Mystery solved in case of WWII soldier killed while sailing home

Nigel Robert Chadwick with a picture of Sgt Cookson
Nigel Robert Chadwick with a picture of Sgt Cookson

A Chorley man has unravelled a 70-year-old mystery about an RAF sergeant from the town who died as he was making his way home during World War Two.

Nigel Robert Chadwick, 68, contacted the Guardian after reading an article about RAF Sgt Edward Cookson who was serving with 238 Squadron when he died while sailing from North Africa to the UK back in 1942.

Sgt Cookson was a passenger on the Laconia, a large armed merchantman which was previously a Royal Mail ship and liner.

The ship was carrying 2.275 passengers including 286 British military person and 80 civilians when it was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat in the South Atlantic Ocean.

It was believed that more than 1,000 people died after the attack and Sgt Cookson was one of them.

Local historian Steve Williams appealed for information about what happened to Sgt Cookson and why he was on the board when he was from the RAF,

However, Mr Chadwick of Pilling Lane, has been able to shed some light on Sgt Cookson’s death.

He said: “Edward Oswald Cookson was my uncle and he had been in the Far East in 1938.

“He was coming home from the war when the boat was torpedoed.

“It was strange because my grandma Gertrude had sent some money over in the post so that he could get back sooner by aeroplane.

“Unfortunately, it took a long time during the war for the money to arrive so it was tragic that he could still be alive if he had flown back.

“He had sent letters back home saying that he was looking forward to seeing his new nephew - me.

“The family was shocked when they heard about the ship being sunk.

“He was a great swimmer and my grandparents never gave up hope that he was alive.

“We later found out that the boat had sunk 100 miles off the coast in shark infested water so we knew that he would have struggled to make it ashore.”

A dramatisation of the story of the Laconia was recently broadcast on BBC television which Mr Cookson watched.

He said: “I never saw my uncle but I have heard he was a great lad. We have heard reports that he liked to entertain people and was playing the ukulele on the main deck of the boat before it was torpedoed.

“He liked photography as well because he took lots of pictures of the pyramids and even a German motorcycle stranded in the middle of the desert.

“He thought it was really funny that it was there.”

Sgt Cookson lived in Coppull while a lot of his family lived in Euxton and worked at the Royal Ordnance Factory site.