The following two casualties shared the same surname and were first cousins once removed three times over, via their Cooper, Barlow and Pugh ancestors. I thank Gail Brumfitt and Patricia Wilcock for their help in understanding the relevant family trees
Charles Barlow Cooper
Charles belonged to a well-known Hoylake fishing family, who resided in the centre of the old township of Hoose along with many other working class families, many of whom earned their livings by fishing. His parents were Joseph Cooper (1841-1892) and Jane Pugh (1841-1923). Charles’s middle name was inherited from his paternal grandmother, Ellen Barlow, who lived locally between 1809 and 1886.
Charles was the seventh of eight children. His siblings were Minnie (1870-1959), Arthur Henry (1872-1913), Florence (1873 -?), Beatrice (1875-1966), Esther (1877-1935), Joseph (1879-1949) and Blanche (1883-1961) all of whom were born in Hoylake (Hoose). In 1911, Charles was living at 56 Walker Street with Jane, his widowed 70 year-old mother. He was employed as a fisherman.
In common with most other local fishermen, Charles joined the Royal Naval Reserve and performed minesweeping duties during the war. He served on board a series of steam trawlers and drifters, most of which had come from either Fleetwood or Hull. The vessels were equipped with one gun and their crews employed in retrieving German mines from British waters. It was arduous and extremely dangerous work. Mines were capable of exploding without warning and the vessels were vulnerable to attacks by German surface vessels or U-boats.
Charles’s service records tell us that he was confirmed as a naval rating on 26th March 1915. He had a fresh complexion and blue eyes and was 5’ 8½” tall. He showed his pride in his origins and profession by sporting tattoos on each arm – on his left, the words “C.Cooper” with flags, a heart, an anchor and a wheel and on his right, a steamboat with flags. The records tell us that he served on several vessels, including Vivid, Carieda, Colleen, Victory, Lord Knollys, Hecla and Shikari. After each stint, his ability was recorded as being “good” and his conduct “very good”. We are gaining a mental picture of a conscientious, skilled and committed young man who invested his abilities fully in the service of his country in a rather unglamorous but essential role, which, in the traditional vision of the Great War,has been largely forgotten.
On 3rd June 1918, Charles was serving on board HM Trawler St. John’s (number FY1906) which was shelled by a German warship and sank without trace with the loss of all hands. A telegram confirming Charles’s death was sent to his mother on 12th June. There are no other documentary references to Charles’s family until 24th November when his mother was paid £12 10s naval “prize money” in recognition of her son’s service with the RNR.
The St. John’s used to belong to the Hull Steam Fishing and Ice Company. Her wreck site is listed here.
Birth: 15th January 1882 in Hoylake (Hoose)
Death: 3rd June 1918, died in the North Sea as a result of enemy action, aged 36
Address: Grove Road, Hoylake (91), 56 Walker Street, Hoylake (11)
Unit: Royal Naval Reserve: HM Trawler St. John’s
Number and Rank: 5153, Deckhand
Commemorated and Buried: GH, H, Plymouth Naval Memorial 29
Sources: BR, CWGC, Cesnus: 91,11, FT
Edgar was first cousin once removed to the above Charles Barlow Cooper on account of the fact that Edgar’s grandfather, Thomas Cooper (1834-1900), was brother to Charles’s father Joseph Cooper (1841-1892). Remarkably, the two men were also first cousins via their Barlow and Pugh ancestors: they were both descended from John Pugh (1795-1860) and Ann Barlow (1801-1879) – Charles was their grandson and Edgar a great grandson – and from Thomas Cooper (c.1813-1866) and Ellen Barlow (1809-1886) – again, Charles was their grandson and Edgar a great grandson. As with all these intricate genealogical links which fascinate us 21st century researchers, we do not know either whether Edgar and Charles were aware of their relationships or whether, if they were aware of them, they meant anything to them on a daily basis. But the relationships reveal the genetic closeness of the old working class populations of the Hoylake area.
In 1901, Edgar was living at 11 Shaw Street (a four-roomed terraced house) with his widowed 67 year-old grandmother, Ellen, his 42 year-old father Thomas who was a brick-layer’s labourer and his fifteen year-old brother Thomas, who was a plasterer’s apprentice. By 1911, the family were still living at 11 Shaw Street. Ellen was now 77 years old and she reported that she had got married 53 years prior to that and had had four children. Her son Thomas was now aged 52 and he reported that he had married 28 years previously and had had six children, three of whom had died. He was no longer working in the building trade and had become a fisherman. His brother William, aged 46, was now present in the household and he also was a fisherman. Edgar was described as being a professional golfer.
At the beginning of the war, Edgar joined the 13th Battalion of the Cheshire Regiment, which is also known as the Wirral Pals. The unit was formed on 1st September 1914 by MP for Wirral, Gershom Stewart at Levers’ Port Sunlight factory. It received more recruits from one place of work than any other battalion in the country. However, there is no evidence that Edgar was employed at the Levers’ soap works. Indeed, as we have seen above, in 1911, his occupation was recorded as professional golfer and, in a letter he wrote not long before his death, he referred to a Mr Barton as being a possible employer.
The battalion moved to Chester by train from Port Sunlight on 7th September and was placed in the 74th Brigade, 25th Division in October. By December, members of the battalion were in Billets in Bournemouth; by May 1915, they were in Aldershot and on 25th March 1915 they arrived in France. Indeed, Edgar’s medal card confirms that this is when his overseas service began.
In March 1916, the 13th Cheshires entered the trenches in the Maroeuil sector of the Western Front and on 22nd April, they occupied the front line in Zouave Valley on the western slopes of Vimy Ridge. In the words of Peter Threlfall, who is researching the battalion’s history, it was the first time that they were engaged in “seriously heavy fighting” in and around a series of mine craters which had been formed by both sides. Between 22nd April and 17th May, the 13th Cheshires lost two officers and 61 men killed and many more wounded. Poor Edgar was one of the casualties. The following article from the Deeside Advertiser of 19th May 1916 gives us a heart-breaking insight into Edgar’s last few days. Clearly, like so many of his comrades, his first thought was to put his family’s minds at rest, even though he must have known that he was in a much more perilous state of health than he was prepared to confess to.
Birth: c.1893 in Hoylake
Death: 12.50 pm on 10th May 1916, killed in action, aged 23
Address: 11 Shaw Street, Hoylake (01, 11)
Occupation: Professional Golfer
Unit: 13th Battalion Cheshire Regiment
Number and Rank: 127, Private
Medals: 15 Star, Victory and British War
Commemorated and Buried: GH, H, France: Le Havre, St. Marie Cemetery, Div.19.AA.3
Sources: BR, CWGC, SDGW, MC, DA, Census: 01,11