A/200022, 17th Bn., Kings Royal Rifle Corps who was killed in action on 7th February 1917, aged 21
Remembered with honour
Barrow Hill Memorial
Staveley Parish Memorial
Vlamertinghe Military Cemetery Plot V. H. 9
Herbert Cooper, and his brother Thomas, ran the grocery and drapery shop on Staveley High Street that had been started by their father, Samuel. 42 year old Herbert married a local girl, 22 year old Annie Elizabeth Peel, in Staveley in 1889 and their only son, Frank, was born several years later on 9th February 1895; followed by his sister Mary in 1897.
The family lived “over the shop” at number 17, High Street, a large house with 10 rooms, and employed a live-in servant. They were active in the Wesleyan church and Herbert served for many years on the Chesterfield Rural District Council.
Frank attended Chesterfield Grammar School, and passed the Junior and Senior Cambridge Local Examinations with honours, later becoming an articled pupil with a solicitor, Alderman W. Irons of Sheffield. The local newspaper reported that Frank “had before him a bright and promising career.” He “took a keen interest in the Staveley Wesleyan Sunday School, and when at home he took his class each Sunday.” Frank was “well known in Staveley” and was “interested in all efforts promoted by the young people of the church.”
Frank enlisted with the 5th (City of London) Battalion (London Rifle Brigade) at Staveley in late September 1915. This was a Territorial Army Regiment and Frank was given the service number 2795. Whilst at Bunhill Row, the battalions’ Headquarters, he was transferred and attached to the 17th (Service) Bn., (British Empire League) Kings Royal Rifle Corps in the 39th Division as a Lance Corporal with a new service number of A/200022.
The 39th Division moved to France at the end of February 1916 and during the following months began to train and gain experience in trench warfare. Frank joined his battalion in France sometime around June/July.
During August 1916 the Division moved towards the Somme region and, for most of the Battle of the Somme, the 117th Bde of the 39th Division were serving in front line trenches around Hamel, both north and south of the River Ancre.
In the latter half of 1916, The 39th Division took part in the Battle of Thiepval, the Battle of the Ancre Heights, including the capture of the Schwaben Redoubt, Stuff Redoubt and the Regina Trench and the Battle of the Ancre, including the capture of Beaumont Hamel.
The winter of 1916-1917 in France and Flanders was the coldest in living memory; the trenches flooded in the wet, sometimes to waist height, whenever it rained. Men suffered from exposure, frostbite, trench foot (a wasting disease of the flesh caused by the foot being wet and cold, constrained into boots and puttees, for days on end, that would cripple a man), and many diseases brought on or made worse by living in such a way. In February 1917, it was bitterly cold day after day, freezing during the day and night. Trench warfare continued regardless.
The 17th Bn, Kings Royal Rifle Corps were alternating with the 17th Sherwood Foresters (Notts and Derbys Regiment) for periods of 3 days in the front line trenches and 3 days in reserve. On 6th February the battalion moved back to the front line, this time in the Railway Wood sector. The work done that day included continuing the task of carrying on with creating a communication between craters, “general trench repairs, the construction of a new latrine in the support lines and carrying rations and R.E. equipment.”
There was an exchange of Lewis gun fire and machine gun fire during the night and slight shelling of the front line. During the afternoon, there was an exchange of rifle grenade fire and the enemy shelled back areas. Snipers and machine guns were active. The battalion war diary reports that casualties were “two other ranks killed and three wounded.”
The two “other ranks” were Lance Corporals Frank Cooper and G. F. Rutter who were both killed on 7th February 1917 whilst on duty in France “by the bursting of a shell.” Frank’s death came just 2 days before his 22nd birthday. The letter informing his parents of his death was dated the 9th February.
Frank Cooper is buried in plot V.H.9 of the Vlamertinghe Military Cemetery. The cemetery is particularly remarkable for the care with which men of the same unit were buried side by side if they died at about the same time. Buried next to Frank is Lance Corporal G. F. Rutter. Frank is also remembered on the family grave in Staveley Cemetery.
Frank Cooper was posthumously awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.
© Ann Lucas