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Air Marshal Sir William Coles (41379)

Sir William ColesWilliam Edward                        b: 26 Jul 1913                       r: 24 Aug 1968                     d: 7 Jun 1979

KBE - 1 Jan 1967 (CBE – 1 Jan 1952), CB – 8 Jun 1963, DSO – 2 Feb 1945, DFC – 7 Apr 1942, Bar – 14 Nov 1944, AFC – 1 Jan 1944, DFC (US) – 30 Jun 1944.  

For a list of foreign decoration abbreviations, click here

Act Plt Off (P): 14 Dec 1938 [6 Oct 1938], Plt Off (P): 3 Sep 1939, Plt Off: 6 Oct 1939, Fg Off (WS): 3 Sep 1940, Flt Lt (WS): 3 Sep 1941, Act Sqn Ldr: xx xxx xxxx, Act Wg Cdr: 30 Mar 1943, Sqn Ldr (WS): 30 Sep 1943, (T) Sqn Ldr: 3 Dec 1946 [1 Jul 1944], Sqn Ldr: 26 Mar 1946 [1 Jan 1945],  Wg Cdr: 1 Jul 1947 [1 Oct 1946], Gp Capt: 1 Jul 1952, Act A/Cdre: 16 Dec 1957?, A/Cdre: 1 Jul 1958, Act AVM: 15 Dec 1960, AVM: 1 Jan 1961, Act AM: 18 May 1966, AM: 1 Jul 1966.

Sir William Coles

by Walter Bird
bromide print, 10 October 1963
NPG x166662

© National Portrait Gallery, London


xx xxx xxxx:         Policeman, Stoke Newington.

14 Dec 1938:         Appointed to a Short Service Commission

xx xxx 1938:           U/T Pilot,

xx xxx xxxx:            Pilot, No 216 Sqn.

1942                      served in Middle East

 6 Oct 1942:           Transferred to the Reserve and recalled for Air Force Service.

xx May 1943:         Officer Commanding, No 117 Sqn.

xx Jul 1944:            Officer Commanding, No 233 Sqn.

xx xxx 1945:           Attended RAF Staff College.

xx xxx 1945:           Officer Commanding, School of Air Transport

26 Mar 1946:          Appointed to a Permanent Commission in the rank of Squadron Leader (retaining rank current at the time) [wef 1 Sep 1945 antedated to 1 Jun 1944 on 25 Feb 1947]

xx xxx 1946:           Staff Officer, Directorate of Operational Training.

xx xxx 1948:           Squadron Commander, Empire/Central Flying School.

xx xxx 1950:           Officer Commanding, RAF Middleton St George.

xx xxx 1951:           Chief Flying Instructor, Central Flying School.

23 Mar 1953:         Head of RAF Element, UK Service Liaison Staff/Air Adviser to UK High Commissioner in Australia.

20 Oct 1955:          Air Staff - Training, HQ Flying Training Command.

xx xxx 1957:           Attended Imperial Defence College.

16 Dec 1957:          SASO, HQ No 3 (Bomber) Group.

15 Dec 1960:          AOC, No 23 (Training) Group.

23 Sep 1963:          Director-General of RAF Personal Services.

18 May 1966:         AOC in C, Technical Training Command.

Joining the RAF on a Short Service Commission in 1938, he served throughout WW2 in the Middle East, North Africa, Italy, Burma and Northern Europe.  Taking command of No 117 Sqn in May 1943, then based in N. Africa equipped with Lockheed Hudsons, he was involved in supply flights in support of 8th Army operations.  In October 1943, he led his squadron to India, now equipped with Dakotas, and begun to train in supply dropping which the squadron undertook operationally for the first time in February 1944.  These operations were in support of Orde Wingate's 'Chindit' campaign. 

However, in June 1944 he returned to Britain taking command of No 233 Sqn, also equipped with Dakotas, but now involved in the daily shuttle flights between the advanced bases on the continent and the UK, taking supplies and personnel out and evacuating casualties back.  In September 1944 the squadron was also heavily involved in the Arnham operation.   Early in 1945, he attended the RAF Staff  College and shortly afterwards was awarded a Permanent Commission in the rank of Squadron Leader.

A keen and talented sportsman, he was a pre-war captain of the Oxfordshire Rugby Union team and played for Blackheath as well as eventually becoming President of the RAF Rugby Union.  In 1948 he drove the RAF bobsleigh in the Olympics at St Moritz.  Following his retirement from the RAF in August 1968, he became Controller of the RAF Benevolent Fund, a post he held until 1975 when he relinquished it, becoming a Member of the Council of both the RAF Benevolent Fund and the RAFA at that time.

Citation for the award of the Distinguished Service Order

“Acting Wing Commander William Edward COLES (41579), R.A.F.O., 233 Sqn.

This officer has displayed high qualities of leadership, great skill and courage in operations against the enemy.  In September, 1944, he led the squadron on several supply dropping missions to our forces in the neighbourhood of Arnhem.  On one occasion, whilst over the dropping zone his aircraft sustained severe damage and became difficult to control.  In spite of this Wing Commander Cole made a second run over the target to release the remainder of his containers.  He afterwards flew the badly damaged aircraft to base. He displayed superb skill and .great personal courage.”

(London Gazette – 2 February 1945)

Citation for the award of the Distinguished Flying Cross

COLES, William Edward, F/L (41379, Royal Air Force) - No.216 Squadron - awarded as per London Gazette dated 7 April 1942.  Flight Sergeant W.A. Fisher awarded DFM on same mission.

 "On 29th November 1941, this officer was the captain of one of three aircraft which carried important personnel from Advanced Air Headquarters to Tobruk.  The area was surrounded by enemy ground forces.  When Flight Lieutenant Coles arrived in the vicinity of Tobruk an enemy bombing raid was in progress.  The whole of the defences were firing, but Flight Lieutenant Coles, realizing the importance of his mission, courageously flew through the defences and made a safe landing.  Enemy aircraft, whose pilots had observed the illuminated flarepath, attempted to destroy his aircraft on the ground, but having accomplished his mission, Flight Lieutenant Coles took off in the dark and flew back to base, thus saving his aircraft.  Throughout, he displayed great courage and determination."

(Source - Royal Air Force Quarterly, September 1942)

Citation for the award of the Bar to the Distinguished Flying Cross

COLES, William Edward, A/W/C, DFC, AFC (41379, Royal Air Force) - No.117 Squadron - awarded as per London Gazette dated 14 November 1944. 

 "This officer has successfully completed many hazardous missions despite ground opposition, adverse weather and terrain.  His leadership and courage have played a major part in the splendid work of his squadron.  The operations have involved dropping supplies mainly by night under enemy small arms and anti-aircraft fire.  On one occasion in May 1944, he was called upon to land by night on a strip 700 yards long on soft ricefields to evacuate serious casualties.  Heavy rain squalls completely drenched the strip.  Wing Commander Coles displayed superb airmanship in taking off his aircraft under such difficult circumstances and returning safely to base with twelve of the most serious cases."

(No citation in that publication; following text from Flight, 21 December 1944; relevant Air Ministry Bulletin may have more)

Citation for the award of the Air Force Cross

COLES, William Edward, A/W/C, DFC (41379, Royal Air Force) - No.117 Squadron - awarded as per London Gazette dated 1 January 1944. 

 "This officer has commanded No.117 Squadron  throughout the Sicilian campaign.  He is an outstanding transport pilot who has completed many hundreds of hours flying while in command of a flight of Bombay aircraft.  In the face of adverse circumstances he has invariably displayed keenness and enthusiasm for his duties."

(Source - Air 2/8959)

This page was last updated on 11/03/24

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