William Cooper

2170 Gunner William Ernest Cooper, Royal Field Artillery

Born 13th September 1891 in Eastney, Portsmouth
Killed in Action 23rd September 1917 in Belgium

Family and Home 1, 2

William Ernest Cooper was born at 1 Hope Villas, Eastney, Portsmouth, the third of four children of James William Cooper and Martha née Dibben. His father was then a Colour Sergeant in the Royal Marine Artillery.

His siblings were: Winifred Sarah, born on 22nd January 1887; Catherine Annie, born on 31st March 1888 and Herbert Archibald Sidney, born on 22nd October 1892.

Death of William’s Father 3

However, when William was only 7 years old, his father James William Cooper died in the Portsea Island District of Hampshire in the 3rd Quarter of 1898.

Moving to Little Gaddesden 4, 5

After his father’s death, his mother needed to find work and the family therefore moved to Hudnall. On 11th March 1901, William Cooper started in Standard 4 at Little Gaddesden School. In the 1901 Census taken three weeks later, 9 year old William is shown living with his widowed mother and sister Winifred, 14, at 7 Hudnall. That property was then the Countess Brownlow Convalescent Home for Boys (now Upper Gade) where his widowed mother had been appointed Matron. In Little Gaddesden, his mother had the company of her elder sister Louisa, who had married John Young and lived at 43 Little Gaddesden.

Education 4

William did well at Little Gaddesden School. In March 1904 he won a prize of 2/- (two shillings, 10p in today’s money) for achieving the highest marks in Standard 6 in the four quarterly examinations of the past school year. He then gained a place at Berkhamsted Grammar School but he stayed at Little Gaddesden to complete Standard 7, planning to start at Berkhamsted in September 1905. However, there is no record at Berkhamsted to indicate that he ever took up his place.

Employment 6

By 1911, 19 year old William was a Coachbuilder, lodging in the household of his employer, George Mead, at 9 Lurke Street, Bedford. However, his mother Martha was still Matron of the Convalescent Home at Hudnall with his sister Winifred as her Assistant. His sister Catherine was then a Housemaid at Heydon, Royston while his brother Archibald Cooper was serving in the Royal Navy aboard HMS Hyacinth.

Military Service 7

William enlisted into the Royal Field Artillery in Fulham, London S.W. He must have enlisted early in the War as he first served overseas in France on 1st June 1915.

Death in Belgium 8

However, 26 year old Gunner William Ernest Cooper, D Battery, 59th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery was killed in action in Belgium on 23rd September 1917, during the 3rd Battle of Ypres.

Burial in Belgium 8

William is buried in Gwalia Cemetery, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium; his grave reference is II. C. 7. He is recorded as “Son of James William and Martha Cooper, of Hudnall, Little Gaddesden, Berkhamsted, Herts. Native of Southsea, Hants”.

Photo of William Cooper's grave
Photo courtesy of David Heard

The inscription on his headstone reads:

2170 Gunner
William Ernest Cooper
Royal Field Artillery
23rd September 1917 Age 26

The badge of the Royal Artillery is engraved within the cross.

We will remember them 2, 9

William Cooper is commemorated on the War Memorials on the village green and in St Peter & St Paul’s Church Little Gaddesden. He is also named on the Roll of Honour in the church.

William was posthumously awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal and Allied Victory Medal. His next of kin would also have received a memorial plaque and scroll; an example of the scroll and covering letter can be seen in William Mayling’s entry.

William’s younger brother Archibald Cooper, Royal Navy is also named on the Roll of Honour. Archibald survived the war. However, he died on 3rd January 1922, whilst serving aboard HMS Valerian at Antigua. He was then 29 years old. The Roll of Honour also names William’s cousin Reginald Young, Army Service Corps Mechanical Transport, who survived the war.


1. https://www.findmypast.co.uk England & Wales births 1837-2006 Transcriptions and pdf copy of Birth Certificate

2. https://www.findmypast.co.uk British Royal Navy Seamen 1899-1924

3. https://www.findmypast.co.uk England & Wales deaths 1837-2007 Transcriptions

4. Little Gaddesden School Log Books 1887 – 1906

5. https://www.findmypast.co.uk 1901 England, Wales & Scotland Census Transcription

6. https://www.findmypast.co.uk  1911 Census for England & Wales

7. https://www.findmypast.co.uk Soldiers Died in the Great War 1914 – 1919

8. https://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/442590/cooper,-william-ernest/

9. https://www.ancestry.co.uk  British Army WW1 Medal Rolls Index Cards 1914-1920

Do you have any questions about the information recorded here? Or do you have any further information that you can share with us about those from Little Gaddesden who died or fought for their country? In either case, please contact Jane Dickson at war-remembrance@littlegaddesdenchurch.org.uk.

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Research: Jane Dickson and David Heard. Text and (unless otherwise credited) photos: Jane Dickson