26TH MAY 1915

26th: Heavily shelled. Shell fell in dugouts at night. Several killed and wounded.
Extract from the Battalion War Diary

What follows is a full story about Stephen Cook, of Caton, and his death. Six men, all of B Company of the 1/5th King's Own Battalion were killed by one shell. Three have no known graves! We are very grateful to Stephen's "Great Nephew" who lives locally, who loaned all of this material so that the story can be told.

The King's Own Royal Lancashire Regiment

The 4th and 5th Battalions (Territorial Force) mobilised in August 1914. The 4th Battalion left England in May 1915 and the 5th in mid-February 1915. The T A were able to raise 2nd and 3rd line battalions for the 4th and 5th so the two original battalions were redesignated 1/4th and 1/5th (TF)

Stephen Cook joined the battalion in Sept 1914 as one of approximately 200 men enlisted overnight and known as the "Gallant 200" or "Pals Company". They joined the Battalion at Didcot and went overseas in February 1915. They landed at Havre from Southampton on Wed 17 Feb. and entrained for Cassel arriving 18 Feb. They then marched to Winnizeele.

Stephen wrote the first of two letters to Annie Cook, his sister in law (the wife of Stephen's brother William), from here:

Dear Annie,

I suppose you will be thinking I'm never going to write but I have managed to write at last. We are billeted out in barns here. We had a twenty four hours train ride from the last place to here, it was rotten I can tell you. It was raining all the time. I was nearly wet through. We can't get any decent cigarettes here, they only sell French stuff. The tobacco in them is as black as coal you can tell Willie and Harold to send some woodbines if you like. I only want a few to keep me going until we get payed (sic).

Well I will close now so goodbye for the present. I remain

Your loving brother


x x x x x x

give these to Madge

PS Please write back soon. The address on this letter will find me anywhere.

A facsimile of the opening lines, together with the envelope, addressed to Annie Cook 35 Balmoral Road Lancaster and showing the stamp "Passed by the Censor No 2446" is below.

The Battalion then embussed for Bailleul and spent time learning trench warfare near Wulverghem and the trenches in front of Neuve Eglise. They were billeted at Dranoutre and were part of the 83rd Brigade. On 19 Mar B Coy were at BURNT OUT FARM. On 23 Mar they were relieved and moved to Ravertsberg from where they moved to the trenches at Wulverghem. On 2nd Apr they moved to Mount Kekereele where for the first time since leaving Winnizeele they enjoyed a decent rest in decent billets. On 9 Apr to Zonnebeke trenches (POLYGON WOOD) for 5 days with B Coy in the front line. 17 Apr back to billets in the Ypres Lunatic Asylum. 23 Apr disastrous attack in direction of Pilckem. 29 Apr Huts near Vlamerigen.

8 May German attack. Stephen blown up by "Jack Johnson"

20 May Stephen wrote his last letter to Annie:

Dear Annie,

Thanks very much for your letter and more so for the cigarettes. I had just two left when they arrived. I thought you had forgotten me though. You ask me why I don't put a letter in the paper. I am not quite dotty yet. I will put one in when I come back-it will be a letter too. I doubt a few of them will get chalked off. I have a fine tale to tell when I come home. Its been hell up here and I believe we go up to the trenches again on Sunday night; its rotten. Its wonderful how I manage to be alive after what we have gone through. I got a nice shaking up on the 8th of May. I got blown up in the air and then buried with a Jack Johnson shell. I went mad for about half an hour. I did not know where I was going or what I was doing and my face was smarting something terrible. I don't want to go through what I have gone through these past six weeks.

I will close now so goodbye for the present

I remain

Yr loving Brother


x x x x x x x x x x x x for Madge

Remember me to Will

In a letter to his Father he had written:

" . . on the 8th of this month I was blown up in the air for two or three yards and then buried. I felt as if every bone in my body had been knocked loose. I think I went mad for about half an hour. I did not know what I was doing or where I was going. You know the wash house yard of the last house we were in? Well you could nearly put it in the hole made by the shell"

Lancaster Guardian 27th May 1915


"News reached Lancaster on a Sunday through Capt W RW Deed (Assistant Adjutant) that five men had been killed and one wounded owing to the bursting of a shell in a reserve trench shelter on Wednesday week the 26th Inst. Few details were given in a letter to Ernest Threfall of King St. informing him of the death of his elder son Sergt. Robert Threfall.

Capt Deed, writing on the 26th says " last night your son was sitting in a shelter in a reserve trench when a shell came through causing the death of five and the wounding of one.

L. Corpl McGowan died on the way to the dressing station but your son, Sergt. Dawes, L.Corpl Harlowe and Corpl. Sandham were killed directly. Capt Eaves and I were present at their burial this morning before light, when a short service was said. A cross will be put up to mark the spot which is quite close to the spot and the trench where they were killed." From further letters it appears that the one man wounded was Pte. S. Cook who belongs to Caton. All the men belonged to B Company.

Stephen's Grave
Klein-Vierstraat Cemetery Belgium

Lancaster Guardian 5 June 1915
Top: Sgt Major Dawes,Cpl Sandham, Sgt Threfall
Lcpl Harlowe; Bottom Left: Lcpl McGowan

Lancaster Guardian 3 July 1915

Mr John Cook, fireman at Messrs Storey Brothers' Mill, Glenroyd, Caton, received news on Friday that is son, Pte Stephen Cook, formerly postman at Caton, had died from shell wounds. Deceased served in B Company of the 5th King's Own, and had been twice wounded. He received his mortal injury from a shell which killed Sergt. R. Threfall, Sergt. Dawes, L.Corpl Harlowe,Corpl. Sandham and Lance Corpl McGowan on May 26th in a dug out. Capt Deed described the incident at the time. Pte. Cook died on May 29th. He was just nineteen years of age, and joined the 5th King's Own last August, having been a postman for two years. He was a member of the Caton Church Choir and Victoria Institute. His great-uncle Pte. A. Cook, served in the Bengal Lancers during the Indian Mutiny. Much sympathy is felt for Mr Cook, who lost his wife 18 months ago.


Memorial Card from Caton Church

Stephen's Scroll

A memorial service was held in the Church at Brookhouse on Sunday afternoon, there being a crowded congregation. The Vicar (Rev. I Mercer) conducted the service impressively, and paid fine tribute to the heroism of the deceased. The organist (Mr Shaw) played Chopin's Funeral March and the choir sang the anthem " Blessed are the departed ", "The "Dead March" in "Saul" was also played.

Essays Contents