from the runway controller, he started his run. Encountering severe problems moving the elevators, he had great difficulty getting airborne; but he had managed to climb to 800ft before the strange shape on the tailplane was noticed from the ground. Unable to release the controls to bail out, he finally managed to complete a circuit and land his aircraft.

Cox returned to the flight line to see a very shaken, but uninjured, WAAF walking back from the runway. LACW Margaret Horton had clung to the tail of the Spitfire throughout the short flight, and it was the combination of her weight and her grip on the elevator which had caused the aircraft to misbehave.

The same Spitfire survives today and flies with the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight from RAF Coningsby.

In April 1945 Cox joined No 56 Squadron to fly the powerful Tempest fighter, attacking trains and road convoys from airfields in the Netherlands and Germany. 

When the war came to an end he collected captured German aircraft and flew them to Farnborough for technological evaluation. In July the next year he was released from the RAF.

Cox went up to Oxford to read Law, then practised for some years as a barrister. 

In 1962 he started farming near Henley-on-Thames, having had no experience beyond his perusal of Farmer’s Weekly. 

He enjoyed great success, particularly with his dairy herd of Friesians, scooping a number of prizes (including Supreme Champion) at an international dairy show in 1972.

In his day Cox was an outstanding tennis player : he was Surrey junior champion, captain of tennis at Oxford and represented the RAF, winning the RAF doubles championship; he also represented England , and after the war played at Wimbledon, in the men’s doubles and (with his sister, Joy) in the mixed doubles .

His first marriage, in 1947, to Jill Lumsden, was dissolved. He married secondly, in 1962, Pamela Fuller, who survives him with a son and daughter of his first marriage and two daughters of his second.

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

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