‘My father won the Croix de Guerre aged 16’

Read­ers re­veal a gem from their fam­ily tree From boy sol­dier to se­cret agent, Pat Hews’ father Dick Cooper lived an amaz­ing life, serv­ing in two World Wars

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - MY FAMILY HERO - Claire Vaughan

It’s May 1915, ex­actly 100 years ago, and the ter­ri­fy­ing global con­flict of the First World War is rag­ing. On the Gal­lipoli Penin­sula in the Ot­toman Em­pire, Al­lied forces are try­ing to se­cure the Dar­danelles, a strait that pro­vides a vi­tal sea route to Rus­sia. The en­emy has al­ready re­pelled a naval at­tack and the in­va­sion force is now en­gaged in a fierce land cam­paign against the Turks that has seen soar­ing ca­su­al­ties and plum­met­ing morale.

Things were look­ing des­per­ate. “It was the turn of the French to force a break­through and like the other Al­lied troops be­fore them the task was prov­ing im­pos­si­ble,” says Pat Hews. “Le­gion­naire af­ter le­gion­naire fell with a bul­let in his head while at­tempt­ing to go over the ridge.” Amid the chaos, a boy sol­dier – in a brave but reck­less move – broke away from the French ranks.

“Hav­ing watched his com­rades fall, my father dropped as low as he could and took a head-first dive into the ravine. Man­ag­ing to get to safety, he im­me­di­ately com­menced cov­er­ing fire while shout­ing to the oth­ers, ‘some jump, some dive’. Many sur­vived the as­sault. Who knows just how many peo­ple owed their lives to my father’s quick wits.”

For his ac­tions that day, the boy, Adol­phus Richard Cooper (Dick Cooper to his friends) re­ceived the Croix de Guerre, re­put­edly the first ever awarded to a Le­gion­naire, and the first of many medals he would re­ceive.

Re­mark­ably, Dick saw ac­tion in both World Wars and his story of hero­ism is an un­usual one. It wasn’t un­til Pat was aged 31, thanks to her brother’s re­search, that she fi­nally dis­cov­ered the true na­ture of her father’s hero­ism.

Dick was born in Bagh­dad in 1899. The son of the Bri­tish consul, he spent­pent his early years in the Middle East and picked up many lan­guages in­clud­ing French, Ital­ian, Greek, Turk­ish, Span­ish and Ara­bic.

At the start of the First World War, ea­ger for ad­ven­ture, he joined the French For­eign Le­gion. Only a few months later, he was to lead the Al­lied as­sault over what be­came known among the French as the ‘Ravine of Death’ at Gal­lipoli. As most of us will know, the Turk­ish were even­tu­ally vic­to­ri­ous af­ter pro­tracted and bloody fight­ing, with Aus­tralian and New Zealand forces suf­fer­ing par­tic­u­larly heavy losses. But, says Pat, “It seems that many peo­ple are not aware that the French had far greater losses at Gal­lipoli than the An­zacs.

“Bri­tish by birth, my father went on to fight with the Bri­tish army in France.” He also spent brief spells work­ing as a mer­chant sea­man and as an Ital­ian in­ter­preter for the Bri­tish, later re­join­ing the French For­eign Le­gion, fight­ing the Moroc­can Ber­bers in the Rif Cam­paign in the At­las Moun­tains.

Ac­cord­ing to Pat: “The hor­rors of the First World War stayed with him for the rest of his life, yet when war broke out for the se­cond time, he bravely vol­un­teered as a se­cret agent, de­spite be­ing over 40, know­ing that the eight lan­guages he spoke flu­ently and his ex­ten­sive trav­els and knowl­edge would be in­valu­able to the Al­lied cause.”

As part of the Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions Ex­ec­u­tive, Dick was the only se­cret agent to be sent to North Africa. The rest of his story is like some­thing out of a wartime thriller. “He was be­trayed by his con­tact and taken pris­oner of war. Moved to prison in France by the Vichy French, he was then un­ex­pect­edly freed just as thethe GestapoGestapo were about to kill him. He es­caped with the help of the French Re­sis­tance and was smug­gled over the Pyre­nees and back to Bri­tain. Af­ter med­i­cal treat­ment, he was back in the field again, un­der­cover, fight­ing in Si­cily and Italy.” Dur­ing this time he was granted the hon­orary rank of Cap­tain.

The Se­cond World War over, Dick set­tled into fam­ily life work­ing as a civil ser­vant, lec­turer and broad­caster. He wrote sev­eral books about his wartime ex­pe­ri­ences in­clud­ing Ad­ven­tures of a Se­cret Agent and Born to Fight.

But how does Pat re­mem­ber her father? “As a fas­ci­nat­ing, in­spir­ing, and very honourable man who had a very wicked sense of hu­mour.

“His wartime con­tem­po­raries held him in very high es­teem and most stayed in touch for the rest of his life. This was also true of his fel­low PoWs, who never seemed to tire of re­count­ing his pranks and con­tri­bu­tions to the Es­cape Com­mit­tee.

“Though he had ex­pe­ri­enced the hor­rors of war, I re­mem­ber him as an or­di­nary man, who loved grow­ing roses and was truly, com­pletely and ut­terly con­tented!”

Le­gion­naire af­ter Le­gion­naire fell with a bul­let in his head

Cap­tain Dick Cooper served as a spy in the Se­cond World War

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