Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Remembrance Day

Private Thomas Cooke. Source: www.anzacday.org.au
Sunday was Armistice Day and I was reminded of the story I heard at the Dawn Service at ANZAC Day this year. It wasn't a new story to me, I knew a lot of the details myself - but I didnt know the person telling it that morning.

Thomas Cooke - Kiwi, Aussie, Hero - was born in Kaikoura, Marlborough, New Zealand on 5 March 1881. His mother Caroline was an elder sister of my great grandfather, and the sixth child; fourth daughter of John and Mary Cooper (nee Barratt) - you might remember Mary from an earlier post, she left her family in New Zealand and went to Australia and changed her name.

Thomas grew up in Kaikoura amongst a large extended family. His father was a builder, and Thomas followed him into the trade. Rumour has it my great grandfather, Thomas' uncle was apprenticed to Thomas' father as well. Thomas was the eldest of four children born to Caroline and Tom and sadly none would survive past 35 years.

Thomas moved to Wellington after finishing high school when he was 17, where he worked as a builder.  He was a keen musician and was a member of Jupp's band and the Garrison Band. He married a local Wellington girl, Maud Elliott in 1901 and they had three children. Around 1912 his family moved to Melbourne where he continued to practise as a builder, besides taking an active interest in brass bands and the Ancient Order of Foresters.

In February 1915 he became a member of the Australian Expeditionary Forces, enlisting with the 8th battalion. He sailed on 26 November 1915 with the 7th Australian Reinforcements arriving in Egypt on New Years Day. From there he went to France with a machine gun section and saw a lot of action. The first major action they saw in France was at Pozieres where 81 lives were lost. Thomas was killed in action on 25 July 1916 at Pozieres, France and posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross. At some point he had been promoted to Acting Corporal, but was awarded the Victoria Cross for action at Pozieres, France whilst serving with 8 Battalion, 2 Brigade, 1 Division as a Private. The citation in the Supplement to the London Gazette September 9, 1916 reads

"No. 3055 Pte .Thomas Cooke, late Aus. Infy.
         For most conspicuous bravery. After a Lewis gun had been disabled, he was ordered to take his gun and gun-team to a dangerous part of the line. Here he did fine work, but came under very heavy fire, with the result that finally he was the only man left. He still stuck to his post, and continued to fire his gun.
        When assistance was sent he was found dead beside his gun. He set a splendid
example of  determination and devotion to duty."

There is extensive coverage about this on Trove,

The Argus (Melbourne Vic 1848-1956) Monday 11 September 1916 page 8 article1611874-3-001

The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW 1842-1954) Friday 2 February 1917 page 6 article15734182-3-001

(complete with typos ! the Sydney Morning Herald article has Gallipoli instead of Pozieres - woops) and also in the New Zealand papers at PapersPast

The Evening Post (Wellington New Zealand) 15 September 1916, page 8

as well as on the Australian War Memorial site, New Zealand History online in the Australian Dictionary of Biography and many more. Google is a great help when researching.

It appears that his widow had drawn out negotiations with bureaucracy claiming her pension, from the correspondence I discovered on his file at National Archives of Australia , back and forth between Australian and New Zealand officials. His Victoria Cross is held in the collection at the National Army Museum in Waiouru.

The Army chaplin telling his story on ANZAC Day had visited Gallipoli and toured the battlefields to walk in the steps of his great uncle, I still dont know exactly where he fits into the family - I feel he is more likely related through the Elliott or Cooke families, since  we can account for most descendants on the Cooper side. I hunted him down at the breakfast between the dawn service and the citizens service at St Paul's cathedral but couldnt do much more than share our family connection and thank him for sharing the story.

I have wondered since discovering my other Cooper relations in Melbourne whether Thomas met them. From the electoral rolls they didnt live too far apart. Did his mother Caroline keep in contact with her mother - the mysterious Mary Cooper, nee Barratt also known as Nicholls ? or her younger siblings now married and starting their own families in Melbourne ? I might have to keep wondering about that for now.

Victoria Cross. Source: http;//medals.nzdf.mil.nz

So, there is the tale as it exists now of Thomas Cooke VC my 2nd cousin 1x removed who I feel wholly embodies the ANZAC spirit; being born a Kiwi and serving as an Aussie. Both countries can feel proud of this soldier.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.
Lest we forget
Laurence Binyon

This post forms part of Trove Tuesday as suggested by Amy, from Branches, Leaves & Pollen.

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