The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (2617) Lance Corporal Charles James Cootes, 56th Battalion, First World War.

Accession Number AWM2021.1.1.333
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 29 November 2021
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 Sharon Bown, the story for this day was on (2617) Lance Corporal Charles James Cootes, 56th Battalion, First World War.

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Speech transcript

2617 Lance Corporal Charles James Cootes, 56th Battalion
DOW 3 April 1917

Today we remember and pay tribute to Lance Corporal Charles James Cootes.

Charles Cootes, known as “Charlie”, was born on 24 March 1893 to Samuel and Elizabeth Cootes of Cathcart, New South Wales. His father was a well-known labourer in the district, often taking on the role of cook in various shearing sheds. Charlie was educated at the local state school, later moving to Delegate where he worked as a tailor for a number of years. He was described as being “of the devil-may-care style, who have made Australia … and was a fine young fellow in every other respect.”

Charlie Cootes enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force in August 1915, almost exactly a year after war broke out. He underwent a period of training in Australia before leaving for active service overseas with reinforcements to the 20th Battalion.

Private Cootes was first sent to Egypt, where the AIF was undergoing a period of expansion and reorganisation following the evacuation from Gallipoli. Shortly after his arrival he was hospitalised for dental treatment, and on his return he was transferred to the 56th Battalion. Cootes did not always exhibit ideal military discipline, and shortly after his transfer to the 56th Battalion he was punished for being late for outpost duty and insolence to a non-commissioned officer. Before leaving Egypt he would be hospitalised once again, this time with tonsillitis.

On 19 June 1916, Private Cootes embarked on the troopship Huntsend on his way to France and the battlefields of the Western Front. On 12 July, Cootes and his battalion entered the front line for the first time, and one week later they took part in an attack on German positions near the French village of Fromelles. The battle was a disaster. The 5th Division’s five and a half thousand casualties remain to this day the greatest loss by an Australian division in 24 hours.

Private Cootes came through the Fromelles disaster unscathed, but convinced of the importance of his task. After spending the bitterly cold winter of 1916 and 1917 with his battalion, he wrote home to say that those who had not yet enlisted “ought to try and warm their feet and do their bit for sunny Australia, for there is no place in the world like it, and a fellow doesn’t know it until he has left it. I’ve been in the firing line now for eight months, never out of reach of a shell, and, although it’s not the game it’s cracked up to be, I’m glad I didn’t miss it.”

Not long after Private Cootes wrote that letter, the German Army began to withdraw to the Hindenburg Line, a secretly prepared defensive position which they hoped would make their position impregnable. The 56th Battalion was involved in following up the withdrawal towards the French village of Bullecourt.

In early April the 56th Battalion was ordered to attack the German-held village of Louverval. They launched their attack on 2 April, encountering heavy German machine-gun fire and sustaining a significant number of casualties. Nevertheless, the operation was successful, and the men of the 56th Battalion spent the following day securing their new position and detonating German booby traps in the town.

At some point during the attack, Private Charles Cootes was wounded in action. He was carried from the battlefield suffering from gun-shot wounds to his abdomen. His wounds were too bad for him to survive for long, and he died the following day at the 3rd Casualty Clearing Station.

Today Charlie Cootes lies in the Pozieres British Cemetery at Ovillers-la-Boisselle on the Somme. His epitaph is a line from a well-known hymn that is sung at Anzac Day services today, and simply reads: “lead, kindly light”.

In Australia the Delegate Argus reported on Cootes’s death. The article read, “He heard the call early in the war, and was delighted to have had the chance to do his bit. Poor Charlie has done it and done it well and though we all deplore his death and sympathise with his sorrowing parents, it is a consolation to know that he died as he would have wished – in the fight for home and liberty.” He was 24 years old.

His name is listed on the Roll of Honour on my right, among almost 62,000 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 Lance Corporal Charles James Cootes, who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.

Meleah Hampton
Historian, Military History Section

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