Today we remembered local Baston, Lincolnshire man, Archer Cooke who was killed in action on the 9th May 1915, serving with the 2nd Battalion, Lincolnshire Regiment.
Archer “Archie” Cooke was born in the winter of 1889 to Alfred Cooke, a Groom and agricultural labourer born in Baston in 1848, and his wife Mary Adelaide Hill, Born in Baston in 1853.
The couple were married in Baston on the 25th November 1872. The couple remained in Baston where they had 15 children, Mary’s first son being born in 1871:-
• Randolph Hildebrand Hill, 1871, Baston (Half brother)
• Alfred William Cooke (aka William) 1873, Baston
• George Cooke, 1876, Baston
• Charles Cooke, 1877, Baston
• Joseph Ernest Cooke, 1879, Baston
• Arthur Cooke, 1882, Baston
• Matthew Cooke, 1884, Baston
• Alfred Cooke, 1885, Baston
• Elizabeth Skeath Cooke, 1886, Baston
• Christopher Cooke, 1888, Baston
• Archer Cooke, 1889, Baston
• Percy Cooke, 1892, Baston
• Hilda Cooke, 1893, Baston
• There were 3 more children whose names are unknown but are mentioned in the not survived column on the 1911 census.
In 1891 the 2 year old Archer is living with his parents in Main Street, Baston. By 1901 he is living with his father, a Garthman on a farm, his mother not being present on census night.
By 1911 Archer has already joined the Army and is serving with the 1st battalion Lincolnshire Regiment in Aden. He is listed on he 1911 Census in barracks, the location just being listed as Military, Overseas, Arabia, Cyprus, Gibraltar.
The family are still living in Baston and the census tells us hat Alfred and Mary have been married for 38 years and have had 16 children in total. Alfred now working as a warehouseman.
The Birth registers and 1891 census show that Archer’s full name was Archer Cooke although on the 1901 census returns and on all military documents he is Archie Cooke.
There are some parts of his Full Military Service records surviving but they are part of the Burnt Records that partially survived the warehouse fire in London in the Blitz that destroyed 60% of all WW1 records. The burnt records re a part that survived but the pages have some fire damage and hence some of the information is unclear or partially destroyed.
Archer attested to the Lincolnshire Regiment on 31st December 1907 and after passing his medical on 1st January 1908 was pronounced fit to serve. He had signed up for a 12 year period, that being 7 years active service and then 5 years on Military reserve.
On his enlistment form he declared that he was 18 years and 1 month old and also that he was serving with the 3rd Lincolnshire Regiment and previously served in the 2nd Militia. At the time his occupation was a farm servant. He was then enlisted and assigned the regimental number of 8318.
He was allotted to the 1st battalion on the 24th January 1908 and then sent to Portsmouth to serve.
Archer finds himself being posted to the 1st Battalion on the 7th February 1911 and by the 25th February he is with the Battalion in Aden.
A year on and on the 2nd January 1912 Archer is posted to the 2nd Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment and within days is posted out to Gibraltar on the 13th January.
On 7th January 1914, the 2nd battalion, under Lieutenant-Colonel George Bunbury McAndrew, were posted to Bermuda and stationed at Prospect Camp, in Devonshire Parish, on the outskirts of the City of Hamilton (the colonial capital).
When war was declared on the 4th of August, the battalion was under orders to return to Britain. The Governor of Bermuda, Lieutenant-General Sir George Bullock, was temporarily abroad and Lieutenant-Colonel McAndrew filled his place, overseeing the placement of the colony onto a war footing.
The Battalion left Bermuda and headed for Canada as the first part of their leg home on 13th September 1914 heading to Halifax Nova Scotia on the SS Canada before embarking for Devonport on the 3rd October 1914.
Arriving back home on the 20th October the Battalion was moved to Hursley Park, Winchester to join the 25th Brigade, 8th Division. There they prepared for war and some men were given 48 hours leave before they were mobilised on the 5th November.
At 12 Noon on the 5th November the 2nd Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment marched out of camp to join the British Expeditionary Force, arriving at Southampton at 5pm, they immediately embarked on SS Cestrian and sailed to France.
On arriving at Havre on the 6th November they marched to a reserve camp just outside of the city, three days later entraining for their eventual destination of Champiny, 10km South West of Armentieres. Here the Battalion entered trenches on the 14th November to see their first action of the Great War.
On the 29th December 1914 Archer is appointed as acting Corporal, in the field.
The Battalion remained in the Armentieres area until in March 1915 being moved up to be part of the Battle for Neuve-Chapelle which took place between the 10th and 13th March.
On the eve of the Battle of Neuve-Chappelle, the 10th March 1915, Archer was promoted to a full Corporal in the 2nd Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment.
During this battle the battalion saw an artillery bombardment using 300 guns for over one hour and then the battalion were part of the main attack. During the 7 days before being relieved the battle has cost the Battalion 7 officers killed, 8 wounded, 298 men killed and wounded.
The Battalion remained in this sector, in and out of trenches for the rest of March 1915, providing working parties and burying the dead before moving back to billets at Bac St Maur by the end of the month. This was similar in April, some training was carried out in the second week when the Battalion were out of the trenches and in Divisional Reserve. They were given training, which included wire cutting and specific training for blocking party use.
On the 17th April the Battalion were addressed by the Commander in Chief on the Battle of Neuve-Chapelle and then they carried out practice attacks in readiness for the next planned attack. The rest of the month they went back to the usual pattern of three days in the trenches and then three days out in support.
On 26th April 1915, Archer is admitted in to the 25th Field Ambulance for “alleged Fits”, 3 days later on the 29th April he is discharged and returns to his Battalion who at this time are in the Levantie Section of the Line near Fromelles.
Another tour of the trenches was carried out at the beginning of May and on the 7th they received orders for an attack on Fromelles, which was to be carried out early on the 9th. At 11pm on the night of the 8th the Battalion left the Billets and marched down to the assembly trenches.
The northern part of the assault would involve the 25th infantry Brigade of the 8th division, which included the second Lincolnshire battalion’s four companies. By 2 am, the 25th Brigade was lined up in assembly trenches opposite a section of enemy line. At 5 am the artillery guns open fire, pounding German defences and blowing wire entanglements apart. The guns ceased at 5:40 am and two companies of the second Lincolns advanced towards the village of Rouge Bancs, close behind the Royal Irish rifles and the 2nd Rifle Brigade. German artillery opened fire on the advancing troops, and they were subjected to a storm of machine gun and rifle fire from both flanks. The two leading formations suffered heavy losses.
We can see in great details the actions of this day and the following extract has been taken from the 2nd Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment for May 1915.
5th May 1915
2 pm –
Battalion moved into close billets south east of Sailly.
6th-7th May 1915
Orders for attack on Fromelles received and issued to companies.
8th May 1915
Battalion left billets and marched down to assembly trenches near Rue Petillon where it formed up ready for attack on the following morning. The battalion was on the left flank of the second line. W and X companies in front with Y and Z immediately behind.
9th May 1915
Artillery began bombardment of enemies trenches and on lifting at 5:40 am the 1st Royal Irish Rifles in the front line commenced the attack with the battalion following close behind. The enemy at once opened a heavy artillery and rifle fire. The leading companies of the battalion were able to advance as far as the trenches immediately in front of our own fire parapet and there found further advance impossible, heavy flanking fire from rifles and machine guns being brought to bear on them. Before this position was reached 2/Lieut Ayres (3rd Dorsetshire regiment and Lieut Nisbet were killed and Lieuts Nind and Clifford, wounded.
The 1st Royal Irish Rifles who preceded the battalion were also unable to reach the German trench.
The two companies of the battalion in the second line had by this time reached our own parapet and as a further advance from this point was impossible the GOC 25th infantry Brigade issued orders for these two companies to endeavour to work down for sap leading towards the main crater on the left and after gaining possession of the German trench to work Westwood and join up with the left of the 2nd Rifle Brigade.
At this moment the Brigadier was killed and the command of the Brigade devolved on Major S. Fiby G. Cox, Major H.E.R Boxer assuming command of the battalion. Capt B. J. Thruston was sent forward with the left party.
He sent on first a blocking and bombing party under 2/Lieut E.O. Black who succeeded in gaining the German trench and clearing 300 to the west but running out of bombs could advance no further. The remainder of the party followed close behind, but came under an extremely heavy fire from the right and left front especially the latter. Capt Thruston seeing this gave instructions for the bombing party of the Scottish rifles to go forward and clear the trench to the east of the mine crater. This they did.
While this was going on men were being sent across to occupy and put in a state of defence the trenches so cleared. Heavy casualties were suffered and only a small proportion of the men reach their objective. Capt Thruston having located to machine guns which were firing from beyond the crater and causing many casualties, collected five machine guns and very quickly silenced them.
Capt Thruston reported that he was in possession of the German trench to the west of the mind crater and was awaiting further orders. Considerable difficulty was experienced in communicating with this party owing to the ground between the opposing trenches being swept by enfilade machine-gun fire from hostile trenches further north east which had not been touched by our guns.
An order eventually reached Captain Thruston directing him to bring his party back.
As this was impossible during daylight he waited until 8 pm at which hour he was attacked on both flanks and rear, the enemy bombing and rushing in from the crater on the left first. Sing the situation and having no machine gun war bonds and being so hard pressed Captain Thruston gave the order for the party to get back to their own parapet, which they did. On the way back second lieutenant Black became missing.
Orders were received for the battalion to proceed to billets. The party under Captain French (formally Major boxer) with Drew to our own parapet under cover of darkness, having been throughout the day severely subjected to shell and rifle fire.
10th May – Bac St Maur
Battalion reached billets just south of back St Maur.
By 3am on the 10th May all surviving Allied troops had been withdrawn from the German lines. It would take three days for all of the wounded men to be moved from the battlefield to field hospitals. The Battalion Diary notes, that in the attack, from the other ranks alone , 28 killed or died of wounds, 172 wounded, 77 missing, this was in addition to the officers that were named in the diary.
Archer Cooke was a casualty of this battle, like so many others killed in action on the 9th May 1915.Undoubtably Arher would have known Harry Briggs of Thurlby, who like him had served with the 2nd Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment as a career soldier and was also killed in action on the 9th May 1915.
It was for his actions during this very same attack that Corporal Charles Sharpe of Bourne was awarded the Victoria Cross, being in the lead of the bombing party that took the 300 yards of enemy trench mentioned in the diary, that being after all of his party had become casualties, missing or killed.
More than 11,000 British casualties were sustained on 9th May 1915, the vast majority within yards of their own front line. If you look at length of the front for the attack this was one of the highest loss rates of any attack of the war.
The British Commander in Chief Sir John French had complained about the shortage of artillery shells to Colonel Tim Repington, the military correspondent for the Times newspaper. An article published on the 14 May in the Times placed the failure of the attack on the government. “British soldiers died in vain on the Aubers Ridge…because more shells were needed.” The story resulted in a political crisis, the Shell Scandal, which contributed to the Liberals being forced to accept a coalition government on the 25 May 1915. The Shell Scandal also brought about the creation of the Ministry of Munitions headed by David Lloyd George.
Lincolnshire Free Press – 21st May 1915
Much sympathy has been shown to Mr and Mrs a Cooke and family on the loss of their son, Corporal A Cooke, of the 2nd Lincolns, who was killed in action in the recent severe fighting. Lance-Corp F.J. Dann of the same regiment, conveyed the sad tidings to Mr and Mrs Cooke in a letter received from him last Friday, in which he stated:- “I am very sorry to have to tell you that your beloved son fell in our last engagement on Sunday the ninth inst., about 10 am, being shot through the head. He died instantly. I am sure everyone in the company are in morning with you as he was so well liked and respected by all who knew him.” A memorial service to him and another Baston lad, Sydney Cole, of the 2nd Northamptons, killed at Neuve-Chappelle, was held in the church on Sunday evening, at which there was a large congregation. The vicar spoke very consolingly to the mourners, and a muffled peal was wrung on the church bells, the school flag was half mastered, both lads being former scholars. Another son of Mr and Mrs Cooke, who was wounded in the retreat from Mons, has recently been promoted to the rank of Sergeant-Major in the Kings own Royal Lancashires. In the same engagement mentioned above another Baston lad, Lance Corporal W Featherstone, Second Lincolns, was wounded in the hand, though, fortunately, not very seriously. In addition to the two killed this is the third wounded young man from Baston, one case necessitating amputation of right leg.
Grantham Journal Saturday 12th June 1915
LINCOLNSHIRE REGIMENT CASUALTIES
The following casualties in the Expeditionary Force are reported from the Base under the dates given:-
May 21 – Killed – 2nd Battalion, Cooke 8318 Corpl. A.
We can see from a War Office form of the 14th September 1915, regarding posting of articles of property, the form has Mrs Mary Adelaide Cooke of Thetford Lane Baston struck through and a new address of Mr A Cooke, Cemetery Avenue Baston added. This looks like it was an amended instruction of the 11th August 1910.
On the 16th September Infantry Records at Litchfield sent Archer’s personal belongings (Effects) to his father and this was the sum total of one identity disc. The form was signed by Alfred Cooke and duly returned.
In November 1915 Mrs Mary Cooke of Cemetery Lane, Baston writes to the Infantry Records office stating that he would have had several things in his possession and could they give her any information of his small book as it might be of some interest to her.
In 1919 the Infantry Records office in Litchfield wrote to Mr Alfred Cook of Cemetery Lane Baston explaining that they wished to ‘dispose’ of the plaque and scroll in accordance with his Majesty’s wishes and that he would need to fill out a next of Kin form to progress these instructions. The form was duly signed by Alfred Cooke and he lists Archers’ family as, 10 brothers which he lists by initial and surname only, all living in Baston and one sister E Pask aged 30 also living in Baston. This he duly signed on the 31st May 1919.
On the 14th August 1919 a request was sent from the war office to the Infantry Records Office in Litchfield stating that any articles of personal property of Archer’s that were in their possession should be sent to Mr Alfred Cooke at Cemetery Avenue Baston.
The scroll and Plaque were then sent and a form acknowledging their receipt was sent back to the records signed by Alfred Cooke on the 29th November 1919.
In February 1922 Alfred Cooke received a further parcel for the Army and this time it contains The British War and Victory Medals of Corporal Cooke A, 8318, Lincolnshire Regiment. Albert signs the returns receipt slip on. 22nd February 1922, 7 years after his son’s death.
Commonwealth War Graves Commission:
In memory of Corporal Archie Cooke, 8318, 2nd Bn., Lincolnshire Regiment who died on 9 May 1915, Remembered with honour, Ploegsteert Memorial.
Archer Cooke is also remembered on the Roll of Honour in St John the Baptist Church, Baston.
Acknowledgements to Baston Church and Diane for the photograph of Archer Cooke.