• Daniel Cooper

Army / Flying Corps
  • 24th Australian Infantry Battalion
  • Private

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  • 1914–1915 Star
  • British War Medal
  • Victory Medal
  • Enlistment - WW1

    Melbourne VIC, Australia

  • Birth

    Echuca, VIC, Australia

  • Embarked HMAT "Wiltshire" A18 from Melbourne

    Tuesday, 7 March 1916

  • KIA

    Les Bons Villers, Belgium
    Thursday, 20 September 1917

Stories and comments
    • Daniel Cooper service no. 4303
    • Posted by VICGOVAboriginalWW1, Monday, 30 May 2016

    SUMMARY Daniel Cooper was the son of William and Agnes Cooper. He grew up on the Cummeragunja Aboriginal Reserve in Yorta Yorta country in New South Wales. Daniel served with the 24th Infantry Battalion in France and Belgium and died fighting in the Battle of Menin Road. He is buried at the Perth Cemetery, Belgium. In the inter-war period, Daniel’s father William Cooper, was an important political leader who galvanised the Aboriginal community in Victoria and founded the Australian Aborigines’ League. Deeply affected by the loss of his son and the injustice of Aboriginal people’s political continuing inequality, William Cooper argued that Aboriginal men should not enlist to fight in the Second World War until they had ‘something to fight for’ in terms of citizen rights. EARLY LIFE Daniel Cooper was born in 1896 in Moama to William Cooper and Agnes Hamilton. His father William, was a Yorta Yorta man born in Joti-Jota territory around the junction of the Murray and Goulburn rivers. His mother was born at Swan Hill but raised at the Coranderrk Aboriginal Reserve near Healesville. William and Agnes had six children together: Daniel Amy, Gillison, Jessie, Sarah (known as Sally, later Sally Russell) and Lynch. Agnes died in 1910. Daniel took after his father. He was an intelligent and inquisitive young man who excelled at the Cummeragunja Reserve School. However, like young Aboriginal men at that time, Daniel had few career opportunities. The First World War provided an unprecedented opportunity for Aboriginal men to earn a wage equal to white men and to stand on an equal footing. ENLISTMENT AND MILITARY SERVICE Daniel enlisted in the AIF on 8 February 1916 at the age of twenty. He was unmarried, living in Picola, near his father at Yarrawonga, and working as a labourer. Two of his cousins, Joshua and Andrew Cooper, also volunteered to fight in the First World War. After a period of training at Broadmeadows military camp, Daniel embarked for overseas with the 24th Battalion in early March 1916. In late September that year he served as a Private in the field in France. He left the battlefield in late November 1916 to receive medical treatment for trench foot and acute cystitis. In January 1917 he returned to the battlefield in France. On 3 May 1917 Daniel was with the 24th Battalion during the second Battle of Bullecourt. Throughout July and August Daniel served in the first major offensive at Pozieres and Mouquet Farm. During the Battle of Menin Road on 20 September 1917, Daniel and two other soldiers were behind the 1st line in Ypres sheltered in a railway cutting. The Germans held entrenched defensive positions. The three men were shelled and all died instantly. Daniel was buried east of Ypres at the Perth Cemetery, Belgium. He received a 1914/15 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal commemorating his service and is recorded on the Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour. William Cooper received his son’s personal belongings, a memorial plaque and scroll, and allotted money from his military pay. From December 1917 William was granted a war pension of 14 shillings per fortnight. Shortly before he was killed, Daniel had sent his seven year old sister, Sally Cooper, an embroidered post card. Sally told the authors of the book Forgotten Heroes that she treasured this post card for the rest of her life. AFTER THE WAR In the post-war period William Cooper, grieving for his son, fought to redress the great injustices suffered by Aboriginal people. In 1933 at the age of 71, William moved from Cummeragunja to Melbourne where he became one of Australia’s most influential Aboriginal political leaders. In Melbourne, William founded the Australian Aborigines’ League creating a political focus within the urban Aboriginal community. One of the early pan-Aboriginal organisations, the League formed relationships with Aboriginal people throughout Australia, built alliances with trade unions, and petitioned State and Federal Governments for Aboriginal rights. William was living on an old age pension and wrote many letters of correspondence and protest by candlelight in his Footscray house. He travelled across Victoria seeking signatures for a petition to King George V concerning Aboriginal people’s political status. When the Second World War became imminent in 1939, William formulated his thoughts on Aboriginal military service in a letter to the Federal Minister of the Interior. His letter underlined the terrible injustice of Aboriginal people’s political status in the light of their recent war sacrifice. William wrote: I am father of a soldier who gave his life for his King on the battlefield and thousands of coloured men enlisted in the A.I.F. They will doubtless do so again though on their return last time, that is those who survived, were pushed back to the bush to resume the status of aborigines [sic]…the aboriginal now has no status, no rights, no land and …nothing to fight for but the privilege of defending the land which was taken from him buy the white race without compensation or even kindness. We submit that to put us in the trenches, until we have something to fight for, is not right. The point is, Mr M’Ewen [sic], is that the enlistment of natives should be preceded by the removal of all disabilities. Then, with a country to fight for, the aborigines would not be one whit behind the white men in value At the outbreak of the Second World War, Aboriginal political leaders held a range of opinions regarding Aboriginal military service. Jack Patten, an activist from New South Wales, enlisted in the Navy in the hope that it would bring about political change. Despite William Cooper’s opposing view, two of his grandsons, Cyril and Bruce Mann signed up to the Second AIF. Bruce and Cyril were the children of William’s daughter Jessie who had died in childbirth. William Cooper had many grandchildren living with him at different times, including Bruce Mann. Cyril, who became a celebrated Carlton footballer in the Victorian Football League began his career in Footscray, and it is likely that he too spent time living with his grandfather. William Cooper died in 1941, and did not live to see his grandson Cyril sail off for the war and return safely. Despite the lack of improvement to Aboriginal peoples’ political and economic status after their participation in the First World War, many more Aboriginal men, along with Aboriginal women, enlisted for military service in the Second World War. After the Second World War, Aboriginal peoples’ persistent willingness to fight for Australia meant the Australian military could no longer maintain a racial bar to enlistment in their forces. In 1949, the Commonwealth government granted voting rights to Aboriginal ex-servicemen and servicewomen. It would be another 18 years until William Cooper’s aims for his people were achieved and Aboriginal people were granted full citizen rights. FAMILY ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Uncle Alf Boydie Turner Kevin Russell SOURCES Daniel Cooper Service No. 4303 Military record NAA: B2455, COOPER D http://recordsearch.naa.gov.au/NameSearch/Interface/ItemDetail.aspx?Barcode=3409020&isAv=N Daniel Cooper listed as received a School prize at Cummeragunja Mission School, 20/12/1902 in Riverine Herald: http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/115042981 Attwood, Bain and Andrew Markus, Thinking Black: William Cooper and the Australian Aborigines’ League, Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies,2014 Australian Red Cross Society Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau Files, 1914-1918, Australian War Memorial Collection: https://www.awm.gov.au/images/collection/pdf/RCDIG1042419--1-.pdf Jackomos, Alick and Derek Fowell, Forgotten Heroes: Aborigines at War from then Somme to Vietnam, Melbourne: Victoria Press, 2003 William Cooper Biography by Australian Dictionary of Biography: http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/cooper-william-5773 FOR FURTHER INFORMATION about Victorian Aboriginal service in WWI including DISCLAIMERS relating to this information see link to VICTORIAN ABORIGINAL SERVICE IN WWI HOME PAGE in the side bar of this webpage or copy this link http://discoveringanzacs.naa.gov.au/browse/groupstories/7396