24 April 2012

Pte 17958 Joe Cooper & 2/Lt Ollett

This gentleman is really the whole inspiration behind this blog and the root of my interest in the West Ham Battalion.

He was born in Rook Street, Limehouse in 1877 and grew up in the very centre of "Hell's Kitchen' at Mary Street. His mother, Kate Cooper was originally Catherine Footman, born 1856/1857 in Limehouse, daughter of Lawrence (age 60) and Johanna Footman (age 44) of St Mary's Street, Poplar. Kate married Thomas William Cooper, a fishmongers salesman of Limehouse, at Stepney in 1877 and soon after Joseph was born.

When Joe married Emily Stormey, aged 21, at Limehouse, his job was as 'carman to a wharfinger'. At some point after the outbreak of the Great War, Joe signed on the line at Stratford and became Private 17958. He was nearly 40 years old with no previous military experience.

Going over to France a day before the rest of the Hammers on the 16th November 1915 with the Advance Party was probably the first time Joe had been abroad. It may even have been the first time he'd been out of London. And here he was with a rifle on his back.

After travelling through France, the West Ham Battalion were in the trenches at Bully Grenay, just by the ' double crassier' at Loos-En-Gohelle, facing the Germans of Lens and Lievin:

Joe is buried in the tranquil British Cemetary at Loos, with a lovely view of the countryside and his headstone is leaning somewhat jauntily to the left.

Before he died he had a few children, one of whom was my nan. She was six years old when he never came back, but she still remembered his battle cry of "Up The Hammers!"

Incredibly, in March 2012, one of Joe's medals came up for sale at Lockdale's, Suffolk's premier militaria auctioneers. They did a fine job, so much so that I wasn't able to afford it and it sold for three or four times the estimate! I had always thought the medals were lost in the Blitz but perhaps it means there's a long-lost cousin out there who now owns a part of Joe. Head over to Lockdale's if you're looking for top quality militaria!

Also killed alongside Joe was Alfred Oscar Ollett, a 21 year old 2/Lt from High Garrett in Essex, shot by a sniper. He was the first West Ham Battalion officer to be killed in action. Today he lies buried in the Bully Grenay cemetery.

There is a small memorial to him at St Mary The Virgin Church in Bocking, Essex placed by his parents Oscar Joseph and Laura Louisa Ollett.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I stumbled by pure accident this blog while researching my family ancestry...I read with much interest about your relative Joe Cooper it would seem we could be very distant relatives....my great grandmother was Margaret Footman, her father was Michael Footman which was Catherine Footman's brother....Joe Cooper and Margaret Footman would have been cousins... my husband and son are both season ticket holders of West Ham United so 'up the hammers' certainly remains in my family...

Kind regards Laura