b. 05/07/1881 Kaikoura, New Zealand. d. 25/07/1916 Pozieres, France.
Thomas Cooke (1881-1916) was born on 5th July 1881 at Kaikoura, Marlborough, New Zealand. His father, also called Thomas, was born in England, and his trade was a carpenter who emigrated to New Zealand. Thomas’ mother was Caroline Anne nee Cooper, and they married on 2nd March 1881 in Kaikoura. Thomas was the eldest of four children and the only son. His sisters were called Catherine, Flora and Ethel. Sadly, all four children had died by the end of the Great War.
Thomas was educated at Kaikoura Demonstration High School. Afterwards he was employed as a carpenter and builder in Wellington. He married Maud Elizabeth nee Elliott on 4th June 1902 and they had three children: Ethel Maud, Reginald Thomas Arthur and Florence Mildred.
In 1912 they moved to Melbourne, Australia where Thomas continued work as a builder. Thomas enlisted with the Australian Imperial Force on 16th February 1915 in Melbourne. He was posted to Broadmeadows Camp before moving to 1st Depot Battalion at Seymour, Victoria. He arrived in Egypt in December 1915, and transferred to 8th Battalion at Serapeum on 24th February 1916, having relinquished his acting rank. By the end of March, the Battalion had sailed for and arrived at, Marseilles, France. It travelled north for operations in France and Flanders.
On 24th/25th July 1916 at Pozières, France, after a Lewis gun had been disabled, Private Cooke was ordered to take his gun to a dangerous part of the line. He did fine work, but came under very heavy fire, and finally he was the only man left. He still stuck to his post and continued to fire, but when assistance finally arrived he was found dead beside his gun.
Cooke’s body was sadly not recovered after the action and he is commemorated on the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial. His wife wrote to the Minister of Defence in September 1916 asking why she read about her husband’s VC in the newspapers but not been officially contacted herself. She was presented with his medal by The Earl of Liverpool, Governor-General of New Zealand, at Wellington, on 2nd February 1917.
In addition to the VC, he was awarded the British War Medal 1914-20 and Victory Medal 1914-19. The VC is held on loan by the Army Museum, Waiouru, New Zealand.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: QEII MEMORIAL MUSEUM, WAIOURU, NZ.
BURIAL PLACE: VILLERS-BRETONNEUX MEMORIAL, THE SOMME, FRANCE. PANEL 77.
Thomas Cooke's medals at the Army Museum, Waiouru
Thomas Cooke is on the Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux Military Cemetery. Plan provided by Kevin Brazier.