A blog about James Cooper of The Royal Newfoundland Regiment and one of the first five-hundred, and Newfoundland's links with Ayr
The Ayrshire Post recently told its readers of the In Memoriam notice put in this newspaper by Mr John Pinkerton of Darvel. It was his way of remembering the hundreds of young Newfoundland soldiers based in Ayr during the World War 1 who finally died in the horror of the trenches. He felt they should not be forgotten.Well, they have not. Ayrshire still remembers their sacrifice on the morning of July 1, 1916. Mrs Jan Ball of Hollowbank, 64 Main Street, Ochiltree, came into the “Post” office, she had a poem - dedicated to her late grandfather Mr James Cooper, one of those gallant young Canadian soldiers. “It was written by a dear friend,” she said, “those young men will never be forgotten.”It was on October 4, 1914, that 537 young Newfoundlanders boarded the S.S. Florizel to sail to Europe and the trenches of France. As they marched through S.t. John’s someone shouted: “You’ll be back in six weeks.”The majority lie buried in France. One of them was nineteen year old James Cooper, a seal fisher. He survived and did not see his home country for another half century. James was Mrs Jan Ball’s grandfather. The regiment arrived in Ayr and stayed here for another two years. Their exile town became a real home to the young warriors. Some were billeted in Newton park school, Ayr and others in Glenburn school, Prestwick. They drilled on the racecourse and trained with their rifles at Barassie. Eventually they moved to the grandstand building at the racecourse and even started a garden. The troops soon regarded Ayr as their home from home. They met and courted the town’s “bony lassies.”James met and married local girl, Margaret Dunlop. Soon after his marriage James saw action in the Dardanelles campaign. Then he was sent to France. And it was at 9.05 a.m. at Beaumont Hamel on July 1, 1916, that nine hundred brave young men from the other side of the Atlantic went over the top. Three minutes later 700 were dead. James was one of the lucky ones. He was badly wounded in the leg and spent a long time in hospital. But then it was back to the front. Wounded a second time James was invalided out and sent back to Canada. After demobilisation he made his way to New York and worked his passage on a ship back to Scotland, Ayr and his wife. James got a job in Ayr as a stoker with the gas board. In 1970 his wife died and James made his first trip home to Canada. He saw his two brothers and sister for the first time in 50 years. Someone got it wrong when they shouted “you’ll be home in six weeks.” Mr Cooper died in 1981, probably the last surviving member in Britain of those young Newfoundlanders who gave their all for freedom.
Ayr has not forgotten those brave young men from the forests of Newfoundland who became so much a part of the town seventy years ago. In Rozelle house there is a silver casket presented to the town by the people of Newfoundland. During their time here Provost James Mitchell even held a banquet in their honour. And in a token of their gratitude the Newfoundlanders sent a trophy of a Caribou’s head to the burgh. For many years it hung in the town hall. Not many years ago (when the building was repaired) it disappeared. But three years ago, after Mr James Cooper died, thanks to the Ayrshire Post it was discovered in an old store. It was put back in a place of honour in the town hall. But time took its toll on the head. At the moment Kyle and Carrick libraries and museum staff are working on it at Rozelle house. And soon it will be hung again where people of Ayr can remember those brave young Newfies’ of 70 years ago. They are now part of Ayrshire’s long and glorious history