Topic: Walter Evan Cookson

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Walter Cookson (Service no. 6/28) was a World War One soldier with links to New Brighton

Walter Evan Cookson Walter Cookson was born in Templeton on April 29th, 1890. He was one of five boys born to Agnes and Arthur Cookson; who was the Headmaster at Lincoln District High School in his later years. He attended Christchurch Boys High School, where he competed with great success as a swimmer; was a member of their champion water polo team and played football with the Old Boys Rugby Football Club. Walter won several Canterbury championships and once also won the New Zealand breast stroke championship.

Walter went on to be a very accomplished competitive swimmer representing the Christchurch East Swimming Club. He was also a member of New Brighton Surf Life Saving Club where his name can be found on their Roll of Honour stained glass window. One of his last and most notable wins would be against Malcolm Champion; New Zealand’s first Olympic Gold Medallist; in a February 1914 scratch race at Napier.

Walter was 5ft 6in (170cm) tall and weighed 145lbs (65kg). He had a fair complexion with brown eyes and hair and had a scar on his left upper arm. His religion was Anglican. Prior to enlisting, Walter lived at 219 Barbadoes Street and worked as a mechanical engineer with John Anderson (Canterbury Foundry) on Lichfield St.

Walter began his military life with 4 years (1910-1914) in the New Zealand Territorial’s which is today known as the Army Reserves. He was single when he enlisted on 16th August, 1914 with the NZEF Canterbury Regiment, 1st Infantry Battalion.

He sailed from Lyttelton Harbour on 15th October, 1914 aboard either the Tahiti or the Athenic, landing in Egypt in early December. Around this time he would have signed the 1914 Christmas Menu Card from Shepheard’s Hotel, Cairo that can be viewed on Christchurch City Libraries website.

Walter left for the Dardanelles in April 1915 and was then injured at Gallipoli on 31st May 1915. He was admitted to the mine-sweeper ‘Clacton’ and then transferred to the ‘Franconia’. His injuries are recorded as “bomb arm and head” but fortunately he rejoined his unit the next day. Walter refers to being injured in one of his letters home to his brother Leslie. “Our work is in the trenches, varied with an occasional attack – by us. I've been in two of them, and was 'woodened' out in the last. Quite a trivial scratch though from a hand grenade. The trenches we manned are ten yards from the Turks and it’s a rotten job.” He was one of the lucky few to survive this campaign.

He wrote many letters home to his brother Leslie and they often painted a rather vivid picture of life over there:

“Life is full of excitement and we live well, and lack nothing except soap, which is very scarce. It was hard luck losing all those Christchurch chaps. I saw Lew Sapsford and Tommy Burns go. We were advancing to the firing line together, and were just within ten yards of it, going up to the hill-top, when they stood up and were shot.”

These letters can be found on Papers Past and quite often refer to Walter as ‘Wally’ and use the initials W O Cookson, but references to his two brothers lead me to believe they are Walter Cookson’s letters home to his brother Leslie. Two of these letters have also been published in ‘Letters from Gallipoli – New Zealand soldiers write home’, edited by Glyn Harper.

Walter was appointed to temporary Lance Corporal on 4th March 1916 and promoted to Corporal a day later. On the 6th April, 1916 he embarked for France on the Franconia.

Walter was in charge of the post on the night that his trench was enfiladed (attacked from the side) by German shell-fire. The two wounds he suffered wouldn’t have been fatal on their own and it is thought that it was the concussion that killed him. Walter died on 19th July, 1916 in Somme, France. He is buried in Cite Bonjean Military Cemetery, Armentiers, France.

The New Zealand ensign flag that flew at Quinn’s Post, Gallipoli was signed by Walter and other members of the Canterbury Battalion. Although faded it appears to have been annotated “killed in action”. Images of this can be viewed on NZ History.

Walter was awarded The 1914-15 Star, British War Medal and the Victory Medal.


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Walter Evan Cookson

First Names:Walter Evan
Last Name:Cookson
Place of Birth:Templeton