Cooper, Percy Victor

Hull Pals Memorial Post. PRIVATE PERCY VICTOR COOPER 11/760. Born in January 1889, Percy was the second of seven children and eldest son of George Jervis Cooper (1865-1920) and Christiana Cooper of 20 Bean Street, Anlaby Road, Hull. A Barman by trade, he enlisted at Hull City Hall during the second week of September 1914 as patriotic fervor swept the nation and men queued in those long uneven lines to take the King’s Shilling and join the ‘Great European Adventure’. Percy joined ‘D’ Company in the 11th Battalion East Yorkshire Regiment, the second Pals Battalion raised by the city after the first had filled its ranks within days. Having trained in Hornsea, Beverley and Ripon throughout 1915 they sailed for Alexandria, Egypt that December where they served as part of the garrison stationed to protect the Suez Canal from the possibility of attack by the Turks. Their real war began in the first week of March 1916 when they left Port Said for Marseilles before travelling north to the trenches of the Western Front. A veteran of the Somme and Oppy Wood, Percy died of wounds sustained during the German Spring Offensive on 25th March 1918 and was buried at Ayette British Cemetery; he was 29 years old. To demonstrate how precarious the Allied position was, the cemetery was in German hands three days later. Percy died as the fate of Britain and France hung in the balance and only men like him stood in the way- a Barman from Hull. His grave inscription reads, “GREATER LOVE HATH NO MAN”

Background. When the German spring offensive opened on 21 March 1918, 31st Division was in reserve, with 10th and 11th EYR Battalions digging trenches in the ‘Army Line’ behind the front. On 23 March the division was sent up to hold off the German attack at St Léger, but 92 Bde remained in reserve at Ervillers, improvising the defences. Ervillers was attacked on the evening of 24 March, the defence being confused by British troops retreating from the forward defences. Two companies of 10th Bn were pushed up to reinforce 11th Bn fighting in the village streets. About midnight a German patrol got into the village, but was captured by 11th Bn’s HQ staff. The following day the 11th Bn was reinforced by 10th Bn Manchester Regiment of 42nd (East Lancashire) Division and their combined fire stopped the German advance. However, events elsewhere meant that the 31st and 42nd Divisions were ordered on the morning of 27 March to retire through Courcelles-le-Comte.

On 27th March 1917, the brigade defended Ayette aerodrome against repeated attacks from 11.20am to 16.30pm, when with both flanks ‘in the air’, the brigade pulled back to the partly-dug ‘Purple Line’ in front of Ayette village. Between 24 and 27 March, 10th EYR Bn had lost 211 officers and men, and was praised “for its exceptional gallantry on March 27” by the Commander in Chief of the BEF, Sir Douglas Haig. During the night, Lt-Col Headlam of 10th Bn led up a composite battalion of troops from the quartermasters’ details of all three battalions to take over part of the Purple Line, and they helped to recover some 18-pounder ammunition from behind enemy lines, which was fired the following day. Although fighting continued elsewhere along the line, 28 March was a quieter day for 92 Bde, and 11th Bn took over some trenches started by 210th Field Company, Royal Engineers, which they continued to dig. The brigade was relieved on 31 March and marched back to billets near Pommier.

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Ayette British Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France