b. 09/1840 Birmingham. d. 09/08/1889 Birmingham.
James Cooper (1840-1889) was born in Birmingham in September 1840, though sadly little is known about his life prior to enlistment with the 2nd Battalion of the 24th Regiment of Foot (later South Wales Borderers), and a posting to India.
Shortly before the 7th May 1867, at the island of Little Andaman, in the Bay of Bengal, a ship called the “Assam Valley” had anchored, and some of the crew went ashore. Shortly afterwards, news came that the crew had been set upon and murdered by some of the natives, as none of them had returned. In order to ascertain the crew’s fate, a second steamer was sent from Rangoon and landed near the island on the 7th. Some of their crew was attacked by the natives and with a huge storm raging, a rescue mission was organised to try and reach them. With the soldiers in peril on shore, Dr Campbell Mellis Douglas and four fellow members of the 24th including James Cooper, manned a gig and attempted to reach them.
They very nearly succeeded in their endeavours, but, the boat beginning to fill rapidly, they were forced to retire. They then made a second attempt and were successful in reaching the shore, taking off five men. On these being placed safely on board, the doctor and his four brave men turned once more to the rescue of the rest of the soldiers, and by their strenuous efforts the entire party was eventually taken off the island.
Cooper alongside his four comrades, was gazetted for the VC on 17th December 1867, and was invested with his medal in Rangoon on 16th April 1868 by Major-General A Faunce, the GOC Pegu. Following his army career and a return to his native Birmingham, life took a downward turn and he found himself in extreme poverty. He died aged just 48 on 9th August 1889 at his home, 43 Court Farm Street and was buried in an unmarked grave in Warstone Lane Cemetery, Hockley. The cemetery had been closed to burials for a number of years prior to a ceremony which was held in November 2003 to unveil a plaque on the wall of the Cemetery Lodge to honour Cooper. His grave was also marked with a simple wooden cross as vandalism was feared. His medal is held by the Royal Warwickshire (TA) Regiment at their TA Centre in Sheldon, Warwickshire.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: ROYAL WARWICKSHIRE REGIMENT, SHELDON.
BURIAL PLACE: WARSTONE LANE CEMETERY, HOCKLEY, BIRMINGHAM. (UNMARKED GRAVE)
SECTION GN, GRAVE 1428
SWB Museum, Brecon Roll of Honour