Researched and written by Anne Wright
Fleet Paymaster J Cooper, RN
Lost in action, 1.11.1914
John Cooper was a resident of Weybridge according to a list of naval casualties reported in the Surrey Advertiser on Saturday, 14 November 1914. He may have been the John Cooper recorded on Surrey’s Electoral Register for 1914 who lived at Glendower in Oatlands Drive. There is, however, a definite documented link to Surrey: his eldest child James Francis was born at Holmbury St. Mary in 1906.
John was born on 4 July 1869 to James Cooper Cooper (formerly Tuthill, d.1906) and Mary (nee Pickering) of Kilkeedy, Limerick. He was the youngest child of a very large family. His father was described as a Gentleman and his mother was the daughter of Charles Pickering of Roebuck, Co. Dublin. John was educated at Burney’s Royal Academy, Clarence Square, Gosport in Hampshire. This Academy was founded in 1791 as a boarding school for military and naval pupils.
John joined the Royal Navy in 1886 at the age of 17 as an Assistant Clerk, by 1900 he was a Paymaster, by 1904 a Staff Paymaster and in 1908 he became Fleet Paymaster. He served on HM Yacht Osborne between 1899 and 1902. His administrative skills were honed with stints as Secretary to Admiral Custance in the Venerable and to Admiral Sir Charles Briggs in the Lord Nelson and the Dreadnaught. He was also able to utilise his ability as a French interpreter. A string of positive comments followed him from ship to ship: ‘Mr Cooper is a hardworking, painstaking officer’, ‘Zealous, hardworking officer. Regret losing his service.’ and ‘Strongly recommended.’ He joined his final ship, HMS Monmouth on 30 July 1914.
After 19 years in the Navy with his career developing well he married Marguerite Sutherland (b. c. 1875) on 5 June 1905 at St. Peter’s Church, Cranley Gardens in the London borough of Kensington & Chelsea. She was the daughter of the late Captain Francis Sutherland of the Royal Scots Greys and his wife, Elizabeth. The couple both recorded London addresses on their marriage certificate. They went on to have two sons and a daughter; James Francis, Christopher John (b. 1906) and Elizabeth Mary (b. 1909). When Elizabeth was two years old the family was based at Warwick Park, Honicknowle, Crownhill, R.S.O., S. Devon (near Plymouth).
HMS Monmouth was part of Admiral Christopher Cradock’s West Indies squadron. The flag ship HMS Good Hope and HMS Monmouth were ‘older’ armoured cruisers; the rest of the squadron consisted of HMS Glasgow, a modern light cruiser and HMS Otranto, a converted liner. The German opposition was a squadron of five modern ships with elite crews under Admiral von Spee. His objective was to attack and disrupt British and French commercial shipping off the west coast of S. America. The two squadrons clashed off the Chilean port of Coronel on 1 November 1914.
Admiral Cradock ordered the Otranto to escape and then turned to engage the enemy. At action stations 60 exotic parrots bought by the crew of HMS Glasgow were released from their cages in the hope that they would return to the safety of the mainland, ‘They rose in a cloud of brilliant blues and greens and oranges….’ a naval historian later wrote, but alarmed by the rising gale they returned to Glasgow; just 10 survived. The German Admiral opened fire at 7pm when Cradock’s ships were silhouetted against the setting sun. At 7.50pm Good Hope’s magazine exploded, she sank at 7.57pm. There were no survivors. She had been hit at least 30 times. Monmouth was also badly damaged, like Good Hope she had been hit at least 30 times. The third salvo from Gneiseau set her forward turret on fire. Listing to port she was unable to fire, but her White Ensign was still flying. She was finished off by the newly arrived Nurberg with gunfire at point blank range. HMS Glasgow observed 75 gun flashes. Monmouth sank at 9.18pm. There were no survivors.
HMS Glasgow escaped. This was the first British defeat at sea since 1812. Revenge was swift: von Spee’s fleet was destroyed on 8 December 1914 in the Battle of the Falklands by HMS Invincible and HMS Inflexible with help from their Japanese allies. The one German ship to escape, the Dresden, was tracked down and destroyed in March 1915.
John Cooper is commemorated on the Naval Memorial at Plymouth. His three children all reached adulthood and married. There were at least three grand-children; Dan, Roger and Paul Cooper the sons of his eldest child.
British Naval Disaster at Coronel, https://warfarehistorynetwork.com
HMS Monmouth (D28) (+1914), www.wrecksite.eu
Major Warships Sunk in WW1, 1914: Battle of Coronel, http://worldwar1.co.uk/coronel.html
The Battle of the Falklands, The Independent, 17 April 2017
The Monmouth and Good Hope, Surrey Advertiser, 14 November 1914
The Naval Fight off Chile, The Times, 18 November 1914
Royal Navy Officers’ Service Records, 1756-1931, The National Archives, ADM 196/143/860
Surrey, England, Electoral Registers, 1832-1962, www.ancestry.co.uk
UK, De Ruvigny’s Roll of Honour, 1914-1924, www.ancestry.co.uk