Harold Cook was born in February 1899, the youngest of nine children to George and Amelia Cook from the Somerset town of Street. George worked as a bootmaker, presumably for the Clark’s factory in the town.
Harold lost his mother at a young age; Amelia passed away in 1901, aged just 41 years old.
By the time of the 1911 census, George, his two older sons – Maurice and George Jr – and his four daughters – Beatrice, Florence, Alice and Gladys – were all employed by the factory. In fact, the only member of the family not employed by Clark’s was Harold himself, who was still at school.
Harold’s military records are not available, but, from the information I have been able to gather, it appears that he enlisted as soon as his age allowed. He joined the Suffolk Regiment, and was in training when an accident occurred.
The local newspaper – the Central Somerset Gazette – picks up his story:
It appears that about 11pm on August 24th [Private Cook was] in bed and suddenly got up, saying he was lying on something. This proved to be the oil bottle of his rifle and he said he would put it away. He got hold of his rifle and turned it muzzle downwards in order to put the oil bottle in the butt. When he closed the butt-trap the rifle went off.
He at once exclaimed “Who put the safety catch forward?”. Corporal Butler and [Private Johnson] then bandaged Private Cook’s foot (which was drilled clean through) and he was taken away at once.
From subsequent evidence by the Adjutant, it transpired than the rifle had been faultily loaded and that the safety catch had been broken.
Deceased had received every possible attention at the American Hospital in Cambridge, but his leg had to be amputated and subsequently septicaemia set in and to this he succumbed.
The jury, in accordance with the Coroner’s summing up, returned a verdict of “Accidental Death.”Central Somerset Gazette: Friday 19th October 1917
Private Cook died on 4th October 1917, aged just 18 years old.
His body was brought back to his home town of Street and he lies at rest in the local cemetery.