Harry Cooley enlisted in the Royal Artillery a couple of months before his 16th birthday. His civilian trade was given as stonemason – he had served 15 months of his apprenticeship with stonemason, Mr Jenkins, who cancelled his indentures to allow him to enlist. Harry was the first of the Cooley brood to be born at Parkhurst, which probably means his father, George, only became a prison warder in about 1875, having been a stonemason himself prior to that, living in his wife’s home town of Ryde.

There doesn’t seem to have been time for Harry to have lived the family story of running away to sea, so perhaps he made that up to entertain his children and grandchildren. His joining the RFA was, however, in the spirit of running away to sea, to avoid being stuck on the Isle of Wight as either a stonemason or a prison warder. Even if he wasn't a ship's cook, it was no doubt in the military that he learnt to make his “favourite dish … ‘stew with swimmers’ – dumplings..... he made ‘seapie’ as well, which was almost the same: meat boiled with a big dumpling over the top, like a pie”. (Maud)

Harry at 19

On the date of attesting Harry was 5’ 3” tall but over the following 3 years he grew two and a half inches taller. He weighed 128lbs and his physical development was good. His medical history throughout his army career – until 1915 – was fairly routine although during his first tour of India, between 1893 and 1896, he spent several spells in hospital, first with pleurisy and then with several mild bouts of ‘Ague’. This was, presumably, Malaria, as the treatment was quinine.

On an early morning ride at Neemuch in 1895 Harry’s young horse reared, flinging its head back, which hit Harry on the left jaw, knocking him off his mount. He had another potentially nasty accident at Okehampton in 1897 when, during a practice charge with the gun carriage ‘at the trot’ over stony terrain, the gun carriage overturned, tipping off all the soldiers. Harry sustained a bad cut to his forearm but, fortunately, nothing worse.

In 1907 in Colchester he suffered a dislocation of his right knee and the doctor’s notes say “Recurrent – states that it has been out 6 times. Refused operation”. Another interesting item is from 1912 in Aldershot: “Issued with upper and lower dentures. Value £4.10.0”.

His first tour of India – at Neemuch, in the Malwa region of Madhya Pradesh, with the 44th Battery - was between mid 1893 and early 1896, during which time he went from Trooper to Driver to Acting Bombardier. (A Driver was equal to the rank of Private - Drivers were in charge of a team of up to six horses which pulled field artillery to areas of fighting). In Maud’s words, with an aside from Dorothy: “At first he was a gunner and used to sit on the ammunition thing at the back of the gun and I think they used to load the guns. The guns were drawn by horses and when he was a gunner he had to help groom the horses, like an officer’s charger, and he was a good horseman. [The horse was called Kathleen. D]”

Back in the UK for summer 1896, Harry was presumably on manoeuvres and various courses as his record shows him going to Okehampton, Devonport, Shoeburyness, Okehampton again and then Trowbridge, all with Colchester in between. Not very long after he had married Het in 1898 he was posted abroad, but at least he was around for the first few months of their first child’s life.

On 1st September 1899 Harry was posted to South Africa with the 79th Battery and promoted Sergeant. He travelled out there aboard the SS Cymric, "a steamship of the White Star Line built by Harland and Wolff in Belfast and launched two years previously. During both the Boer War and the First World War she was pressed into service as a troop transport" (www.wikipedia.org).


Harry (bottom left in the photo) was awarded both the Queen’s and King’s South Africa medals with clasps, having served there in both 1901 and 1902, and having seen action at Paardeburg, Driefontein, Johannesburg, Wittebergen and the Relief of Kimberley. The links have plenty of information on all the battles and the medals.

Going straight from South Africa to India, on the SS Plassy, Harry was joined by Het and their 4 year old daughter, having seen neither of them for over three years. There followed a halcyon period for them all, first at Bareilly, then Cawnpore (Kanpur) and finally Lucknow.

Photos of postcards are from the very generous website www.camulos.com

They (which included Vashti and Maud, born 1904 and 1906 respectively) returned to Colchester in early 1907, where Harry was with the 100th Battery and then the 99th Battery. Harry was then promoted to Battery Quarter Master Sergeant and posted to the 132nd Battery, which may have been when they went to Ireland, as Charles is shown as being born in Colchester at the end of August 1908 but baptised in Fermoy, Co Cork in mid-October. The next recorded event is Dorothy’s birth in December 1909, for which at least Het was back in Aldershot, and there they stayed until moving up to Sheffield somewhere between Hal's birth in Aldershot in February 1913, and Dilys’s birth in Sheffield in February 1914.

Harry was posted and promoted to Warrant Officer Sergeant Major on 1st October 1914, with 16th Battery, probably in Colchester, but was then mobilised for Belgium and the Western Front and commissioned 2nd Lieutenant on 20th December 1914. His military character was noted as “exemplary”.

It seems possible that Harry arrived with his battery in time to be one of those involved at Givenchy:

"During the afternoon of the 20 December, I Corps sent 1st (Guards) and 3rd Brigades to the assistance of the hard-pressed Indian Corps. 2nd Brigade arrived by bus later in the day. Delayed by dark, water-logged ground and machine-gun fire, they eventually relieved the Manchesters in Givenchy and the remnants of Sirhind Brigade at Festubert. GHQ ordered Haig's I Corps to relieve the shattered Indian Corps, which took place by 22 December. The 1st Division suffered 1,682 casualties in the operations to relieve the Indian Corps. Many of these, and many of the Indian Corps, were victims of exposure and frostbite as they held on without cover in freezing rain and flooded trenches for two or three days." (http://www.1914-1918.net/bat8.htm)

He would very probably have been at the Battle of Neuve Chappelle in March 1915, the Second Battle of Ypres and Festubert. "From the closing May days of the Battles of Ypres and Festubert, until the September opening of the Battle of Loos and the French attacks in Champagne, there was no general change in the situation on the Western Front. It was a period of static warfare, where the army suffered average losses of 300 men a day from sniping and shellfire". (ibid)

Harry was "shot by a sniper when he was spotting for his battery from a church tower. He told me that the sun must have reflected off his binoculars and betrayed his presence." (Philip)

Kemmel Hill and church ruins

It was on 17th July 1915 at Kemmel Hill that Harry was wounded. Kemmel is about six miles south-west of Ypres; ".. up Kemmel Hill ... the road winds uphill steeply, past the tower of the Belvedere restaurant on the left. The tower can be climbed for an entrance fee and has excellent views of the surrounding country. This tower is a replacement for one sited here before the war, which was used as an observation post during it". (www.ww1battlefields.co.uk). Whether it was the belvedere or the now ruined church tower that Harry used will never be known.

He left his unit the next day and embarked in Hospital Ship "St Patrick" on the 30th July, sailing to Dover from Boulogne. He was admitted to Princess Henry of Battenburg’s Hospital, 30, Hill Street in Mayfair, where Medical Director Dr A J Rice-Oxley astutely reported “I believe his circumstances are distinctly poor and monetary help is desirable”. The description of his injury is that he was “wounded by a rifle bullet which caused a gutter wound from front to back over the parietal bone, causing fracture of the bone with some necrosis. He was trephined on 20.7.15. He had aphasia (motor) for 4 days and paralysis of right arm and leg which persists”.

In October 1915 Harry was transferred to the Empire Hospital for Officers (for Injuries to the Nervous System) in Vincent Square, Westminster, where Dr Henry Head attended him. By February 1916 Harry had been released from hospital but was readmitted in October to undergo a further operation. The Officer in Charge of the Empire Hospital was Captain George Riddoch RAMC, who considered in December 1916 that Harry would “never in our opinion recover though he may improve slightly”.

(George Riddoch (1888-1947), eventually consultant neurologist to the army, was one of a group of eminent men who created the Combined Services Hospital for Head Injuries at St. Hugh's College, Oxford. Here 'The Nutcrackers Suite' became a neurological unit of first importance. Plans were complete when war was declared in September 1939, and the Hospital opened in February 1940. It became the training school for a generation of neurologists and neurosurgeons and treated no less than 13,000 service men and women in the five years of its existence. http://www.whonamedit.com/doctor.cfm/3166.html )

By July 1917, on the mandatory annual check on his health, the report said “There is considerable impediment in his speech. This existed to a slight extent before the injury but has been greatly increased since. He is very sensitive to unexpected noises. We are of the opinion that his earning capacity is ‘Totally destroyed’”.

"Any financial objection to this officer being placed on the half pay list for 12 months from 31st Jan 1917, with half pay at 3/2 a day under Arts 313, 314 and 321, Royal Warrant, or to retired pay at £150 a year under Art 564?

There is no financial objection.

Submit to the King
Inform officer".

Accordingly, by the end of 1917 he retired through ill health in the category of Very Severely Wounded “equivalent to loss of limb and permanently unfit”, for which he was paid a Wound Gratuity of £250 in addition to the pension of £150 a year.

A year later and his medical report chimes with the man his grandchildren have described: “he walks with a stick in his left hand, there is not much wasting of his right arm as he is able to use it for coarse movements such as digging; there is also wasting of right thigh and tremor in muscles of right side; he is unable to walk more than a mile or so as he gets pain in the hip joint on exertion. He is able to do a little gardening and keep rabbits. He is also able to write now with the other hand, he has no training for any particular craft as he has been a soldier for so long”. He had written to his doctor in early 1918, however, saying that “any excitement so upsets me that I sometimes think I am liable to lose my reason”.

Harry in his motorized tricycle

The only addition to this is, in 1919, the remark that he was “unable to concentrate his mind on any subject without causing headache”.

In mid-1920 their Lordships decided that he had been “over-issued wound gratuity of £250 and wound pension of £50 pa for 4 years” and asked themselves “can we regard the officer’s wounds as becoming equivalent to the loss of a limb only as from 17.7.20 for the purpose of renewing wound pension please”. They obviously reassured themselves that they could… so Harry was no longer accorded the ‘permanently unfit’ tag and had his pension reduced to £100.

Expletive deleted.