1918-2008: Ninety Years of Remembrance

Soldier Record

Frank Cooper

Contributed by: Ninety Years of Remembrance, on 2008-11-01

Frank Cooper
Rank
First Name Frank
Surname Cooper
Year of Birth Unknown
Year of Death Unknown
Regiment Royal Navy
Place of Wartime Residence Wolverhampton, West Midlands

Frank's Story

Sgnt. Frank Cooper served as an NCO with the 109th Machine Gun Company (190th Brigade, 63rd Royal Naval Division) at the Battle of the Somme, November 1916, and the 63rd (Royal Naval) Battalion Machine Gun Corps on the Western Front from March 1918 during the retreat following the German Spring Offensive. The following is an extract from his memoir of the Somme Battle. He was awarded the Military Medal.

I went on, the lads started to drop - shells, bullets flying everywhere

Battle of the Somme (recorded by his son)

63rd Royal Naval Division - Somme Battle, BEAUMONT-HAMEL I shall always remember that battle - it was one of many I was in on the night of November 12/16. We were told to get ready to go up to the front line for the attack next day, as we were going over the top. The weather was vile, but that did not stop the attack going in - while others sat back looking at the map. It was not fit for the lads to go over, but orders were orders - Stand to zero - the battle started - the din was terrible. I was Pte No1 on the machine gun. I went on, the lads started to drop - shells, bullets flying everywhere - I dropped in a shell hole on the trunk of a dead Scot. My Sgt was shot through the heart. I reached the German front lines, and I found I was on my own. My gun team was late in getting to me, and out of 12 only 3 got to me. Over the German barbed wire were many of our lads being shot. I saw in that trench, a Tommy bayonet through a German, and the German bayonet through the Tommy. It made me feel sick. When I came to mount my gun, I saw my No2 shot, and of the 12 that started from our trenches with my team, only myself and two others were left, and I soon to be left on my own, as the other two were killed. Dead and dying everywhere - no officers or NCOs. I was left on my own. I went down a German dugout, and the Germans down there were captured. I came up and mounted my gun. Up came Captain Freyberg, and he asked who I belonged to, and told me to keep my gun going, which I did. He went over the German trenches, and took his men that were left, and captured Beaumont-Hamel - a very brave man. I did not see him again. I was up there 3 days and nights. All around me dead and dying - mere lads. I saw an infantry officer leading in his men. He asked me who I was - I told him 'machine gunner 63rd Div.' He said your Div what's left have gone out. I asked him if I could go. He said yes, and gave me a chit to say it was OK to go out. I did not want telling twice. I knew left took me to Jerry's lines, so I staggered on right and kept right crawling over dead men, ours and Germans. I must have been going about 2 hours, and I found myself in our lines - a sunken road, and I smelt food soup - a field kitchen. I had no food for a few days, so you bet it smelt good, but I was all in - I still had my gun then - I fell out to the world. I knew no more till next day, when I came round. The cook told me I had slept nearly all day. Then I had to find the remains of my Company. I was told they were miles behind the line. I set off to find them [...] they had given me up. When they had the roll call, not many of us were left. We lost that many men, we did not go into action again for 2 months. In the meantime I was made full Corporal. I have never forgotten those days. We were in action - it was bitter cold. A great many must have died from the cold, as no one could get to the wounded. The cries from our wounded made me feel sick. We had a good rest. The Company was made up again, with more fodder for another go. I wonder how many are left that was in that battle - not many, I bet.

Frank Cooper was recommended for a commission, which he never received. After the war he worked as a foreman at a leather works. He permanently suffered from the effects of gas poisoning.

Text published by the BBC with permission from the soldier's relatives and the Imperial War Museum.

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