Royton Roll of Honour

JOHN COOPER
Age:24
Rank:Private
Service No:36371
Date of Death:07/05/1917
Regiment:East Yorkshire Regiment
Unit:10th Bn.
Cemetery:Ste.Catherine British Cemetery
Grave Reference:D. 10.


The ruins of Oppy, captured by a German photographer in May 1917. © IWM (Q 88006)

It seems Jack survived the slaughter unscathed but was to die just four days later in 95th Field Ambulance. On May 6th the shattered Battalion had relieved the 13th East Yorks in the line near Oppy and over the next two days recorded 3 killed and
16 wounded. It seems likely that Jack and his comrades were victims of the German artillery.
On May 11th 1918 the following appeared in the Oldham Chronicle:

In loving memory of our dear son & brother Jack,
who died of wounds in France,
May 7th 1917, aged 24 years
They do not die who in our memories live.
Ever fondly remembered by his Father, Mother,
Sister and Brothers (Harry in France.Arthur serving)
4 Low Crompton Road, Royton

and in 1919:

In ever loving memory of our dear
Jack, died of wounds at Arras May 7th,1917
Father, Mother, Sister, and Brothers
4 Low Crompton, Royton

Jack's parents George and Agnes died in 1928 and 1934 respectively and are buried together in Royton Cemetery.
The other men of the 10th East Yorks who are listed as dying on May 6th and 7th 1917 were:

CLARKE ERNEST Private 23964 from Hull        
HAYTON BETHEL Private 33228 enlisted Beverley        
MESSENGER ALFRED 22 Private 10/1233 from Hull        
NASH ALBERT Serjeant 10/932 from Scarborough        
TURNER GEORGE Private 27783 from Nottinghamshire


John Cooper, known as Jack, was born in Rotherham in 1893. He was the fifth child of George, a grocer originally from Manchester, and Agnes who was a native of Yorkshire .John's older siblings were Jessie, Arthur, Harry and Margaret; a year after his birth brother George followed. George senior too up a position as a grocer's manager in Bakewell,Derbyshire and it is there that the family can be found in the 1901 census. Not long after that a further move followed to Royton with Jack's father having his own shop at 120 Rochdale Road. In 1903, Jack's sister Jessie died aged fifteen. It's not known where Jack worked but in 1911 he is listed as being a Cotton Yarn Packer in one of the local mills.
Jack enlisted in Royton on October 23rd 1915 becoming a member of the Army Cyclist Corps and he was then sent to that organisation's depot at Hounslow for training. His whereabouts after that with the ACC are not known but on December 1st 1916 he was picked up by the military police on a train at Cheltenham. He was absent from base, showed them an improper pass and had also failed to buy a railway ticket. He was sentenced to 10 days confinement to barracks and ordered to pay for the railway ticket, it was also noted he had been absent for a few hours that May. Once that sentence was served he was immediately sent to France. It's possible this was due to his offence but it's more likely that he already knew he was being sent to the war and was letting off a last bit of steam.
Upon arriving in France, Jack was first at the 37th Infantry Base Depot where he was allocated to the 12th Battalion of the West Yorkshire Regiment. Two days later though he was transferred to the 10th Battalion of the East Yorkshire Regiment and joined up with them on December 17th. The 10th East Yorks had been formed in August 1914 and were commonly known as the Hull Commercials.
After Jack Cooper joined them the first major action they were involved in came during the Battle of Arras in early May 1917.
The Battalion moved forward at dusk on May 1st to disused trenches and gun pits on the crest of Vimy Ridge which had been captured, with much bloodshed, by the Canadians a few weeks previously. May 3rd was to see an attack along a front of nearly twelve miles and involved units from 12 Divisions. As part of the 31st Division was the 92nd Brigade which included the 10th East Yorkshires. There was no great objective to this attack, it was seen mainly as a means of keeping the Germans under pressure, which adds extra poignancy to the massive casualties that were to ensue.
The Battalion left their positions on the crest of Vimy Ridge above the village of Bailleul at 21:25 on May 2nd and had moved into their assembly positions by 23:00. The assembly trench was found to be a ditch merely four feet deep and unconnected to any trenches to the left, right or behind. This exposed position had been held by the 13th East Yorkshires in the days previous and that unit had suffered some 100 casualties whilst stationed there. During the assembly of men the moonlight was such that the outlines of the troops could be clearly seen from the German lines giving them ample notice of what was about to occur. Then a German plane flew low over the Battalion and could be surmised to have seen everything. To top things off a German patrol was spotted hurriedly leaving from near to the Battalion's line, having no doubt seen enough to confirm that an attack was imminent. Shortly afterwards armed with ample information on the Battalion's position the Germans launched an intense barrage on the 10th East Yorks trench at 00:30 of May 3rd. With intermittent breaks, with the men hurriedly trying to dip in deeper, this barrage continued up until  zero hour - 03:45. At the stroke of zero the British artillery opened up, all the while the German bombardment continuing creating chaos in the British line.
The attack nevertheless began towards the German held village of Oppy and it's adjoining wood and the British were met with murderous machine gun fire and rockets and Very lights shooting up from the German lines. Mist was forming and that and the smoke from the combined artillery forces made keeping direction a hard task.
From the confusion of the fighting it was afterwards hard to put together the narrative of what had befallen the men of the 10th East Yorks. It is known that some pierced the enemy defences and after the war it became clear that most of the men taken as prisoners that morning had actually reached the German held village of Oppy.
One of those taken prisoner recalled:

"When our barrage opened, we moved forward. Although there was considerable enemy machine gun fire, little was directed at us, so that, walking across 'No Man's Land', I almost had the feelings of a spectator. Two of us crossed the German front line - levelled by our bombardment - without seeing anything of the enemy. At a huge shell hole, we parted to pass on opposite sides, and I saw him no more (he was afterwards reported missing and believed killed). Still walking forward in the growing light, I became aware of a small party from A Company under Lieutenant Akester. Under his orders, we took up a position in an old trench, with Oppy village sixty of seventy yards away on our left front.We appeared to be isolated, and the sound of firing and bombing from a considerable distance to the rear seemed to indicate that the enemy's front line had not been taken.The officer left us to endeavour to make contact with some other party which might also have broken through, and, as our position had now been discovered, we engaged in a machine gun duel with an enemy party about 150 yards ahead. I was with a gun on the extreme right of and somewhat attached from our party, and so was not aware of all that took place. When a group of the enemy left their cover and advanced towards us,I prepared to open fire on what appeared to be the best target yet presented. A yell,'Cease Fire', however, caused me to pause, and I learned that some sign of surrender had been made further to the left. And so an action which would have been dubbed 'base treachery' was narrowly averted. It should be added that the officer named was no party to the surrender - he had not returned from his reconnaissance"

As dawn broke the men of the Battalion who had not managed to pass through the German lines were pinned down in front of Oppy Wood. It was a bright spring morning and movement was impossible. There were plenty of casualties from enemy snipers. All the while the German artillery continued to fire while their British counterparts poured their fire into Oppy Wood. After a terrible day out in front of the German positions the men were relieved after dark by the 11th East Lancashires and the remnants of the Battalion withdrew from the fight. Then the costs of the fighting could be calculated - out of the 550 who went into the attack total casualties were 231. A similar story could be told across all the British infantry units involved that day, a total of five Royton men were killed.