*The Head and shoulders photograph here is a suitable and characteristic pose of a British Fighter Pilot at this period, iconic flying jacket and squadron cap, dark rings of fatigue round the eyes, but charismatic and warrior-like.
Michael Rook was born, the second son of four surviving brothers, (One – Peter died at birth), to Lieut-Colonel W.R. (Billy) Rook of the Robin Hoods OBE.TD., JP, and his wife Dorothy (nee) Brewill, of Edwalton, Nottingham, on 12th October 1915.
He was educated at Oakham School, and, somewhat unusually, later too at Uppingham School, following in the footsteps of his elder brother Alan. He joined the wine and grocery family business – Skinner and Rook Ltd., Clumber Street, Nottingham – as wine department manager in about 1934.
The great enthusiasms of his life at this time were motor racing and flying. Michael married Miss Joan Leslie Corah of Queniborough, Leicestershire, on November 7th 1936. He was 21 years old she 20. (02/05/1916)
In 1938 Micky Rook had joined 504 (County of Nottingham) Auxiliary Air Force Squadron stationed at Hucknall. On the outbreak of war the squadron went to Lille in France with their Hurricanes and after that abortive campaign returned to protect the northern cities and eastern approaches with 12 Group at Wick in Scotland. It came south to participate in the Battle of Britain during 1939 through to July 1941 where he claiming two destroyed and two shared victories.
On August 27th 1941 he was posted to No 81 (F) Squadron and sent to Northern Russia, as Churchill’s answer to Stalin’s plea to open a second front.
On September 9th 1941 B Flight started testing, uncrating, and rebuilding Hurricane 11s at Chaika in Northern Russia. This little-recorded and seldom acknowledged tale of the “RAF in Russia” is told in detail by Flight-Lieutenant Hubert Griffith (Hammond Hammond & Company and now out of print).
Squadron Leader Tony (A.H.) Rook DFC., AFC., Order of Lenin – Micky’s cousin – commanded B flight. The cousins were enormously close before the war and throughout hostilities till Micky’s death which was tragically signed off in Michael’s log-book by his cousin Tony, then commanding 504 in 1948.
Two particular tales of Michael’s exploits in Russia are recorded in “The RAF in Russia”
September 16th 1942:
Dozens of fresh eggs have appeared in the Mess served fried three to a plate. Michael Rook eats three, then is pressed by the Russian waitress to take another plate, and complies. Then is pressed again to take another three, but declines: “I can eat a Flight but not a Squadron…..”
October 6th 1942:
Michael Rook in the course of the interception-manoeuvres had the experience of getting detached from his own squadron (No 81) and formatting idly round the sky with six Me 109s, whom he took absent-mindedly to be Hurricanes of 134 Squadron. He apparently flew with them happily for quite some time – even waggling his wings as a sign of greeting and friendship – until he suddenly woke to his mistake, gave the nearest Me, (who was by now coming straight at him) a squirt with his twelve guns, and blew it completely to pieces. As he said afterwards, “The Germans must have thought me either bloody brave or bloody foolish.”…. As a matter of fact, Rook’s job was not quite so simple as this, according to later investigation. He had the remaining five Me’s on his tail for many minutes after he had got his squirt in, and they chased him down to mast-level over a destroyer lying in Murmansk Sound before he finally got away, after one of the stiffest combats in his life. As he remarked later, “When I finally got back to the aerodrome and landed I sat actually sweating in the cock-pit for some time before I could climb out”. It is an accepted fact that even the most brilliant of fighter-pilot victories are a combination of luck as well as brilliance….
Four members of the Wing were decorated by the Soviet Government with one of the two highest Soviet awards, the Order of Lenin – an order never before given to any foreigner : – Wing Commander Isherwood A.F.C, Squadron-Leaders A H Rook (Tony) (81) and Miller (137) both for their brilliant services and as a collective recognition of the work of their whole squadrons, and a non-commissioned officer, Flight Sergeant Haw, who had himself shot down three Germans “confirm” and was the highest individual pilot, in the time available.
The Wing returned home in March 1942 leaving their aircraft to the tender mercies of the Soviet Aces. The Wing extracts are taken from “Triumph over Tunisia” by Wing Commander T.H.Wisdom (George Allen & Unwin Ltd 1944):
In November 1942 Micky was now in North Africa in support of American and British soldiers scrambling ashore in Algeria and Morocco. On the 8th the Hurricanes take off. Leading them is Micky Rook of the Auxiliary Air Force who has fought in France, in the Battle of Britain and Russia. He is a tall lanky youth with a Bertie Wooster laugh; a successful wine-merchant in peace-time and a more than successful fighter pilot in time of war.
They fly over the sea. It is a great gamble. For they are going to land on an aerodrome which as far as we know is not yet in our hands, and if it isn’t they haven’t the fuel to come back again…….
That speedy capture of Maison Blanche aerodrome controlled the success of the operation…..
Two crack squadrons had arrived and were frantically preparing for a German air assault. Micky Rook and his 43 Squadron re-fuelled the Hurricanes; Tony Bartlet and Treble One Squadron, a Spitfire outfit that had fought with glory in France and the Battle of Britain and had been overhead through Dieppe Day, were removing the long-range tanks from their Spitfires………..
For this action – the taking of Maison Blanche – Squadron-Leader Micky Rook won his DFC.
Another little insight is given in a publishers note to “Triumph over Tunisia”:-
Micky is the tallest pilot in the RAF, [6’ 61/2” ] and has, as well, the biggest feet. He takes size 141/2 shoes. He could manage, just, to cram his enormous length into a Hurricane but when the squadron, later on, was re-equipped with Spitfires, everyone thought Micky had had it. He managed, however, to get into the cock-pit but there was no room for his feet on the rudder bar, so his flying boots were permanently fixed inside the aircraft and Micky, off on a show, would pad across the aerodrome in his stockinged feet and slide them into his boots as he squeezed into his seat.
** The photograph here shows just how tall and large a man Micky was, lounging head and shoulders above the wing of his Spitfire VC, JK 101 somewhere in North Africa in 1943.
After the end of hostilities in 1945, Wing Commander Micky Rook became Flight-Lieutenant Rook in order to remain on active service. January 1947 saw him flying Oxford 11s, but by April and May that year his logbook indicates the conversion of 504 at Hucknall to Mosquito 111s.
***The photograph here was taken with his navigator Flying-Officer Richard Boyle some weeks before their fatal crash on March 13th 1948 in UP345 – which had developed engine trouble shortly after taking off that afternoon.
Micky Rook was 33 years of age. He left a daughter aged 6 – Suzy Patricia (historians may note the name of the squadron mascot from the 504 pre-war Hendon days in typical Micky style!), – a son, Michael John aged 3