OBITUARY: Unflappable drill instructor was back on parade day after IRA mortar attack

Former RUC drill instructor Alexander 'Jock' Cooper served in the force between 1961 and 1990
Former RUC drill instructor Alexander 'Jock' Cooper served in the force between 1961 and 1990

One of the most well-known and respected RUC GC officers of his generation has passed away in Co Fermanagh aged 78.

Alexander ‘Sandy’ Cooper – known to thousands of former officers as ‘Jock’ – joined the Royal Ulster Constabulary in December 1961 and served for many years as a drill instructor at the Enniskillen training depot.

Squad after squad of fresh-faced young constables were put through their paces by the firm but fair sergeant who ensured they were physically fit, immaculately turned out and well disciplined.

Following an IRA mortar attack on the RUC depot in 1985, the unflappable Sgt Cooper famously checked on everyone’s safety before overseeing the swift clearance of the drill square – ensuring the recruits were back on parade the following morning as usual.

Born in Keith, Banffshire (now Morayshire) on November 7, 1938 to parents Alexander and Jessie, the young Alexander attended a local boys’ grammar school and was a keen footballer who also learned to play the bagpipes.

As a teenager, he completed his National Service with the Royal Air Force where he became a dog handler stationed at RAF Aldergrove.

While serving in Northern Ireland, and frequenting the dance halls around Co Antrim, Alexander met, and eventually married in 1964, a young woman named Sheila and they had three children – Janice, Sandra and Keith – and five grandchildren.

Although originally joining the police in Edinburgh, his wife’s refusal to move to Scotland brought Constable Cooper to the RUC and a first posting to Brookeborough in Co Fermanagh.

A subsequent transfer to Lisbellaw was followed by a promotion and, in 1968, Sergeant Cooper entered the RUC’s training depot – quickly establishing himself as a highly principled instructor who inspired all those under his command.

At his funeral in Enniskillen Presbyterian Church last Thursday, mourners heard a family tribute to a man whose voice they fondly recall “booming across the town” as he drilled the recruits on the square in front of the training depot.

‘Jock’ was also a familiar sight in the lakeland town – frequently marching, or running, the recruits from the depot to the local leisure centre for swimming classes. In the early years he also marched his charges up Ann Street and along Darling Street to church for the Sunday service. The rear pews on the right-hand side were reserved for the Presbyterian recruits and to this day his family worship from the same seats.

One former officer who remembers his instructor with great fondness wrote to the Cooper family this week saying: “Our sergeant was our inspiration, leader, friend and someone we all looked up to. He was our hero. In your sadness and shock I know that ‘Jock’ will be a man your entire family will look up to and honour.”

A caring husband, Alexander retired from the police in 1990 and spent the next two years caring for his wife who passed away in 1992.

He found love again and married his second wife Florrie in June 2000 – the pair spending the last 17 years devoted to one another. His death came as a great shock to the Cooper family as, having been in the care of the South West Acute Hospital for a number of weeks, he was recovering well.

While preparing to be discharged home on Wednesday September 13, Alexander began to feel unwell and remained in hospital. He passed away peacefully last Tuesday surrounded by his wife and children.

A family tribute read at his funeral said: “He was extremely proud to have been a police officer. He would often talk about the loyalty and camaraderie that existed between his RUC colleagues and was delighted when the RUC were awarded the George Cross.”

Members of the RUC George Cross Association provided a guard of honour as the former officer’s remains entered the church and again when he was laid to rest at Breandrum Cemetery.