(51)  Walter Patrick Copinger


(51) Walter Patrick Copinger

Born in Manchester at 2.50 p.m. on 24th March 1913 Walter Patrick Copinger's first memories were of living at 'Lyndhurst,' 15 Stanley Avenue, Alperton, Middlesex. Like his father he was known by his second christian name and not his first. He went to a preparatory school in Ealing and from 18th September 1926 to Hurstpierpoint College, a boarding school in Sussex, which he left in July 1930 aged 17.

His mother gave him a driving licence for his 17th birthday and his father bought a second hand Austin 12 Windsor saloon car, which was called Harriet after an Aunt. He taught himself to drive and that August drove the family to Devon for a holiday. He tried to teach his mother to drive but on the second time out she hit a lamp-post. On the third, and last, time out she crashed the car at a cross-roads near home. No one was hurt.

With private tuition from his uncle, Wilfrid Copinger, who was the headmaster of Belsize School in Hampstead, he entered Faraday House Electrical Engineering College in Southampton Row. He became a graduate of electrical engineers, was granted a diploma of Faraday House and A.M.I.E.E. after four years.

On 2nd November 1932, like his father & grandfather before him, he had enlisted in the Territorial Army becoming Private 6826399 in the Infantry Battalion of the Honorable Artillery Company. According to his discharge certificate he served four years and 197 days in the H.A.C. and was discharged "for the purpose of being appointed to a commission" on 17th May 1937.

In 1935 Swinfen Bramley-Moore, an old family friend and inventor, employed him as an electrical consultant. While working on an oil refining process experiment there was an explosion burning his hands and face as a result of which he was taken to University College Hospital.

One of the nurses at University College Hospital was Phyllis Marguerite Sodeau daughter of old family friends Dr. & Mrs Sodeau. The following report appeared in the Daily Sketch of 17th March 1936.

"An accident which temporarily blinded an Air Force officer led to an engagement just announced between Mr. W.P. Copinger, a pilot in the R.A.F. and Miss Phyllis Sodeau, daughter of the late Dr. Sodeau, torpedo expert. Mr. Copinger was in a serious accident and was taken to University College Hospital. Miss Sodeau, who is an old friend of the family, was a nurse at the same hospital. It was not her duty to nurse him, but when she heard he was a patient in the next ward she spent her spare time reading to him and trying to cheer him up instead of taking her "time off." Now he is better the young couple plan to be married next year."

Phyl is reported as saying that the above report is not an entirely accurate representation of the situation, although not in those precise words. Nevertheless Pat and Phyl were married on 10th April 1939 at the Catholic Apostolic Church, Gordon Square, London.

During his convalescence, and to help in getting his badly burnt hands working properly after the accident, Pat designed and drew up full working plans for a 3 wheel sports car. He subsequently built the car which was known as the Patcop Special. Phyl was honoured with a run in it.

In 1937 Pat was appointed to a Short Service Commission in the R.A.F. As a result of the war he remained in the R.A.F for longer than originally intended. He was Flight Lieutenant in 1940, promoted to Squadron Leader in 1941 and acting Wing Commander in 1943.

It was while stationed at R.A.F. Driffield in Yorkshire, in December 1939, that Pat formed and became the conductor of the Aero Aces Dance Band. The Driffield Times reported on 3rd February 1940 that the first Official R.A.F. Dance had been held in Driffield Town Hall on the previous Tuesday and that the Aero Aces Dance band, dressed in Hungarian costume, conducted by Flying Officer Copinger, had formed a 'pleasing ensemble.'

Leaving Bomber Command in September 1940 on promotion to Flight Lieutenant he went to work at the underground Area Combined Headquarters at Chatham during the Battle of Britain. On 17th December 1940 Pat & Phyl's first child, Marguerite Ann, was born at Phyl's mother's house in Horsham. In 1941 Pat was posted to No. 1 Signals School, Cranwell, in command of a flight of eight aircraft, DH89's, DH86B's and Proctors, training radio operators to work the morse key while being flown around the country.

At Christmas 1941 he was promoted to Squadron Leader and posted to H.Q. No. 44 Group Transport Command, Gloucester as Training Staff Officer. Pat and Phyl rented ‘Court Cottage' at Little Whitcombe, in the Cotswolds. It was while living there that their second child, Dominick Paul was born on 31st March 1943 at Sunnyside Nursing Home in Cheltenham. Also in 1943 Pat was promoted to Acting Wing Commander and was sent overseas to Rabat Sale in French Morocco, where he was initially appointed W/C Flying and was Second in Command of the station. He subsequently took command of the R.A.F. Station. After about nine months at Rabat Sale he was posted to H.Q. 216 Group, Heliopolis, Egypt to help form and command a new operations room and area command centre for Transport Command at the Villa Rose.

Demobbed in March 1946 Pat got a job as the manager of Tranters Electrical Contractors & Decorators of 44 The Mall, Ealing, although still looking for an aviation related job. In September 1947, while living at 20 Sherborne Ave., Norwood Green, Southall, he started working at R.A.F. Uxbridge as an Air Traffic Controller. Subsequently he worked at London Airport, Lymne in Kent, and London Air Traffic Control Centre, West Drayton. In 1951 Pat purchased his first tape recorder and started on a hobby in which he remained very active for the rest of his life. It was also while living in Norwood Green that Pat purchased a 25ft Thames cruiser which he named ‘Ballyverine’, from the comedian Ronald Shiner. This provided many happy holidays for the family on the Thames and the Grand Union Canal. Each member of the family was given a crew position and henceforth for the rest of their lives Pat was known as Skip within the family as the skipper and Phyl was known as Mate, as the first mate. Ballyverine was however not a seagoing boat and Pat subsequently purchased a 36ft twin screw diesel engined sail assisted sea going motor cruiser named White Orchid. This purchase was not entirely successful. There was rot in part of the hull and the engine failed when entering Ostend harbour in Belgium during the 1954 rally of the Thames Motor Cruising Club of Hampton Court (subsequently Thames Motor Yacht Club).

In 1958 Pat was posted to the Scottish Air Traffic Control Centre at Prestwick and as a result the family moved house to 2 Seaford St., Kilmarnock, Ayrshire. It was while the family was living in Kilmarnock that all three children left home, and married.

On promotion in 1969 Pat was posted to Stanstead Airport to take charge of an Air Traffic Control Field Training Unit and so Pat and Phyl moved house again to Parsonage Rd., Takeley, in Essex. On closure of this unit in February 1972 Pat was posted to the College of Air Traffic Control at Hurn Airport, Bournemouth, in charge of all teaching aspects of air traffic control and went to live at 'The Cottage' 39, Dudsbury Ave., Ferndown in Dorset.

While living in Kilmarnock Pat had taught himself to play the church organ, using the organ of Holy Trinity Church, Kilmarnock where he was also in the choir and part time choir master. While living in Essex he played the organ for evening services at the Takeley Parish Church. Music had been his main interest outside work all of his life and although he never had a music lesson he composed a few hymns, a march orchestrated for a full brass band, a piano sonata, some songs, including two pieces for male voice choir, and a madrigal, which won first prize and a medal at the Ealing music festival and which has been performed a few times. He also wrote some anthems for Communion Service, one of which was sung on Easter Sunday in the Catholic Apostolic Church, Gordon Square, London in 1953.

After moving to Ferndown he became the Music Director of St. Mary's Church in Ferndown, he also played the organ at the Hampreston Parish Church once a month for services and for weddings and funerals. Pat retired from air traffic control in March 1973 and obtained a part time job teaching technical English to foreign students at a language school in Bournemouth, where he continued for four years until he became an Old Age Pensioner. During that time he had two other part time jobs. One was with the College of Air Training Advanced School at Hurn Airport, helping to teach airline pilots, the other as a part time tutor at New Milton Adult Education Centre lecturing on Music Appreciation, the latter of which continued for seven years.

Always a keen photographer and sound recordist, from about 1970 Pat had been making audio/visual programmes to entertain local organisations and to send round the world to fellow members of the Dave Freeman Audio Visual Club. In his spare time from 1980 he prepared and recorded a monthly tape magazine for the Dorset Association for the disabled. He also acted as a driver for Age Concern, the W.R.V.S. and the Dorset Association for the Care of the Elderly.

Walter Patrick Copinger was taken into Poole General Hospital suffering from chest pains on 25th March 1988, the day after his 75th birthday, and died as the result of a heart attack on Palm Sunday, 27th March 1988.




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