Celebration for ex-Spitfire pilot as he turns 100 in Lowestoft

Former Spitfire pilot Tony Cooper from Lowestoft.

Former Spitfire pilot Tony Cooper from Lowestoft. - Credit: Nick Butcher

Distinguished guests from across the country gathered to celebrate the remarkable life of a former Spitfire pilot to mark his 100th birthday.

Tony Cooper pictured in his younger years. Pictures: Nick Butcher

Tony Cooper pictured in his younger years. Pictures: Nick Butcher - Credit: Nick Butcher

Tony Cooper, of Oulton Broad, flew a total of 3,200 hours, 160 operational sorties and survived five forced landings - two of them at night, two on fire and one as a result of being hit by enemy fire.

Notably, he flew twice on D-Day – the first as part of an 13-aircraft formation providing Fighter cover for Utah beach and the second over Omaha beach.

More than 100 guests arrived at the Ivy House Country Hotel on Saturday, February 6 to recall memories of his life, with the pilots of the Royal Air Force Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (RAFBBMF) - based RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire - making the journey to Lowestoft to be part of the celebrations.

A replica Spitfire aircraft, built by Terry Arlow, was situated outside the venue to remind guests of Tony Cooper's flying past.

John Pilling, a close friend of Tony Cooper and fellow member of Lowestoft Rotary Club, said: 'It was a really nice party, with 105 guests attending in total.

'There was music playing and the food was very good.

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'It was great that the pilots came down – it just had everything.

'He gets very tired now but he is an amazing chap. He has been very active up to very recently – just two years ago he drove down to Italy.'

A number of speeches were also read out at the party, including one about the flight history of the Battle of Britain.

They had hoped for a Spitfire to fly-over the venue but, due to the high winds, it was not possible to do so.

Last year Tony Cooper was awarded the L'ordre national de la Légion d'honneur medal from France for his Spitfire flying during the Second World War.

Upon receiving his medal, flight lieutenant Cooper - who has two children, five grandchildren and a four great-grandchildren - said: 'The beautiful medal is incredible and the French have got it right.'

Tony Cooper was born in 1916 and went to a boarding school at the age of seven in Beccles. He then went to Framlingham for two years but suffered Diphtheria twice, before attending a boarding school in Bishop Stortford for six years.

At the age of 21, in 1937, Tony Cooper was accepted for pilot training in the RAF Volunteer Reserve at Luton. After progressing onto a flying instructor's course, he was posted to Ontario, in Canada, in November 1940 to help with flying training in the country.

He then met and married a Canadian girl named Pearl, who he was married to for 56 years. After returning to Great Britain, the next important milestone was when Tony Cooper embarked on a Spitfire course in Shropshire. After being assessed as an above average spitfire pilot, he joined the No 64 Squadron stationed in Ayr, Scotland in July 1943. He served the next 16 months with the squadron, with many operations over occupied Europe. In late June, the squadron moved to Harrowbeer in Devon and, a few months later, he was involved in sorties in support of Operation Market Garden - the Arnhem-Para Landings.

In November 1944, Tony Cooper went back to instructing. His last sortie in the RAF was on the June 18, 1945.

He then returned home to Lowestoft, where he was the fifth generation to work at W.B Cooper LTD, near the Town Hall. Do you know someone who is turning 100? Email joe.randlesome@archant.co.uk