April 11, 2017 marked the centenary anniversary of Sydney Roy Cooper’s death at Battle of Bullecourt, France.
About 30 relatives gathered at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra to mark the occasion.
Descendants of his sisters, Mary, Eileen and Daphne who were unable to be present in Canberra, came from around the South East to honour their relative with a memorial at the Kingston SE War Memorial on April 11 at 10:30 am.
A history of Syd Cooper’s life, prepared by great niece Ann White, was delivered by Syd’s niece, Vida Maney of Mundulla.
Ann’s grandmother and Vida’s mother was Mary, Syd’s older sibling.
There was also a celebration to mark the centenary of the Battle of Bullecourt in France on the 11th April 2017 which other relatives also attended.
Sydney Roy Cooper was born on 27 March 1895, the fifth of ten children born to John Cooper and his wife Maggie, nee Doyle.
The family lived on a farm at Wangolina, a few miles south of Kingston in the South East of South Australia. Like all his siblings he was born at home.
Syd and his brother Walter enlisted together in the AIF on 14 April 1916.
On Saturday evening, the 20th inst., a farewell was given to Ptes. R. Evans, S. Cooper, W. Cooper, and A. Randall.
Pte. H. Martin, who recently returned from the front owing to serious illness, was also accorded a welcome in conjunction with this farewell.
As evidence of these soldiers’ popularity, the hall was crowded to its upmost capacity.
The brothers departed from Melbourne aboard the HMAT Berambah on 27 June 1916, and arrived at Plymouth on 25 August 1916
The 48th Battalion was raised in Egypt on 16 March 1916 as part of the “doubling” of the AIF.
Roughly half of its new recruits were Gallipoli veterans from the 16th Battalion, and the other half, fresh reinforcements from Australia.
Reflecting the composition of the 16th, the men of the new battalion hailed mainly from regional South Australia and Western Australia.
The new battalion formed part of the 12th Brigade of the 4th Australian Division.
It became known as the “Joan of Arc” (the Maid of Orleans) battalion because it was “made of all Leanes” – it was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Ray Leane, his brother was the adjutant, and several other relatives were scattered throughout the battalion.
The 48th’s first major battle on the Western Front was Pozières.
Here, it was tasked with defending ground captured in earlier attacks by the 2nd Division and entered the firing line on two separate occasions – 5 to 7 and 12 to 15 August.
During the former period the battalion endured what was said to be heaviest artillery barrage ever experienced by Australian troops and suffered 598 casualties.
On 14 October Syd, Walter and the rest of their unit were shipped to Etaples in France, and a fortnight later he “marched out to” the 48th Battalion, where he was “taken on strength” on 4 November 1916. On 12 January he was appointment Lance Corporal.
1917 was also a trying year for the 48th Battalion.
In two of the major battles in which it fought – the first battle of Bullecourt, in France, and the battle of Passchendaele, in Belgium – it was forced to withdraw with heavy casualties as result of poor planning and inadequate support.
On neither occasion did the battalion fail for want of courage or skill amongst its own troops
After the action at Bullecourt, Syd was reported as having been wounded in action.
The report was later updated to “missing”, and then eventually, on 29 December 1917, a court of enquiry concluded that he had been killed in action on 11 April 1917.
The Australian Red Cross Society Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau files, 1914–18 War includes a statement from Cpl. W. Reycraft, 3126:
I was in the same trench as Cooper at Bullecourt on April 11th. Cooper jumped on the parapet and resting the Lewis Gun on his shoulder fired at the Germans. They shot him down. The ground was held…
T. Longbottom, 1307, reported:
In the early morning of April 11th Cooper’s Battalion was in an attack on the front line German trench at Bullecourt and he was hit during the advance. The machine gun and shell fire was very heavy on the spot where Cooper lay and the stretcher bearers were unable to bring him back ...
As he has no known grave, he is memorialised on the Villiers-Bretonneux Memorial Wall.
Click here to view photos from last years Anzac Day services