The family were tanners in Kingsland, Shrewsbury. Adeline and James Cock had three daughters and two sons spread over seventeen years. They were affluent with four female servants; cook, kitchen-maid, parlour-maid and housemaid. When they named the last child, a son, had they anticipated that he would have to live up to that name? Geoffrey Hornblower Cock. He did.

In December 1915, Cock had joined the Artists’ Rifles Officer Training Corps, like Wilfred Owen. 3rd June 1916 he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps in the rank of Temp Lieutenant. After training with 25 Squadron, he was appointed a Flying Officer and joined 45 Squadron. It was to prove a momentous posting.

Equipped with Sopwith 1½ ‘Strutters’ the unit moved to France on 14th October 1916. Forty years later Cock was to describe the plane “The 1½ Strutter was a good aircraft, but the front gun was quite useless. I, however, was lucky in getting the Ross interrupter gear on trial, and this speeded up the rate of fire … to almost normal rate, and I got most of my victories with it. Of course, both front and rear guns were operating in a fight, but if the Hun was shot down while the rear gun was firing at him, the gunner got the credit, and very rightly too.” The interrupter gear enabled pilots to fire their Vickers machine gun without engaging the interrupter gear, increasing the rate of fire but also increasing the risk of damage to the propeller! A flight commander in the same squadron claimed “some aircraft came back with as many as twenty bullet holes in the propeller, but no one was known to have been lost because of a shot-off blade.”

During the winter he gained in experience. He flew his plane more aggressively. His first victories came on April 6th 1917. Above Lille he destroyed an Albatros DIII and drove another down out of control. “The first hostile machine flew along at the side … he then crossed well in front of the formation and I got in a burst of about seventy rounds from the front gun.”

In spring 1917 45 Squadron was under pressure. Casualties mounted rapidly as the Battle of Arras began on Easter Monday, April 9th. The German squadrons included veteran units like Jagdstaffel 11 at Douai, commanded by Manfred von Richthofen. He painted his plane red, combined with his title, this led to his nickname “The Red Baron.” 45 Squadron was not initially assigned to the Battle of Arras, but was drawn into the slaughter. Hornblower Cock wrote “every hostile machine completely outmanoeuvred us and were capable of beating us in climbing, turning and speed.”

Despite these shortcomings, more victories followed. He was appointed flight commander in May. With three victories to his credit, at 04.50pm on May 9th flying at the rear he spotted an enemy aircraft behind them. He fired a red Very flare to warn his comrades and spun round to engage the enemy. One enemy Albatros was sent down almost at once and after a ten-minute battle another was spinning down in a nose dive. Swerving to the right, his observer poured machine-gun into a third plane. Cock handed in his combat report to which someone added “This is gallant, but is all against orders and common sense.”

Nevertheless, on July 26th 1917 he was awarded the Military Cross “For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. On many occasions he showed great courage and determination in attacking and destroying hostile aircraft, and in dispersing hostile troops from a low altitude. His skill as a formation leader (B Flight 20th May promoted to Captain) has set a fine example to the other pilots of his squadron.” (London Gazette) Before his MC he was to have become the only pilot from the original complement to have survived since the squadron’s arrival in France nine months earlier.

Finally, his luck ran out. It was July 22nd 1917. He shot down an Albatros DV in flames but was in turn shot down over Warneton (near Lille) by Hauptmann Wilhelm Reinhard of Jagdstaffel 11. Hornbloer Cock spent the rest of the war as a prisoner of the Germans. It wasn’t until December 1918 that Geoffrey Hornblower Cock MC was repatriated from a German PoW camp. After the War he stayed in the RAF and retired in 1943 as a Group Captain, he died 16th February 1980, aged 84.