The Trench Diaries of Sergeant Sam Cooke 1914-16.

The Trench Diaries of Sergeant Sam Cooke 1914-16.
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The Trench Diaries of Sergeant Sam Cooke 1914-16.
COOKE, Sam.A. Service No.5502 Manuscript personal diaries 1914-1916. 3 vols , written in three different pocket diaries, usually in pencil or indelible pencil. Vol 1. 1914 Boots pocket diary for 1914, approx 10 cm x 6.5cm x 1 cm in worn original black morocco leather covers. Vol II. 1915 Collins pocket diary sold by L&A Wilkinson of Sheffield , approx9.5 cm x 7 cm x 2 cm in worn original black morocco  leather covers, Vol III Charles Petts’s pocket diary 1916, approx 9.5 cm x  8 cm x 2 cm, in rubbed original black morocco leather covers with pencil sleeve and loose elastic closure. All three volumes with various condition issues but all readable.
Cooke belonged to the 2nd Battalion of The York and Lancaster Regiment . He was a serving soldier when war broke out and was stationed in Limerick. The first diary initially has sparse single word records of regimental life , “Rifle Club” , “Sports” “Royal” etc until August when entries lengthen somewhat. The 30th July has the note “ Rumours of War”, the 41st, “ …word of RAMC in action”. He notes the declaration of war on August 4th and his memo note for the week was “ what a change. Everybody anxious to be off. Wonder if I shall get back.” Most days have several line entries at this stage; “ Route March. Company inoculated” ; “ Still another day. Always inspecting something. Dining at Bally Common”. On 16th August Cooke “ Left Cork 11.15 pm Run aground 11.45 pm what a shock thought she was a goner. Got a BED. 2 miles in 14 hours what oh the speed limit”.  By 21 st September 1914  Cooke reports that he was “ in firing line 4.20 reserve” and  was first engaged in battle shortly after, being heavily shelled during the battle of Armentieres. He mentions artillery duels and “ own shell burst over our trench. What a shock”, and “ several narrow squeaks”. On 4th October he wrote “under rifle fire .Terrible battle on right flank slept through it all”.On 8th October he records “ Searched for Snipers. Very heavy artillery fire during night”. 
Cooke appears to have got into trouble for an unrecorded incident, as he writes that he is “ in open arrest” and “ still under arrest” on 10/11 October, but there does not seem to be any further action taken. On 18th October Cooke goes into action at Fouquet; “ Hellish shrapnel. Dug in. Heavy fighting” He then takes part in actions in and around Bois Grenier , which became the Battle of Armentières. On 24th  October Cooke wrote “ dig again. Expecting attack, didn’t come off worry for nothing. Letter from Em [his wife, regularly mentioned]. Feint attacks on the right. Nuisance” and on 25th “ Digging again. Jolly weary. Hellish shrapnel about 3. No coat no sheet [ groundsheet] and rain all night one meal in 24 hrs”. The next day ; “Support. Under heavy artillery fire. Shelled us out of the trenches to Headquarters”. On 1st November Cooke recorded 94 shells in 2 hours but with “ practically no damage done” but on the 3rd he is “ nearly blown up”. Throughout his ordeals, he is comforted by parcels and letters from Em, and seems to have regular supplies of cigs and newspapers. On 5th November he has a “ very lucky escape from shell” and on the 6th he goes out scouting three times during the night, presumably into “ no man’s land” between the trench lines.On 14th Cooke’s unit “ left the trenches, now for a rest” with rumours of furlough [ home leave] on the 26th but on 30th they “ relieved ‘A’ Leicesters . rotten dug- outs”. By 4th December Cooke was “ Digging again , properly fed up. If we go much deeper we shall be in Australia “ . The next day he records the issue of fresh meat but comments “ what a hope of cooking it”. On 8th he is shelled again but with no casualties, but in uncomfortable conditions. On the 11th Cooke records that it is “still raining, absolutely piggish up to the knees” and on the 12th “ absolutely awful wonder if it is my turn next”.
The famous unofficial Christmas truce observed by frontline troops over Christmas 1914 is mentioned in Cooke’s diary . On 24th December he wrote “ Good sport. Germans want to talk. Don’t trust them though” . On Christmas Day Cooke “ Hoped to be at home. Will make the best of it though. Hope all at home enjoy themselves. Jolly lively over the way”. A reminder that many had expected that it “would all be over by Christmas”. The year ends with Sam up to his knees in mud with the rain still coming down and a lucky escape; “Cap gone lucky it was no lower”.
Entries for 1915 begin on 27th January with a terse “From trenches” and “ to baths all passes cancelled” on 30th. The diary for 1915 arrives with Cooke on 1st Feb [previous entries for the year written retrospectively] and he records that the “first shot since Xmas fired at 11 am by our people” on 31st. On 11th February Cooke records the capture of a Spy, and finally gets news of leave but expects that it will be cancelled. On 16th Feb. Cooke goes on leave and reaches Folkestone, England on the 19th. It must have been difficult to leave just three days later and return to duty on the 24th to find his Company placed in Reserve.
Heavy shelling is reported in early March when diary entries are rather sparse until the 15th  when the regiment was moved overnight to Poperinghe “ but too late for a successful counter attack. Must have been a real scrap”. On April 19th the various platoons played football and had a trial for the Platoon Prize during the week.
At the end of April, Cooke is engaged in building trench parapets, and is complemented by a General on his work. He himself is not satisfied however, and “ shall take the lot down again”. Having rebuilt it, the parapet is “ knocked flying” in a lively twenty minute barrage. In May, heavy sniping is the problem, along with being “passed over again” presumably for promotion. He is offered a transfer when he goes to see his commanding officer, and is again disappointed when a posting to base duties does not come through. Cooke writes in his diary that he will never get “ his crown”, a reference to the insignia awarded for his next promoted rank.
On 2nd June , Cooke writes “ Took over trenches from R.B. at St.Jean about midnight. Tired out. Awful smell of death all the way”. He complains of “ awful mud” on the 9th, and is then relieved, and has to sleep in the open in a thunderstorm. 
There is an interesting entry for 16th June relating to Turpinite; “ Handled Turpinite. Wish the wind would change so that it could be used all along the line”. According to our research, Turpinite was a fictional war gas which, according to contemporary accounts silently and suddenly killed a person within 400 yards of impact with its fumes. Survivors of supposed attacks  reported a strong chemical smell. This was investigated at the time and was found to be due to the incomplete combustion of the picnic acid used in British Artillery shells, and the unexplained sudden deaths due to death by concussion, which left no marks on the victim.
Cooke seems to have fallen out badly with a superior again , and there is some evidence of this in the diary on 19th June where he writes “ another telling off. J – is a – can’t let me alone even now”. On the same day he records “ first taste of gas”. The next day he reports “ Jolly lucky to get back” and “ jolly narrow squeak”.
Entries for the rest of July, August and September are sparse although “ glorious news. Hope they keep it up. Soon be over then” is recorded on Sept. 25th. October passes without many entries, and November’s longest diary entry records an explosion and fire  in the cook house and mess, and another entry mentions an “ aeroplane scrap”. Eventually Cooke obtains home leave over Christmas 1915.
Early January 1916  entries concern his relationship with “Em” with jealousies mentioned; “ funny Em was jealous of Gladys and not of Norah” and “ very disappointed no letter from Em. Must be getting her own back”. February and March are much taken up with dentistry and some false teeth fitting, and thoughts of home. Strangely, Cooke’s diary entries concerning his teeth, helped us to identify him, from a number of S.A. Cookes serving in the First World War. 9th Nov 15 visited dentist Lost 4 ( teeth?) 26th Nov “ another 6 out .Properly gummy now”.13 Jan 16 “ dreamed I pulled out 4 teeth with my fingers”  7th Feb and again 8th Feb. 26th March “ Got my teeth a rotten fit though” and 27th March “ Had them altered again much better now. What a mouthful of pots though”. The military record for Sergeant S.A. Cooke detail treatments for dental caries as follows: Treatment for :Dental caries. Date of Transfer from Sick Convoy 18/03/1916.Date discharged back to duty 29/03/1916.
In April and May there are entries relating to aerial bombardments, with “ another raid. Dropped 4 only 50 yards away. No damage . Getting quite used to them now”. The next day he wrote “  our fliers had a go somewhere”.
On 30th June Cooke reports rumours of a declaration of Peace “ nearly came off  I.d.t. [I don’t think]. Poperinghe has several mentions, with bombardments and aerial bombing , suggesting that Cooke was stationed nearby at this time, on 15th July he writes “; Night with the Boys. Really  think I shall volunteer to join them again” and on 10th August he reports “ Rejoined. Back in the old Compy.” Soon afterwards Cooke reports “strafing” with Minnies [ Minenwerfer trench motars] rotten things”. Early September has Cooke on the move again, and he writes “ Another good night. Into it tomorrow. Who is going to come out of it?” The next day he records “ Very near a fatal day if any slip was made”. Seemingly on guard duty [“ left with transport” and “ still on guard”] Cooke records “ Boys went over” [into attack “ over the top” of the trench parapet] and “ Boys to go over again”. The last completed diary entry is for September 22nd “ Going up to the boys” with a further crossed out entry on 27th  September 1916.
Records show that Cooke was wounded on 3rd November 1916; S A Cooke. Resided Town: Pontefract. Report Date 03/11/1916. Information: Listed as “ wounded “ on the Casualty List issued by the War Office. Further Information: This man was entitled to wear a “ Wound Stripe” as authorised under Army Order 204 of 6th July 1916.. The terms of this award being met by their naming in this list. Rank : Sergeant. Service Number 5502.
The diaries appear on first glance to be rather sparse, but a careful reading elicits a wealth of information about Sergeant Cooke.



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