The Remembrance commemorations have thrust the spotlight on Huddersfield soldiers who lost their lives in so-called ‘forgotten’ conflicts.

After focussing on the Korean War last week now we can reveal the story behind the death of Sgt Alan Cockayne who died serving in the Palestinian Civil War.

Sgt Cockayne from Milnsbridge, was just a few weeks from completing his military service when tragedy struck.

He was serving with the Palestine Police Force (PPF) in the coastal city of Haifa.

In February 1948, Sgt Cockayne was travelling through a level crossing in a jeep when his vehicle was accidently hit by a train.

The jeep caught fire and Alan, 22, died from burns the following day.

A civil war between the Jews and Arabs of Palestine had been raging since 1947 and British forces had been charged with keeping the peace.

Britain was planning to leave Palestine – a former colony – and British forces were tasked with facilitating the country’s exit.

One of Sgt Cockayne’s duties was checking that Jewish immigrants flooding into the country via the port of Haifa in what is now Israel, weren’t smuggling in arms.

Alan Cockayne who was killed in Palestine while serving with Military Police.
Alan Cockayne who was killed in Palestine while serving with Military Police.

Exactly three months after Sgt Cockayne’s death the first Arab-Israeli war broke out.

The war ended in an Israeli victory and the founding of Israel.

Sgt Cockayne attended Crow Lane School, Milnsbridge, before working as a textile tuner for Heywood’s, of Marsh.

He trained in Fort William, Scotland, after his call-up before he was deployed to the PPF.

Sgt Cockayne was a cousin of Barbara Stanley from Marsh who kept a regular correspondence with him while he was in Palestine.

Barbara, 84, said: “He used to send us Christmas cards with pressed flowers from Palestine.

“I think he enjoyed what he was doing and he was promoted to sergeant.”

She remembers hearing the news that Sgt Cockayne had died while on duty.

“We heard he was so badly burned that if he’d survived he would have been blind,” she said.

“We were living in Longwood with my parents. I always used to think bad things happened in February.

“I was devastated.”

Barbara Stanley of Batley Avenue, Marsh, whose cousin Alan Cockayne was killed in Palestine while serving with Military Police.
Barbara Stanley of Batley Avenue, Marsh, whose cousin Alan Cockayne was killed in Palestine while serving with Military Police.
 

Barbara added: “He wanted to be a police officer when he came home. He had two or three weeks left to serve after the accident.”

Sgt Cockayne and other PPF members were honoured in a ceremony organised by the PPF Comrades Association, at York Minster, in 1998.

Barbara said: “It took a long time for Alan to be acknowledged. I don’t think people like Alan were acknowledged.

“It was a lovely service at York Minster. I can remember someone singing Jerusalem which I thought was very appropriate.”

Sgt Cockayne has surviving relatives in Huddersfield, Lancaster and Coventry.