Private Harley Cohen

Service number 37
Birth Date 28 October 1892
Death Date 04 September 1971
Death Place Australia: New South Wales, Sydney, Newtown
Also known as Cohen, Harley David Victor, Harley David Victor Cohen
Final Rank Private
Unit 4th Australian Infantry Battalion
Place Newtown
Conflict/Operation First World War, 1914-1918

Harley David Victor Cohen was born in the parish of Alexandria, Sydney, on 28 October 1892, with his birth registration showing his name as David H. Cohen. His parents were Victor Cohen and Deborah Cohen née Levey, and he was the second youngest of seven children.

Cohen’s father, Victor, was one of the original life members of the Sydney Cricket Ground and the first life member of the NSW Cricket Association. He also organised the first Department of Home Affairs under Sir William Lyne, and served as a commander in the Royal Australian Navy before the First World War.

Harley Cohen attended Fort Street School, Sydney, and graduated from Sydney University. He subsequently spent some time pursuing agricultural activities before studying drama and elocution under Stella Chapman and Douglas Ancelon. He gave an “excellent” performance in the role of Mark Antony in a passage taken from Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar as part of a Douglas Ancelon – Stella Chapman recital at St James’ Hall in Sydney on 2 April 1914. Several weeks later he received second place in the Australian Recitation category at the Tenth Sydney Eisteddfod.

Cohen enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 17 August 1914 and gave his occupation as clerk. He was gifted a silver cigarette case by other members of a club that he was involved with on 7 September 1914, and embarked with the 4th Battalion from Sydney aboard HMAT Euripides on 20 October 1914. Three days later his name appeared on an honour list for Australian Jewish service personnel published in a local Jewish newspaper.

Cohen took part in the landing on Gallipoli and subsequent battles as part of the campaign on the Peninsula. He was hospitalised in May 1915 with tonsillitis, but rejoined his unit a month later. He was wounded on the first day of the battle of Lone Pine, an injury that ultimately resulted in the loss of his sight in one eye. He was repatriated to Australia in September 1915, and claimed a pension of £26 per annum. Of this incident, Cohen said in an interview published by The Sydney Morning Herald, “My wounds … well, I’ve a piece or two of shrapnel in my right eye, and I’ve got a mate who has lost his left eye, but when we linked arms and used our two good eyes, we were all right.” Cohen arrived back in Australia on 19 October 1915.

On 19 March 1916, it was reported that Cohen had written the lyrics for the song “They Were There! There!! There!!!” with some sources stating the lyrics had been written in the trenches. This patriotic song was set to music by Bert Rache, and described the landing on Gallipoli. Other songs written by Cohen during the First World War period included “The dawn of a perfect day”, “Women, you have nobly done your share”, and “Thoughts of eventide”.

Cohen formed a variety troupe called The Anzac Concert Party with other returned servicemen in 1916, which went on to perform shows around Australia. He featured with the group at a concert at Weston, New South Wales, on 7 September 1916. In another performance with the troupe at Dungog, New South Wales, he recited “Fallen Comrades”, a poem by soldier poet Tom Skeyhill, which reportedly “brought many to tears”. In May 1917, he recited two of his own poems at an Ancelon–Chapman recital in Sydney to “well deserved applause”. Around July 1917, The Anzac Concert Party became known as The Gallipoli Strollers and started a tour of Queensland. The group continued touring into 1920.

Cohen married Aileen Lily Flynn at St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney, on 12 April 1922. The couple had three children: Douglas John, born 1922; Kathleen Deborah, born 1923; and Phillip, who was born in 1926. Aileen died on 21 September 1927 at Sydney.

In 1930, Cohen married Ada Emily Griffiths at Annandale in Sydney. The couple were living in the suburb of Haberfield at this time, and had one son, Harley James Cohen.

In 1942, Cohen composed “Swingin’ along the road to Victory”, a song related to the Second World War, which was popular with performers and the public alike. By 1954, he had written approximately 70 songs. His final composition, “Because I love Australia”, won a National Anthem competition with all proceeds from the song dedicated to the Partially Blinded Soldiers’ Association.

Harley Cohen died at Newtown in Sydney on 4 September 1971. He is buried at Rookwood Cemetery, Sydney.

Harley Cohen died at Newtown in Sydney on 4 September 1971. He is buried at Rookwood Cemetery, Sydney.



Date of birth 28 October 1892
Date of enlistment 17 August 1914
Date of embarkation 20 October 1914
Date returned to Australia 17 September 1915
Date of death 04 September 1971