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Durham County Record Office: the official archive service for County Durham and Darlington

Percy Cook (1895-1916)

Information about Percy Cook, teacher at Thornley Council School, who was killed in action during the Battle of the Somme, and is commemorated on Durham County Council War Memorial

Of the 122 names on the memorial, two were brothers. James Edward Cook (1891-1915) and Percy Cook were both teachers and taught at the same school, although at different times. James Cook's biography appeared on this website in February 2013.

Biography

Percy Cook was born on 15 March 1895 at Thornley in East Durham, and he was baptised on 8 April at Thornley Wesleyan Methodist Church. He was the third and youngest son of John George Cook and his wife, Ann (or Annie) Sarah Cook. John kept a greengrocers and fruit shop at Hartlepool Street, Thornley, and had done so from the early 1880s.

Percy attended Henry Smith School in Hartlepool for four years and was a Student Teacher at Wheatley Hill Council School. He left Wheatley Hill in 1913 to begin a teacher training course at Westminster College. The college had been founded in Horseferry Road, London, in 1851 to train teachers for Methodist schools (and moved to Oxford in 1959). On the completion of his training in 1915 he returned to County Durham and to a post as a Certificated Assistant teacher at Thornley Council School (Boys Department), the same school in which his older brother, James, had taught until joining-up in September 1914.

Photograph of boys from Thornley Council Boys School with a memorial banner bearing two black bows, 1916 (D/Ph 150/39)
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Percy's obituary in the Durham Advertiser notes that he intentionally shortened his course at Westminster College since he had been anxious to enlist (and in his service records his occupation is given as 'student', and his religion as 'C of E'). Percy Cook's arrival at the school is not mentioned in the school log book, nor is his departure on war service. However he joined-up at Durham on 3 April 1915 (although formal permission to enlist from the Education Committee is only recorded in September 1915). In fact, there is only one mention of Percy Cook in the school log book - a note, on 22 August 1916, that news had been received of his death on 27 July.

Percy was posted to the 18th Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry, the 'Durham Pals'. 18 DLI was one of the Kitchener's Army battalions, raised from the enthusiastic flood of volunteers in the first months of the war, and it was unique in that the expenses for raising it were paid for entirely by the County of Durham. The battalion was formed and trained at Cocken Hall, and became part of the 93rd Infantry Brigade and the 31st Division.

Percy joined the battalion on 8 April 1916 following its redeployment from Egypt to France. He trained as a bomber (responsible for clearing enemy trenches and dugouts after an attack) and was initially attached to the 3rd Entrenching Battalion (from which drafts were sent to line battalions).

Percy was killed on 27 July 1916, age 21, only four months after landing in France. As part of the Battle of the Somme, 18 DLI were holding the front line at Neuve Chapelle and were subject to intensive artillery and trench mortar fire. In a German raid on the night of 27/28 July they suffered 79 casualties, including Percy. His parents received the news in a letter from Rev. C.R. Chappell, chaplain to the 18th DLI, 'I buried him in the military cemetery just near the lines where his grave will be looked after and a cross erected. Later on, I hope to tell you the exact spot where he rests'. He is buried in St. Vaast Post Cemetery Richebourg-L'avoue, north-east of Bethune.

Official confirmation of Percy's death did not arrive until early September, and a special service was held at Thornley Wesleyan Methodist Chapel in memory of Percy Cook on 5 November 1916. Following his death his mother wrote to the army asking whether some of his possessions - a gold signet ring, silver wristlet watch, silver cigarette case and letter writing pad - had been found, but received a negative reply.

Sources

Commonwealth War Graves Commission website
Soldiers Died in the Great War 1914-19 CD
Medal Rolls Index Cards
North East War Memorials Project website
Thornley Council School log book, E/E 67, p.296
Thornley Wesleyan Methodist Circuit baptism register, M/Th 79, p.21
Durham County Council Education Committee minute book, CC/A26/1/24, pp.131-133
Durham County Council Education Committee minute book, CC/A26/1/26, pp.54-56
1901 Census return, RG 13/4686, f.19v, p.30
1911 Census return, RG 14/30012, schedule 114
Durham Advertiser, 11 August 1916, p.8(e)
Durham Advertiser, 27 July 19176, p.4(h)
Durham Chronicle, 11 August 1916, p.8(a)