NOSTALGIA: 100 years since Sidmouth man enlisted

Private Henry Cooper. Ref shs 0862-50-13AW

Private Henry Cooper. Ref shs 0862-50-13AW - Credit: Archant

Tuesday (December 17) marks 100 years to the day since Henry H Cooper became a private in the Royal 1st Devon Yeomanry.

Private Henry Cooper. Ref shs 0863-50-13AW

Private Henry Cooper. Ref shs 0863-50-13AW - Credit: Archant

His career protecting king and country with the armed forces lasted much of the duration of the Great War, before an injury saw him sent back to the UK.

Private Henry Cooper. Ref shs 0861-50-13AW

Private Henry Cooper. Ref shs 0861-50-13AW - Credit: Archant

He returned home to Sidmouth to start a family of his own, raising six children with his wife, Eva.

Private Henry Cooper. Ref shs 0860-50-13AW

Private Henry Cooper. Ref shs 0860-50-13AW - Credit: Archant

The details of his enlistment seem to have been among the ‘burnt records’, the many millions of documents which were lost in air raids in 1940.

Private Henry Cooper. Ref shs 0859-50-13AW

Private Henry Cooper. Ref shs 0859-50-13AW - Credit: Archant

What is known is that, unusually, he had two service numbers, one for his initial membership of the yeomanry, and another when he joined the Devonshire regiment.

He was awarded the Star Medal for serving overseas between in 1914 and 1915, and presented with the Victory Medal and the British War Medal for his service until Armistice Day in 1918.

While many yeomanry units stayed at home, the Royal 1st Devon Yeomanry unit was deployed to Egypt in the middle of 1915, before being dismounted to form the 74th division – a move that saw them sent in incorrect uniform when they served as reserves in the final attempt to advance against the Turks.

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They withdrew from Gallipoli the following year and moved to Mesopotamia (now Iraq) and some were used for police duties.

Early in 1918 the division was moved to the Western Front, and they ended the war on November 11, 1918, at Tournai in Belgium.

But Private Cooper was wounded just months earlier.

He was giving support to numerous mule trains carrying urgent supplies to the French front line in June when the supply line was bombed by German aircraft on a narrow pass, resulting in him sustaining leg, back and skull injuries from shrapnel.

He was taken back to England by hospital ship and treated at the King George Hospital in London, where he underwent numerous surgical operations.

On his return as an ‘invalided soldier’, he was presented with a list of conditions he would have to meet if he was to collect his pension and insurance money – a marked contrast to today’s automated systems.

The young soldier was transferred to the Red Cross Hospital in Surrey, where, in his regulation ‘hospital blue’ uniform, he met his future wife, Eva.

He married Eva in 1919, and when Henry was discharged - after four years and 195 days with the Colours and a further 232 days with the Territorial Force – they returned to Sidmouth.

He went on to work for James Skinner, a haulier who had the agency from Southern Railway to deliver goods by rail in the Sid Valley.

The couple had four daughters and two sons. The youngest son and daughter still live in Sidmouth, the fourth generation of their family to do so.

Henry suffered a fatal heart attack at his home in Arcot Park on June 3, 1955, at the age of 59.

Eva died in 1994 at the age of 94.