Three Brothers Went To War

28 July 1914 World War 1 started.

The three brothers, Alfred, Albert and Sydney COOPER joined the British army and in August 1914 they went to France with the Second Battallion of the Royal Scots Regiment. The records show that they embarked from Plymouth and were in the 8th Brigade, 3rd Division. They were part of what came to be known as The Old Contemptibles. They landed at Boulogne on 14 August 1914.

The Family of the Brothers

The brothers came from a working class family living in Lewisham, London, with its origins in Streatham. It was a very large Victorian style family with their parents, Walter Cooper, a painter, and Elizabeth Mary Parmenter, marrying in 1882 in St Luke's, Norwood and children being born from 1882 to 1907. There were 13 recorded children born. These are my mother's older brothers and she would have been aged 15 when her brothers were killed in war.

It is not known why the brothers joined the Royal Scots but it was thought that possibly one of their grandparents might have had Scottish ancestry. I have been unable to discover any and the Regiment's records do not cover this type of personal detail.

An example had been set when the oldest son of the family, Walter, joined the Army Ordnance Corps in 1900. It is not clear when the three brothers actually joined the army but was probably in the period just before war commenced. In theory the minimum age of recruits should have been 19 but some of them lied about their age. The youngest of the three brothers, Sydney, was born in 1897 and was just 17 when war broke out.

Snapshot of the family as it was recorded in the 1901 Census(Click here to view)

Descendant Chart of the brothers' family(Click here to view)

The Royal Scots Regiment


Their nickname as Pontius Pilate's bodyguard, originated from a 17th-century boasting contest with the French Regiment of Picardy, who boasted that prior to the Resurrection Christ's tomb was guarded by the French regiment. Both claims are, of course, baseless. The Royal Scots (The Royal Regiment), once known as the Royal Regiment of Foot, was the oldest, and therefore most senior, infantry regiment of the line in the British Army, having been raised in 1633 during the reign of Charles I of Scotland. The regiment existed until 2006, when it amalgamated with the King's Own Scottish Borderers to become the Royal Scots Borderers, 1st Battalion of the newly formed Royal Regiment of Scotland.

The Old Contemptibles

The following is an excerpt from the Royal Scot's Regimental History - it provides a picture of the size and make-up of this force.

2nd Battalion was with The BEF (British Expeditionary Force) from August to December 1914

The BEF which crossed to France in August 1914 was the largest, best equiped and best trained army that Britain had ever sent overseas. By the end of 1914 its losses had been such that it ceased to exist as a professional force with its own special identity. Nevertheless by then it had made a wholly disproportionate contributiion to the failure of the Schlieffen Plan, which was central to ultimate strategic success for the German High command. The BEF totalled 100,000 men and consisted, initially of two, and later threee,Corps, each of two divisions - with three brigades in each division. There was also a 14,000 strong cavalry division, but the fighting strength of the BEF was in its fifty-two infantry battalions of which there were four in each brigade. The infantry had adopted a four company structure early in 1914. Each company had four platoons, each of four sections, giving a company strength of 6 officers and 221 soldiers. At battalion level there was some horse-drawn transport, a band and a section of two Vickers-Maxim machine guns. The total strength was 30 officers and 972 soldiers. The infantryman's weapon was the recently issued Short Magazine Lee Enfield (SMLE) rifle and the 18-inch bayonet. Battalion Headquarters' officers and company commanders were provided with horses; the remainder marched.

Movements of 2nd Battallion at outset of the war

4th August 1914 5.18pm Order to Mobilise

5th August 1914 Precautionary Posts relieved by Territorials

6th August 1914 Three 3rd Battallion officers 160 Reservists arrive.

8th August 1914 50 Regular Cadre from depot & few Reservists joined

9th August 1914 Fifth day ready to go but order received to wait.

10th August 1914 Peace details under Capt Tanner. 2 officers & 198 other ranks to 3rd Bn at Weymouth.

13th August 1914 The Battalion left Plymouth in two trains for Southampton where they embarked on the S.S. Mombassa

14th August 1914 Arrived Boulogne at 1pm & marched to rest camp at St Martin's 3 miles from Boulogne.

15th August 1914 Inspection by French General I/c Lines of Communications. 8.30pm entrained at Boulogne for unknown destination.

16th August 1914 11am detrained at Landrecies & marched from thence to Taisnieres where the Brigade was accommodated in billets.

20th August 1914 Marched into fresh billets at Dourlers.

21st August 1914 Left Dourlers 5.10am & marched to Goguice via Maubeuge, arriving 1.30pm. Went into billets. B.Coy as outposts.

22nd August 1914 Left Goguies at 7am arriving Spiennes (in Belgium) 3pm where we again went into billets covered by outposts formed by Middlesex Regt., Royal Irish Regt. & C Coy.


Alfred, the eldest of the three, born Alfred William, was born on 15 March 1887 at 130 Wellfield Road, Streatham, London. It was thought that he had married and had a child as reported by one of his younger sisters, but no marriage record has been found and no linked birth certificate found. There is also no individual personal record surviving for him following a bomb attack on the British Army records Depot during World War 2. Such a record would have recorded whom he showed as his next of kin.

Medal Index Card for Alfred (Click to view)

This tells us that his Royal Scots Regimental Number was 9720 and that he was entitled to the 1914 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal. Interestingly, he had been a Corporal but for some reason was reduced in rank to Private. This probably related to a disciplinary matter but I was unable to discover the details of this. The date given on this document, 11 August 1914, suggests that this is when he first arrived in France but according to the 2nd Battalion War Diary (see Regimental History above), they did not arrive in France (Boulogne to be exact) until 14 August 1914.)

He died 15 October 1914 at the Pas de Calais

There is no mention of Alfred specifically but you can see from reading the following copy of the War Diary entries that the Battalion suffered a number of casualties on that day. As you will note, only the names of Officer casualties and sickness were specifically recorded, along with the horses of the General Officer Commanding.

2nd Battalion Royal Scots Regiment's Diary October 1914

14 October 1914

Division on the village of SEMELLE. Night passed quietly, except for occasional burst of firing. 2nd Lieutenant Cowan arrived during the day with a draft of about 100 men. Captains Tanner and Stratt wounded. About 20 other casualties.

15th October 1914

A,B, and D Companies in trenches in firing line with C Company and 157 reinforcements under 2 Lieut. R C Cowan in reserve. Operation Order receved ordering advance to be continued. At 4.30 am message was received from 1st Gordons that they are pushing forward to entrench themselves 300 yards further forward and asking The Royal Scots to conform. This was done by pushing forward the left and changing front slightly to the right using A Company as a pivot. This was completed by dawn and the positions were entrenched. At 10 am Captain G Thorpe, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, took over temporary command of the Battalion. After a conference with the OC Gordon Highlanders it was agreed to push forward the left covered by the fire of the Gordons. This was done. An order was received to suspend further advance as the Artillery was to shell the position for three quarters of an hour. At 2.15 pm the advance was continued, A, B and D Companies in front line and C Company and reinforcements in reserve.

The advance was carried out with little loss as ditches were available up which to push men into their forward positions, and thus the houses, about 500 yards West of ROUGE CROIX were reached at about 5.15 pm. At the edge of those houses the advance came under Machine gun fire and The Gordons on the left were completely held up. It was necessary therefore for the Brigade to be reformed before pushing on to its final objective, the PONT DU HEM REUVE, CHAPPELLE Road. This could not therefore be done before dark. Orders were received that the road must be reached. Arrangements were therefore made to continue the advance after dark. A and B Companies were extended with C on the left, D being drawn back in reserve. Companies were warned to advance on receipt of orders, the right to direct. After a conference with the O C Royal Irish it was agreed to send a patrol up the road to the main road and to back it up by a Company. Meanwhile A and B Companies started off owing to receiving a verbal order to advance (from whom is not known) and reached the objective without meeting any opposition. The situation at night therefore was:- A and B Companies holding main road. D Company in support. C Company and reinforcements in reserve.

16tth October 1914

8th Brigade relieved by 9th Brigade and went into reserve. The positions held were taken up by Royal Scots Fusiliers before dawn and the Battalion went into Billets.

17th October 1914

Battalion in reserve. Marched to AUBERS. Lieut-Colonel Dyson took over command.

18th October 1914

No orders received during the day cocerning a move. Shells began to fall in AUBERS in the direction of the church about 3pm. The Battalion with transport withdrew to a field in the rear of the village, till it became dusk, then we returned to our original billets for the night. The reason given for the shelling of the church was that it had been used as an observation post by Royal Artillery. Several casualties from shell bursts amongst the Gordons and Middlesex Regiments. Also G.O.C.s two chargers killed. 2nd Lieut Pitman went sick during the day.

19th October 1914

Orders received to move to LA PLUICHE about half a mile away, during afternoon. Battalion paraded about 4.30pm and reached LA PLUICHE at 5pm. Transport left at AUBERS. Firing line about three quarters of a mile forward, half Battn in reserve. A & D Coys detailed for Outposts on North and North East side of village, with orders to dig themselves in.

20th October 1914

The two Reserve Companies ( B & C) billeted in a farm during the day relieved A & D Coys in the evening. Orders received that a new line of trenches were to be dug by the outpost Companies. Heavy firing broke out during the night, which lasted for some hours. Capt Hon: H.L. Bruce and 2nd Lieut Menzies arrived during the night.

Memorial to the death of Alfred Cooper(Click to view)


Sydney originally joined up with the Royal West Kent Regiment where his Regimental number was 1624, then transferred to the Royal Fusiliers where his Regimental Number was 15777, and then when his brothers Alfred and Albert joined the Royal Scots, he transferred to the Royal Scots to join them.

I was unable to find any surviving service records or any other results in the archives for Sydney.

Medal Index Card for Sydney (Click to view)

This tells us that his Regimental Number was 11609 – with the Royal Scots and that he was entitled to the 1914 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal. His rank was Private and like Alfred & Albert he arrived in France at the same time with the 2nd Battalion.

He died 14 December 1914 at Ypres

Again, I have attached the relevant entries from the War Diary. While Sydney is not mentioned by name he must be one of the 24 Other Ranks listed as being killed on that particular date (14 December).

2nd Battalion Royal Scots Regiment's Diary

12 December 1914

Major Dyson, Capt Bruce and 2/Lieut Robson-Scott, commenced at 3am with other officers of the Brigade to reconnoitre the trenches which we previously held at KEMMEL with a view to the best method of attack, which was to take place at an early date. Revd H C Meeke left to join 8th Field Ambulance.

13 December 1914

Church parade held at 11 am. Conference on previous day reconnaisance held at Brigade HQ. At 4 pm Major Dyson despatched to superintend improvements in existing new reserve trenches, and to select sites for new Reserve trenches, preparatory to the attack. 4pm orders received for Battn to march at 6pm via LOCRE to KEMMEL, where packs were stored and everything held in preparation for an attack to be delivered next day. Battn being allotted close billets. SAA Carts and other transport hidden from view of aircraft. Operation orders with detail of method of attack received at 10pm. Lieuts Strange and Lamond returned from leave.

14 December 1914

Transport left under cover, at KEMMEL. At 3am Battn moved off through Chateau grounds, to take over trenches previously held by us, relieving the Liverpool Scottish, who left their machine guns in the fire trenches, along with Brigaded machine guns of the 7th Brigade. C and D Companies occupied the fire trenches, the former being on the right. B Coy was in support, A Coy in Reserve. Wire entanglements in front of our fire trenches were cut down. At 7am heavy artillery bombardment of the PETIT BOIS (object of our attack) began, continuing throughout the day. At 7.45am the pre-arranged hour of attack, C and D Coys, advance under heavy Machine Gun and rifle from the enemy. D Coy having to file through a gate in our line of trenches (Their only line of advance on account of a thick hedge immediately in front of our own fire trenches). Both Companies advanced to the attack in two lines, at 20 yards interval, 150 yards distant at the point of the bayonet, taking one officer and 60 men prisoners (who threw up their hands) and two Machine Guns. B Coy five minutes later, advanced to the fire trenches vacated by D Coy. C and D Coys made good the trenches captured.

D Coy then sent out patrols through the wood, who discovered a second line of German trenches unoccupied and filled with water, about 100 yards in advance of captured trenches. The attack was made in co-operation with 1/Gordon Highlanders on our right, and the French on our left; unfortunately the Gordons came under heavy fire and were not able to advance farther after getting within 50 yards of the German trenches; the French were also held up and only advanced 150 yards. C Coy found it impossible to make a further advance on account of heavy Machine Gun and rifle fire. Major Duncan did not think it advisable for D Coy who had been reinforced by 3 Platoons of B Coy to make a further advance without knowing fully what had happened on our right and left. It was reported also that our Gunners shells were dropping short, in fact one or two shells dropped behind our advance line, so we made good the ground captured. About 2pm A Coy sent up two Platoons in support of the original fire trench. At 4pm our Artillery fire increased in violence and and was stupendous. This violent bombardment lasting till 4-45pm when it again slackened in intensity. the 2/Suffolks arrived to take over our trenches, the relief being carried out under great difficulty on account of heavy rifle fire. The Battn assembled behind the reserve trench from whence we received orders not to move till the Liverpool Scottish came up; this they did about 30 minutes later, the Bn marching independently by Companies to former billets at KEMMEL where we remained in reserve for the night.

About Mid-day a wire was received from Genl Sir Horace Smith-Derrion congratulating the Battalion on its magnificent assault.


Killed Wounded & Missing Missing
Capt The Hon H L Bruce Capt O M Crackenthorp 2/Lieut E F MacKenzie
24 Other Ranks 2/Lieut R McC.Harrison-Wallace 26 Other Ranks
2/Lieut O B Malthy
2/Lieut H C Fecker
47 Other Ranks

15 December 1914

Bn remained in reserve in billets at KEMMEL, opportunity being taken before dawn to refill with ammunition and recover LOCRE packs left behind on previous day. About 5.30 pm Bn received orders to proceed to LOCRE, where we billeted for the night.

16 December 1914

In billet at LOCRE. Visited by Genl Sir Horace Smih-Dorrien who came to congratulate the Batn on its splendid work. He said Your charge was magnificent. Visited in afternoon by Genl Haldane, Commanding 3rd Division who also congratulated all ranks on their good work.

Congratulations were also received from Sir John French. The Bn was in reserve from 6am till 2pm, ready to turn out at a moments notice, our services were not required.

17th December 1914

Quiet day at LOCRE. Visited by Genl Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien in morning. Battn formed reserve from 2pm to 10 pm as yesterday. The captured Machine Gun was brought into Hd.Qrs from the trench from which it was captured.

Memorial to the death of Sydney Cooper(Click to view)


Albert must have been one of the very few soldiers who landed in France as part of the Old Contemptibles and who survived the war.

Medal Index Card for Albert (Click to view)

I found the Medal Index Card for Albert and it showed us that his Regimental Number was 10332 and that he was entitled to the 1914 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal. He was a Corporal but was later promoted to Sergeant. Like his two other brothers he landed in France with the 2nd Battalion in August, 1914. The notes on this MIC indicate that some of his medals were returned in error in 1921 but were reissued again the following year. Again, I had no luck finding service, or indeed pension, records for Albert. I assume they were amongst those destroyed during the World War 2 bombing raid.

There isn't a lot of information available about his life after he returned from the war. He married Mary Agnes Sharp, in April 1928 and settled in Barrow-In-Furness, Lancashire. He had a son, Malcolm, in 1947.

It is thought that he died at the age of 61 in 1954. But this is not confirmed.

The Writing of this Story
I started researching this story sometime during 2011. It was frustrating not being able to obtain personal information about the service of the three brothers and it is sad that no-one appears to have kept any photos of them. It was not originally planned that this would be finished in the month when the Centenary of the outbreak of World War 1 would be celebrated - but it is fitting.

Thank You Royal Scots
I would like to acknowledge the help given to me and patience shown by the Royal Scots Museum in helping me with the research for this story - especially when at the time the Regiment was busily engaged in Afghanistan. I am very grateful, Thank You.

Ted Cooper