The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (3392) Private Walter Cooper, 49th Infantry Battalion, AIF, First World War.

Accession Number AWM2020.1.1.82
Collection type Film
Object type Last Post film
Physical description 16:9
Maker Australian War Memorial
Place made Australia: Australian Capital Territory, Canberra, Campbell
Date made 22 March 2020
Access Open
Conflict First World War, 1914-1918
Copyright Item copyright: © Australian War Memorial
Creative Commons License This item is licensed under CC BY-NC
Copying Provisions Copyright restrictions apply. Only personal, non-commercial, research and study use permitted. Permission of copyright holder required for any commercial use and/or reproduction.

The Last Post Ceremony is presented in the Commemorative area of the Australian War Memorial each day. The ceremony commemorates more than 102,000 Australians who have given their lives in war and other operations and whose names are recorded on the Roll of Honour. At each ceremony the story behind one of the names on the Roll of Honour is told. Hosted by Jana Johnson, the story for this day was on (3392) Private Walter Cooper, 49th Infantry Battalion, AIF, First World War.

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Speech transcript

3392 Private Walter Cooper, 49th Infantry Battalion, AIF
DOW 11 October 1917

Today we remember and pay tribute to Private Walter Cooper.

Walter Cooper was born on 8 May 1900 at Hawnby in Yorkshire, England, one of seven children born to John and Miriam Cooper. Cooper lived in England until his early teens, when his parents sold their grocery store in York and moved the family to begin a new life in Australia. After making the long sea voyage from England, the family moved to Maryborough, north of Brisbane, and then to Gayndah, some 100 kilometres to the west, where Cooper’s parents bought a farm at Reid’s Creek. Cooper spent the rest of his time in Australia helping his parents and working on the family farm.

In July 1916, Cooper enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force in Brisbane and commenced his training. He was the second of the Cooper brothers to sign up and serve in the war. His older brother John signed up in 1915 and served in the 14th Australian Artillery Brigade. John received a severe gunshot wound to his right foot in August 1918 and had to have his leg amputated – just one of the tragedies to befall the Cooper family in the First World War.

When Walter Cooper joined the AIF in 1916, he stated that he was two years older than he actually was in order to ensure that he would be admitted. Cooper’s father later claimed that his son was told by a recruitment officer that Walter would only be placed on Home Guard duties, and would not be sent to the war because he was so young. The older Cooper asked that his son continue in the Army, but remain in Australia until he was older. The AIF, however, was by late 1916 keen to take as many able soldiers as they could; so after a brief reprimand for lying about his age, Cooper sailed from Sydney for England on 24 January 1917. He was only 16 years old.

Cooper arrived in England in April 1917, where he continued his infantry training. In September 1917 he embarked from England for France and the war on the Western Front.

He joined his unit, the 49th Infantry Battalion, on 16 September 1917 as it was resting and training behind the lines at Coyecques in northern France. Days later, Cooper and his unit transferred to Steenvoorde, on the French-Belgian border, and then to the Ypres area of Belgium. On the night of 25 September 1917, Cooper moved with his unit to front line positions near Westhoek Ridge in preparation for his first major battle.

At 1:30 in the morning of 26 September, the 49th Battalion moved to its starting position in preparation for a 1,500 metre attack across no man’s land through the remains of a young plantation known as Polygon Wood. At 5:50 am, Cooper and the rest of the Australian troops attacked under the cover of an intense and effective artillery barrage. The 49th Battalion reached its objective by 8 am and began consolidating and defending its position. The attack was a success, but came at the expense of over 5,700 Australian casualties.

Cooper survived the Battle of Polygon Wood, and went with the rest of his unit behind the lines for rest and recuperation, first at Halifax Camp, then at Steenvoorde. On 9 October, Cooper and the 49th Battalion moved from Ypres to Broodseinde Ridge to man the front line once more. They spent their time there watching for German attack and improving trench defences.

Troops defending the front line, even if not involved in a major battle, often came under intermittent German sniper, machine-gun and artillery fire. On 11 October 1917, Cooper received severe wounds to his legs, probably from gunshot or shrapnel fire, and was evacuated to a nearby Field Ambulance. Despite receiving medical attention, he died the same day. He was 17 years old. He had been on the Western Front for less than a month.

Because of the chaotic and destructive nature of the fighting on the Western Front, the exact burial place of Private Cooper is unknown to this day. His name is instead commemorated on the Menin Gate in Belgium, which lists the names of over 54,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers of the First World War who have no known grave.

Private Walter Cooper is listed on the Roll of Honour on my right, among more than 60,000 Australians who died while serving in the First World War.

This is but one of the many stories of service and sacrifice told here at the Australian War Memorial. We now remember Private Walter Cooper, who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.

David Sutton
Historian, Military History Section

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