Private Joseph Thomas Cooper (SN 5067), born in Gerringong, was a labourer from Barney Street Kiama, who took part in the famous Waratah March of 1915. His parents, Thomas and Mary did not stop the 19 year old, who showed great patriotism and heart.
Cooper embarked at Sydney on SS Makarini on 1st April, 1916 as part of the 1st Australian Infantry Battalion.
Disembarking at Marseilles the day after his birthday, on 17th May 1916, Private Cooper reported to 1st Australian Division at Base Depot, Estaples.
Private Cooper was involved in the Battle of Pozières, primarily remembered as an Australian battle. The cost had been enormous, and in the words of Australian official historian Charles Bean, the Poziers ridge
“is more densely sown with Australian sacrifice than any other place on earth.”
Here, Private Cooper was wounded somewhere between 22nd and 25th July 1916. He died of these wounds to his arm, face and leg, a few days later, on 29th July 1916, at No.1 Stationary Hospital. Thomas and Mary, like many at the time, found it difficult to obtain information regarding their son’s death. This was until an Australian nurse, Sister Fairland, wrote to the family, informing them of the last days of their son.
According to the Kiama Independent at the time, Private Cooper was the first of the Waratahs to fall. Returned to his family were a cigarette case, testament, metal watch, wallet and cotton bag.
Private Cooper is buried at St. Sever Cemetry, Rouen.
A touching poem dedicated to Private Cooper was published towards the end of the war in 1918.
Tragically, soon after the news of the death of their son Joseph, the Coopers were to receive further bad news when their ten year old son Frank, died of meningitis. A favourite of Kiama Public School, Frank was a clever scholar, always at the head of his class.
A Victory Medal was awarded to Private Cooper’s Father, Thomas, in 1923. The Victory Medal was authorised in 1919 to commemorate the victory of the Allied Forces over the
Central Powers. Each of the Allied nations issued a ‘Victory Medal’ to their own nationals with all of these having the figure of Victory on the obverse as a common feature. Australians were awarded the medal issued by Great Britain.
P.S. From my research, it appears Joseph Thomas Cooper was the cousin of John William Donovan (also mentioned in this blog), who died at Gallipoli in 1915.