For high school researcher Connor Webster looking into the life of a local WWII airmen, Pilot Officer Ashton Cohen, lost over Bochum Germany in 1944, brought a glimpse into the world of the teens who became men over night.
The young men who 70 years ago who fought in a war to bring freedom , presented Connor with a picture of life during a time when the next day could be your last.

by Connor Webster

Lest We Forget

P/O Ashton Irving Cohen
419 Squadron
6 Group Bomber Command (RCAF)
Royal Canadian Air Force

Personal Information

Ashton Irving Cohen was born September 24th 1923 in Pembroke, Ontario to his parents Sarah Eleanor Cohen and Nathan Cohen. Both Canadian citizens, Eleanor Cohen was born in Glasgow, Scotland and emigrated to Canada earlier in her life while his father, Nathan Cohen, was born in Montreal, Quebec. Ashton was the namesake of his mother's maiden name; she would serve as his next of kin upon enlistment. The youngest of four, Cohen's sister Schirley was two years older than him while his brother's Horace and Elliot were seven and nine years his senior. They also served during the Second World War (Military).
The Jewish family had resided at 214 Pembroke Street W. by the time Cohen enlisted for service in 1942. He had previously attended Pembroke Public School from 1929-1936 before beginning high school. Cohen was finishing the last of his exams by the time he enlisted for service as an 18 year old in April of 1942. He was an athletic young man, in good physical condition. At 5'9 and 150 pounds, Cohen engaged in many local sports such as rugby, hockey, basketball and swimming. Medical examination upon his enlistment entails that Cohen had few distinguishing marks or ways of identification; his medium complexion was accompanied by black hair and brown eyes, with an almost unnoticeable burn scar on his right thigh (Military).
Prior to enlisting in the Royal Canadian Air Force in April of 1942, Cohen served as a Cadet from 1936 to 1938 until he was 14 years old. Then, a year prior to the beginning of the war, Cohen enlisted in the Lanark and Renfrew Scottish Regiment in March of 1938. In his attestation, Cohen lied and stated his birthdate as April 24th 1922 to qualify as a young man approaching 16 (Military). During Cohen's service, the Regiment only ever served in a defence role here in Canada before becoming an artillery unit over the course of the war's later periods, serving in the Italian Campaign (1st). Because of his young age through a pre-war enlistment and the static, home-defence role of the Regiment, Cohen would not have seen active service in his three years with the unit, his term expiring in May of 1941. It instead would have been a role as a private much more akin to his previous cadet services.

Military Movements

Cohen's final Attestation Paper to enlist in the Royal Canadian Air Force was signed on April 20th 1942 at a recruiting centre in Ottawa, Ontario. He began his training as an Aircraftman at a manning depot in Lachine the same day. Cohen continued his training throughout Canada over the course of the following year serving at numerous locations, most notably Victoriaville and Camp Borden, before arriving in Halifax on the June 1st 1943 as a Sergeant Pilot. He embarked from Canada for the Royal Air Force trainer pool later that month, on June 23rd. A week later, on July 1st, he disembarked in Britain (Military).
Cohen's training continued in England throughout the following year with various advanced flying units and conversion units, promoted to a Flight Sergeant on February 14th 1944. He was taken on strength by the 419 Squadron ("Moose Squadron", see Appendix 1) the following summer, on August 10th 1944 (Military) and promptly completed his pilot operations on August 26th. Ashton Irving Cohen was now a Pilot Officer, with his own crew, flying an Avro Lancaster; he completed his first official operation less than two days later (Crew). Within two months, Ashton Irving Cohen and his crew of Lancaster KB754 was reported missing and presumed dead, on October 9th 1944.

The Final Days

At the time of Cohen's death, the 419th Squadron made up part Bomber Command's No 6 Group. The No 6 Group was defined by its distinct makeup of Royal Canadian Air Force squadrons, formed to serve as a distinguished Canadian effort amongst the ranks of Allied aircraft (Braham 1). Based out of Yorkshire, the No.6 oversaw up to 14 RCAF squadrons at the height of it's powers, achieving some of Bomber Command's greatest combat records in the process.
For an all-Canadian bomber group, the No.6's influence and accomplishments throughout the war was staggering. 40 000 operational sorties were flown over the entirety of the war; their records throughout 1944 and post D-Day, the months of Cohen's service, were remarkable. 25,000 operations were flown that year, dropping a massive 86,000 tons of explosive with the lowest loss percentage of Bomber Command. In August 1944 alone, the No 6 group dropped more bombs on Germany than the Luftwaffe had on London during the entire war, over 13 000 tons. In his few short months of service, Cohen was seemingly flying for the most active and accoladed Group of RCAF squadrons during the greatest allied air assaults of the war (Bomber).
Bomber Command served as the branch of the Royal Air Force which controlled strategic bombing operations over the course of the bombing campaign over Germany. The campaign itself was the only means by which British and commonwealth forces could assault continental Nazi-Europe throughout most of the war. Even after the invasion of Europe on D-Day in June of 1944, RAF and RCAF bombing raids continued to weaken German industry and terrorize its population.
Large, urbanized, industrial cities were targeted at this time, not only to maximize civilian casualty but to also weaken the German war machine and its economic capabilities. The Ruhr Region (see Appendix 2), or "Happy Valley" as it was referred to by some pilots (Logan), was the bane of Bomber Command and the 419th's main target throughout the summer and autumn of 1944. Densely populated, industrious urban centres such as Essen, Dortmund, Duisburg, Dusseldorf, Hamm and Bochum (the subject of Cohen's last raid) were subjected to "completely chaotic" assaults on their working population, night in, night out (Chen).
The 419 Squadron was flying operations out of air bases at RAF station Middleton St. George (see Appendix 3) by the week of Cohen's death on October 9th 1944. The 419 primarily began flying Avro Lancaster Mk. X's the previous spring, a four-engine, heavy bomber; the Mk. X model was manufactured in Canada and flown over the Atlantic to serve RAF and RCAF forces (Braham 5).
The 419 was heavily involved in the assault on the Ruhr Valley; Cohen had flown 15 sorties in the two months leading up to his death (Crew). Aircrew lists (such as his final one posted, see Appendix 4) confirm that Cohen and his crew, flying Lancaster KB 754, only flew one other sortie in the week prior to his death. No 6 Group launched its heaviest attack of the war on the night of October 6th, a raid against the city of Dortmund. KB 754 was one of 45 Canadian Lancasters that took off out of Yorkshire that evening, 293 6th Group aircraft in total. The operation was immensely successful. 273 RCAF bombers hit their target that night while only 5 of Bomber Command's aircraft were lost. Flying 523 operations from 3 different groups, statistically less than 1 % of all RAF and RCAF aircraft were shot down. Such immense firepower and the accuracy of which resulted in tremendously severe damage to Dortmund's industrial and transportation sectors. This raid in particular, in which Canadian bombers left one of Germany's greatest urban centres in catastrophic shambles, launched what was considered "The Second Battle of the Ruhr" revisiting relentless assaults on the industrial region, a tactic first occurring earlier in 1944 (Royal).

The crew of Cohen's Lancaster (see Appendix 5) consisted of 6 other airmen at the time of his death. P/O R.A. Campbell (Flight Engineer, the "grandfather" of the group at 26 years old), F/S L.F. O'Hara (Air Gunner), P/O J.H. Goldfinch (Bomb Aimer), P/O R.F. Emerson (Wireless Operator/Air Gunner), F/O G.W. Murphy (Navigator) and Sergeant J.F McQueen (Air Gunner) (Crew).
Their average day of service would've started by checking a battle order to see if they were to fly an operation that night, usually posted in the mess building. No initial details were given; they would be briefed later in the day. If not posted for a sortie, crew's would undertake a squadron exercise instead; cross country runs, bombing practice, dinghy training in a cold pond or various instructional courses would be partaken in instead. Crew's would try to keep things light and normal if posted for an operation, everyone knowing that the forthcoming night could be their last. Pilots and flight engineer's would check up on aircraft repairs (Logan), while the others might play snooker, cards, ping-pong and write letters to take their mind off of the mounting danger they would be facing that night. A briefing would occur only a few hours before takeoff, in which the Commanding Officer designated the specific target followed by additional information from an Intelligence Officer. Briefing would end with meetings between department heads and corresponding crew members, such as Navigation, Wireless Communications and Gunnery. Their last dinner would follow another anxious wait, at which point the crew would suit up and enjoy their last cigarette before take off. The crew would then board their respect aircraft, man their stations and run through an equipment checklist before being given the signal to start their engines. All operational aircraft would then taxi to the runway and begin taking off, 90 seconds apart (6).
The life of an aircrew was a dangerous one. Many didn't complete their first tour of 30 operations, the survival rate of a crew in the 419th was 2-3 months, managing to only complete around 20 missions (6). The crew of Lancaster KB 754 had completed 13 sorties together when they lost their lives in an October 9th assault on the German city of Bochum. Attacks on the Ruhr having intensified in previous days, 435 RAF and RCAF aircraft set out to exact greater damage to German industry by bombarding densely populated Bochum, neighbouring recently devastated Dortmund (RAF). Improper takeoff procedures always posed a threat to the aircraft's life, but more so that evening was the harrowing conditions.
Dark and cloudy, Cohen and his crew would have struggled to accurately attack and maneuver safely in such poor conditions, often flying in sub-zero temperatures. As a result, the turbid conditions that night lead to their downfall.
Passing over the coast, Cohen and his navigator, Murphy, would have set their course for Bochum. Bomber Command Squadron's flew in small groups, not large formations, as during night raids pilots were incapable of seeing fellow aircraft. Bomber's weren't equipped with lights, which would only give away their position in the sky, therefor pilots were seemingly blind during night raids. Cohen would've interpreted his controls, turbulence and degree of vision in the night to avoid collision with his fellow pilots and remain unseen from enemy fighters. Flying on course, the Lancaster essentially became a sitting duck for 2-3 minutes as it approached Bochum. Altitude and speed had to remain exact to execute the targeted bombing run. By 1944, German radar technology would have foreseen the incoming raid and sent squadrons of night fighters into Bochum airspace to defend the attack. The stalking beams of powerful searchlights and flak attacks from anti aircraft artillery added to the dangers Cohen and his crew faced (Logan).
It was returning from such dangers that the Lancaster came under attack. Their bombing run had just completed when the plane came under attack from a defending Luftwaffe aircraft, a Junkers Ju88. It would have been impossible to spot the enemy aircraft quickly enough, amidst such a clouded night. One of the Lancaster's gunners, Sergeant J.F. McQueen, did manage to spot the enemy aircraft and called for evasive maneuvers. It was too late. The bomber was hit and set on fire. Moments later, the aircraft exploded, killing Cohen and his entire crew with the exception of Sergeant McQueen, who was thrown out of his rear turret and managed to parachute safely into occupied Germany. The aircraft crashed in a small town called Hoxfeld (Military) McQueen was taken as a POW shortly thereafter (Crew).
The October 9th attack on Bochum proved to be futile; a failure in stark contrast to the massive assault on Dortmund just days before. Bombing was immensely scattered due to extreme lack of visibility, and the lack of coordination it entailed; only 140 buildings were destroyed(RAF). Cohen and the crew of KB 754 proved to be the only Lancaster casualty on the night . It would take another massive assault on Bochum on November 4th to truly destroy the city (see Appendix 6) (Royal).

Lest We Forget

Ashton Irving Cohen was decorated with 4 service medals after the war, received by his parents who were now living in Ottawa. The 1939-45 Star, awarded for at least 2 months of active air-crew service over the course of the war, the France and Germany Star, awarded for a day of active service in France, Holland, Belgium or Germany between June 6th 1944 (D-Day) and May 8th 1945 (VE Day), the Defence Medal, awarded for at least six months of service in Britain and finally, the Canadian Volunteer Service Medal, awarded for 18-months of voluntary service in the Canadian military from 1939-1947 (Military) (see Appendix 7).
Investigations following the death of Ashton Cohen and his crew give reason to believe that they were initially buried at a local German cemetery in Borken, promptly exhumed, then taken to be buried at a commonwealth cemetery after the war (Military). Today, he and the crew of Lancaster KB 754 are buried collectively at the Reichswald Forest British Military Cemetery in Germany (see Appendix 8). Interned in Row D of plot 21, graves 8-10 (see Appendix 9). Located in the small town of Kleve near the Dutch border, beautiful Reichswald Forest is today the largest commonwealth cemetery in west Germany. Many of it's inhabitants were lost in the battle of the Rhine or were downed airmen, much like the crew of Lancaster KB 754 (Reichswald).
He is forever commemorated on the Pembroke cenotaph (see Appendix 10) and page 276 of the Second World War book of remembrance (see Appendix 11). The sacrifice Ashton Irving Cohen and his crew members made, serves as an important reminder for the value of life, freedom and the immense horrors of the war. Like Cohen, my own Grandfather was pilot in Bomber Command, flying a DH Mosquito with the RAF's 82nd Squadron from 1943-1945. He clearly survived his active service, attributed by my presence here today, but the sacrifice Cohen made showcases the harrowing conditions, and terrifying risks, that these brave men faced. Seemingly just how close it could've come to my family not being here today. The RAF and RCAF faced some of the highest casualty rates of any active service during the war, yet men like Cohen and my Grandad would fly with their lives on the line, night after night, for the freedom of their own countries and their families at home. Such miraculous moral fibre is scarcely heard of today, yet it can be attested to thousands of young Canadians and Brits serving with the Royal and Royal Canadian Air Forces. Their bravery and sacrifice in the skies will forever be remembered. Ashton Irving Cohen had never previously flown an aircraft.
Appendix 11- Page 276, Second World War Book of Remembrance
Works Cited
"1st Air Defence Regiment (Lanark And Renfrew Scottish), RCA." National Defense and the Canadian Forces. N.p., 16 Mar. 2010. Web. 24 May 2015. "6) 419 Squadron." Jos Bachand RCAF. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 June 2015.
"About Bomber Command." Veterans Affairs Canada. N.p., 23 Oct. 2014. Web. 09 June 2015.
"Bomber Command No.6 (Royal Canadian Air Force) Group." Royal Air Force. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 June 2015
Braham, M. 6 (RCAF) Group- Bomber Command. N.p.: The Friends of the Canadian War Museum, n.d. PDF.
"Canadian Virtual War Memorial." Veterans Affairs Canada. 14 May 2015. Web. 20 May 2015.
Chen, C. Peter. "Bombing of Hamburg, Dresden, and Other Cities." WW2DB RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 May 2015.
"Crew Of Lancaster KB 754." 419 Squadron RCAF 1941-1945. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 June 2015.
Logan, Dan. "P/O Ashton Irving Cohen and Lancaster KB 754." E-mail interview. 8 June 2015.
Military service files of Pilot Officer Ashton Irving Cohen (RG 24, Volume 25076, No. 6791) obtained from Library and Archives Canada, 395 Wellington Street, Ottawa, Ontario)
"RAF Bomber Command's Last Major Raid on Bochum." World War II Today RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 June 2015.
"Reichswald Forest War Cemetery." CWGC -. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 May 2015.
"Royal Air Force Bomber Command 60th Anniversary- Campaign Diary October 1944." The National Archives. N.p., 6 Apr. 2005. Web. 11 June