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Cooke, Thomas (1881–1916)

by P. A. Pedersen

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Thomas Cooke, c.1915

Thomas Cooke, c.1915

Australian War Memorial, A02649

Thomas Cooke (1881-1916), soldier and builder, was born on 5 July 1881 at Kaikoura, Marlborough, New Zealand, son of Tom Cooke, an English-born carpenter, and his wife Caroline Ann, née Cooper. Educated at Kaikoura District High School, he later moved to Wellington with his family and became a carpenter. There, on 4 June 1902, he married Maud Elizabeth Elliott. Cooke's main hobby was band music: he was an excellent cornetist and belonged to the city's garrison band.

In 1912, with his wife and three children, he migrated to Victoria, settling in the Melbourne suburb of Richmond. Cooke worked as a builder until World War I. On 16 February 1915 he enlisted as a private in the Australian Imperial Force and after training at Broadmeadows and other camps was allotted to the 24th Battalion as a reinforcement. He embarked for Egypt in November on the troopship Commonwealth and on arrival was transferred to the 8th Battalion at Serapeum in the Suez Canal Zone. His unit sailed for France on 26 March 1916 and from April to July served in the Fleurbaix and Messines sectors of the Western Front.

In mid-July the battalion was moved south to the Somme where it took part in the furious fighting around Pozières. The task of advancing through the village itself had been allotted to the 8th Battalion and on 24-25 July 1916, as the men moved forward under an intense bombardment, Cooke was ordered, with his Lewis-gun team, to a dangerous part of the newly captured line. There was little cover, and heavy enemy fire killed all his companions, but he continued to hold out alone. When assistance finally reached him he was found dead beside his gun. For his gallantry he was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross. His name is commemorated on the roll of honour at the Australian war memorial, Villers-Bretonneux. Cooke was survived by his wife, who later remarried, and by his three children.

Select Bibliography

  • O'M Creagh and E. M. Humphris, The V. C. and D. S. O. (Lond, 1924)
  • C. E. W. Bean, The Australian Imperial Force in France, 1916 (Syd, 1929)
  • L. Wigmore (ed), They Dared Mightily (Canb, 1963)
  • London Gazette, 8 Sept 1916
  • Call (Perth), 28 July 1932
  • war diary of the 8th Battalion, AIF (Australian War Memorial).

Citation details

P. A. Pedersen, 'Cooke, Thomas (1881–1916)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/cooke-thomas-5766/text9773, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 25 October 2021.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (Melbourne University Press), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

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