TV spotlight on Shropshire veteran's part in 'forgotten war'

An 88-year-old Shropshire veteran who served in the tense Suez Canal region in the 1950s is being featured in a new documentary series called Britain's Forgotten Wars.

Young Shropshire National Serviceman Roy Cooper.
Young Shropshire National Serviceman Roy Cooper.

Roy Cooper of Hanwood was interviewed for the Channel 4 programme presented by Tony Robinson, and his contribution is to be screened this Saturday.

He tells of his two years' National Service between 1953 and 1955 when he served in Egypt where British troops stationed in the canal region faced disease, a harsh climate, and a hostile population, with dozens being killed in attacks by local nationalists.

Among the victims was a great pal whom he knew as "Geordie" who was driving a truck by the side of the Sweetwater Canal when an Egyptian lorry driver came alongside and forced his truck into the water. A soldier from London, remembered by Roy as Bill Nodes, repeatedly dived into the canal to try to save him, but Geordie drowned.

And on one occasion Roy had to fight off an Egyptian employed by the army who jumped on his back.

Roy, standing, with a colleague.

It was not long after British troops withdrew from Egypt that tensions erupted in the 1956 Suez Crisis, when the nationalisation of the Suez Canal sparked an ill-fated invasion by Britain, France, and Israel.

Roy, who was born in Stoke but moved to Hanwood as an infant, got his call-up papers in 1953, and served in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps. He flew out to Egypt where he was soon on active service, armed with a Sten gun, a Bren gun, and a .303 rifle to keep out intruders from the compound.

He also accompanied a Major Allan and his wife to Moascar, a military camp near the town of Ismailia, as they went to do business and shopping – Roy sat on the back of the vehicle with a Sten gun (a sub machine gun).

Roy, right, served in Egypt in the canal zone.

A talented footballer, he played for Shropshire and was scouted by Wolves when he was 15 – but instead trained to be a plumber as in those days gaining a trade was considered more important. He played at a high level while serving, training in the sand and getting to a semi final against the Durham Light Infantry, but lost.

At the REME workshop was a stage where performers such as Harry Secombe and Ivy Benson and her all-girl band played.

He celebrated his 21st birthday while in Egypt, receiving a fruit cake from his parents, although it was in bits when he removed the lid, all shared with his comrades, while a man from the East African Rifle Company asked if he could have the tin for his mother, which Roy gladly gave him.

His identity card after joining up.

Many troops went down with malaria and dysentery, and Roy himself lost about three stone and thought he was dying. Once out of the hospital he worked in the regimental headquarters where he had to sort out about 400 men's personal property, while doing a 24-hour shift of guard duty every month.

Given a choice of flying home or taking a week's break in Cyprus, he chose to go to Cyprus as he thought he would never go there again, and loved the people and the food.

Demobbed with the rank of Lance Corporal in 1955, he and his comrades sailed back to Liverpool to be greeted by a cheering crowd welcoming them home.

Roy received a medal for his service in the canal zone, which he had to apply for.

Roy with his great-grandson Cooper Goodall, who takes his name after his great-granddad.

"He wouldn't have missed it for the world, although it was very sad," said his daughter Alison Goodall.

"He is wondering if there is anybody left alive that he did his National Service with."

Specifically Roy is interested to know if the following are still around – Don Briscoe of Dawley, Derrick Maddy of Wellington, Ron Jones of Swansea, Nobby Clarke of Coventry, "Cookie" of Birmingham, Mick Gardiner of Peterborough, and Jock Wilson of Scotland.

Saturday's episode is called Suez: The Line In The Sand and is broadcast at 8pm.

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