The "Cobber" Kain Connection
The Allies' first air ace of the war, New Zealander Flying Officer Edgar. ("Cobber") Kain was one of the greatest legends of the first year of the war. His successes in the air, coupled with his warm personality and charm, made him the media's favourite airman of late 1939 and early 1940.
He served with No. 73 Squadron, RAF, in France, where he is officially credited with shooting down 14 German aircraft between November 1939 and June 1940. Many people, including those who served alongside him, say he actually downed more than this, up to 20 altogether. One report even stated 40, but that may have been a little exaggerated.
"Cobber" was tragically killed on the 7th of June 1940, just as the Allies were pulling out of France, and Edgar was leaving to go 'on rest', instructing at an Operational Training Unit. He died not in combat, but instead doing a final beat-up over
No. 73's base at Echemines, southwest of Paris. There are varying accounts of how it happened, but this highly experienced aerobatic pilot who'd served with the RAF since 1936 was carrying out a series of rolls over the airfield when the Hurricane he flew hit the ground and exploded. Kain was thrown clear, but died from injuries. This tragic loss of life became a symbol of the futility of war.
He was not a Cambridge man of course - Edgar Kain hailed from Wellington. But he did have a couple of connections with this town. The first is that he actually visited and stayed in the town before the war. A report in the Waikato Independent newspaper dated the 18th of November 1939, when Cobber was emerging as a hero, explains this:
HONOUR TO NEW ZEALAND
Honour has been brought to New Zealand by Acting Squadron-Leader Edgar Kain, of Wellington, who brought down a German aeroplane after a battle at a height of 26,000 feet on November 9. It is of interest to note that he was a visitor to Cambridge four years ago when, with a friend, he was the guest of Mrs E. E. Taylor, of Vogel Street.
Acting Squadron-Leader Kain was educated at Christ's College, Christchurch, where he was a boarder from 1933 until 1935. After leaving he trained at Rongotai aerodrome, Wellington, under G.L. Stedman. He completed his training at Wigram aerodrome, Christchurch, where he took his A licence toward the end of 1936.
Leaving for England shortly afterward with his parents, he qualified for the Royal Air Force on arrival and went into a training camp at Blackburn. After three months he was posted to Uxbridge, where he qualified as a pilot-officer. He was given his choice of squadrons and chose fighters.
In 1944 Cambridge was also visited by Cobber's mother, Mrs Helen Kain, as this report from the Waikato Independent dated Wednesday the 27th of September 1944 attests:
THE WAR LOAN
VISIT TO CAMBRIDGE
Although the shops were busy in Cambridge and the Streets full of people on Monday, very few gathered around the Bond Waggon to hear the programme put over by the personnel, though many people stopped on the footpaths opposite the Post Office, to hear the various items.
Mr. J. Jeans, in the absence of Mayor, introduced the members of the bond waggon company and handed the "mike" over to Dudley Wrathall (of 1ZB fame), who acted as M.C. Stewart Harvey, who needs no introduction to radio audiences sang "Stout Hearted Fellows," and he was followed by Ces. Maybee, a recently repatriated prisoner of war, who had spent two years in Berlin. Mr Maybee comes from the Isle of Wight. He is a versatile comedian, and kept the crowd amused.
June Stacpool, a member of the W.A.A.C., sang "This Is The Army, Mr Jones," and she was followed by Doug Branley, with piano accordion, and playing "Paper Doll." Reg. Morgan sang "Blonde Sailor," and played all accompaniments for the other artists.
The closing chorus, "I'm Saving a Brown Out of Every Shilling," brought the programme to a close. The chorus, "Back The Attack," so familiar over the national broadcasting stations, opened the programme.
Among the members of the bond waggon was Mrs Helen Kain, who acted as hostess, and who gave an inspiring talk on the need for all to play his or her part in subscribing to such a worthy cause. Mrs Kain is perhaps better known to all as that mother of New Zealand's great fighting ace, the late "Cobber" Kain.
From Cambridge the bond waggon visited the Karapiro Hydro works, and gave a demonstration there.
Few Bonds Sold
The total amount of bonds sold while the waggon was in the town was £164.