Private Herbert Cooke survived only four days on the Gallipoli peninsula, after landing at ANZAC Cove on April 26.
Killed in action on April 30, he was buried the same day at what is now known as Beach Cemetery, overlooking the Aegean Sea. Nearby is the grave of Simpson Kirkpatrick who, with his donkey, became a legendary figure in the ANZAC story.
Herbert is among only 9000 of the 36,000 Commonwealth troops killed during eight months of bitter but ultimately futile fighting at Gallipoli who have a known grave.
His headstone is simple, but conveys a poignant message of a life cut short at 21 and a young man “Beloved by all who knew him”.
Herbert was working as a labourer at Cedar Creek when he enlisted in the AIF on September 9, 1914 – less than two months after the outbreak of war.
Born at Dundatha, north of Maryborough in October, 1893, he was the fourth child of George and Margaret Cooke. His mother had died at Logan after giving birth to a ninth child in 1910 and five weeks later his father had married a widow with eight children, Elizabeth Abraham.
On September 14, 1914 Herbert’s father, then head teacher of Eumundi State School, wrote to the Army giving his “full consent” for his son to enlist “as a member of the Australian Expeditionary Force”.
Mr Cooke also said that as Herbert had been “connected with western station life for some time”, he “would prefer, if possible, his being attached to some Light Horse unit”.
The Army ignored his request and instead assigned Herbert to the 15th Infantry Battalion.
Diaries found among Herbert’s possessions at Gallipoli and later donated to the Australian War Memorial, tell of Herbert’s earliest training in Brisbane, his departure from Australia and the preparation for the Gallipoli landings.
Herbert sailed from Melbourne on the HMAT Ceramic on December 22, 1914 headed for Albany where it joined a fleet of troopships headed for Europe.
On February 2, the Ceramic unloaded its human cargo at Alexandria and the men traveled to Cairo by train. They camped at Heliopolis for further training until April 5, when they returned to Alexandria and embarked for Lemnos Island where they trained for the landing at Gallipoli.
The men of C Company, commanded by Captain Hugh Quinn, were among those of the 15th Battalion who were not landed at Gallipoli until the morning of April 26. Between their skirmishes with the Turks, their main task for the next two days was to dig a communications trench.
On April 29, Captain Quinn was ordered to hold a strategic position at the head of what had been dubbed Monash Valley. Quinn’s Post, as it was called, was perhaps the most precarious position on the peninsula, being exposed to enemy fire from three sides.
It is believed that it was at Quinn’s Post that Herbert Cooke was killed in action on April 30.
He was buried that day, by Reverend J Green, on the side of the hill to the right of where the ANZACs had landed at Gaba Tepe, the southern point of ANZAC Cove.
In a 1934 tribute to the ANZACs buried at Gallipoli, Turkish President Kemal Ataturk wrote:
“Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives … You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace.”
Three of Herbert’s younger brothers and five of his step brothers also volunteered for the AIF.
Two of his step brothers were killed in France and two of Herbert’s five cousins who enlisted were killed in Palestine.
One of Herbert’s step brothers was Eric Abraham, famously the ‘last of the ‘dungarees’ who took part in the recruitment march from Warwick to Brisbane in 1915 and died in Brisbane in March 2003, aged 104.
A tree planted in Herbert’s honour at Eumundi stands as a living memorial to a young man who lost his life on the other side of the world during a failed military campaign which was a defining moment in Australia’s history.