The following two casualties shared the same surname but were not related. George was based in the Frankby and Newton area of the old parish of West Kirby and William in West Kirby itself, although neither man was born in the area.
George Frederick Cooke
George is buried in Thurstaston Church Yard and commemorated in St. Peter’s Church, Heswall, as well as at Grange Hill. This is due to the fact that he had lived in Newton and Frankby as well as in Heswall. He originated from Thurgoland, a small town close to Sheffield in the West Riding of Yorkshire. George’s parents were William Cooke (born in about 1843 in Newmarket, Suffolk) and Hannah (born in about 1845 in Eye in Suffolk). In 1881 and 1901, William was employed as a domestic butler and Hannah as a dressmaker. George, who was described as being a student at that time, had the following siblings: William (born in about 1871 in London), Ellen (born in about 1873 in Thurgoland), Blanche (born in about 1880 in Thurgoland) and Arthur (born in about 1886 in Thurgoland). In 1901, the family was still living at Hill Top in Thurgoland. By that time, Ellen was still single, aged 28 and working as a dress-maker on her own account, while Arthur was employed as a railway worker.
By 1911, George was aged 33 and married to Elizabeth (née Darwin, who was born in Sheffield), who was aged 32. The couple reported that they had been married for six years and had had four children, one of whom had died in infancy. However, only one of their children was at home with them on census night – the three month old Mary Darwin Cooke, who had been born in Frankby. George’s 64 year-old mother, Hannah, was also resident in the household. She was described as being “married” instead of “widowed”, but her husband was not present. By this time, George was employed as an assistant school master by the “local council”, but it is not known to which council this refers (it could be either Cheshire County or Birkenhead Borough) and his school is not named. Neither do we know whether he was a primary or secondary school teacher.
At this point, we know very little about George’s military career, other than that firstly he served as a private in the Royal Army Medical Corps and then in The Duke of Cambridge’s Own (Middlesex Regiment) as a lieutenant and that he contracted a fatal disease in France from which he died at home in Heswall on 22nd October 1919. However, his long service papers exist and are kept at the National Archives (reference WO 339/101 898). Copies have been ordered and once they have been received and studied, this biography will be augmented accordingly.
George’s will was proved on 29th January 1920 and his estate worth £376 1s was passed to his widow, Elizabeth.
Birth: c.1877 in Thurgoland, West Riding, Yorkshire
Death: 22nd October 1919 in Heswall of a disease contracted in France while engaged in war service
Addresses: Hill Top, Thurgoland (81 – 01), Dingle Bank, Newton near West Kirby (11) Penlee, Pole Hill Road, Heswall, Wirral (19).
Occupation: Student (01), Assistant School Master (11)
Unit: The Duke of Cambridge’s Own (Middlesex Regiment)
Medals: Victory and British War
Commemorated and Buried: GH, Frankby, Thurstaston Parish Church Yard
Sources: BR, CWGC, SDGW, MC, Census: 81, 01, 11, Prob.
William Arthur George Cooke
William’s father was called George. He was born in Herefordshire in about 1858, where his paternal ancestors were living as far back as 1725. George was a shoe finisher in 1891 and a shoe and boot maker in 1901, when he and his family were residing in a poor and crowded neighbourhood in London. Indeed, their address was shared by two other families, revealing just how impoverished the Cooke family itself actually was at that stage. They were probably not much better off by the time they had moved to West Kirby, but they must surely have appreciated the more salubrious environment of North Wirral. George was married to Hannah, who was born in Broadheath in Cheshire in about 1861. In addition to William, the couple had the following children: Mary Maude (born c.1878), Florence (born c.1880), Dora (born c.1881), Elizabeth Ada (born c.1888), Wilfred (born c.1892) and Walter (born c.1896). All of the children were born in Latchford, although the 1901 Census claims that Elizabeth was born in the Isle of Man, which seems unlikely.
William was a career sailor in the Royal Navy. He joined the service in about 1909 and became a stoker. In 1916, the Deeside Advertiser reported that both of his brothers were also in the Navy. The same newspaper said that by the time of his death, William had served in five naval battles. If he had always been on board HMS Indefatigable, two of these engagements would have been the pursuit of the German battleships Breslau and Goeben and the bombardment of Ottoman fortifications in the Mediterranean in 1914.
HMS Indefatigable was commissioned in 1911. She became part of Vice Admiral David Beatty’s Battlecruiser Fleet and took part in the “Run to the South” phase of the horrific and inconclusive Battle of Jutland in May 1916. She came to a tragic end – a salvo of shells fired by the Von Der Tann ripped through her armour plating and caused a huge explosion which sent fragments of metal 200 feet into the air. Only two members of her 1,019 crew – Able Seaman Elliott and Leading Signalman Falmer – survived. The ship’s captain Sowerby was seen floating in the water, but died there of his wounds before he could be rescued.
The sinking of this proud British war ship along with so many others of the Grand Fleet on 31st May 1916 was a terrible blow British naval confidence and prestige, but the German navy did not exploit its success and remained largely in port for the rest of the war, allowing the British to claim a sort of victory. In these circumstances, however, our minds seem unwilling to contemplate the great strategic outcomes of the only major naval battle of the war, because we are overcome by our dawning awareness of the dreadful sufferings of the thousands of seamen, like William, who went to the bottom of the North Sea having had little or no opportunity to escape from the iron clutches of the boiler rooms of their stricken battleships.
Mount Indefatigable in the Canadian Rockies was named after William’s ship and her resting place was given official protection by the Military Remains Act of 1986. The amount of suffering endured in working class homes throughout Great Britain following the loss of so many of their young men on that terrible day can barely be imagined. A complete list of everybody who went down with HMS Indefatigable can be found here.
In common with the previous casualty, William’s service records exist and are held at the National Archives. Once these have been studied, the above biography with be augmented accordingly.
Birth: c.1890 in Latchford, Cheshire
Death: 31st May 1916, went down with his ship during the Battle of Jutland
Address: 551 Knutsford Road, Latchford, Cheshire (91), 35 Tunis Road, Hammersmith, London (01), 70 Grange Road and/or 2 Westbourne Road, West Kirby (16)
Occupation: Stoker in the Royal Navy
Unit: HMS Indefatigable
Number and Rank: K/6215, Stoker
Commemorated and Buried: GH, WK, Plymouth Naval Memorial
Sources: BR, CWGC, SR, DA, Census: 91, 01