Cooke, Lt. Col Samuel Arthur 1868 – 1918

Fallen Officers – May 2nd 1918

‘The Times’ list of Casualties – Issue 41779, col E

Lieutenant-Colonel Samuel Arthur Cooke, who died on March 26th of heart disease contracted on service in France, aged 49 years, was the eldest son of the late Professor. Samuel Cooke. A.M.I.C.E, Principal of the College of Science, Poona, and of Mrs Cooke.  7 Wilberforce Road, Southsea.

He left Sandhurst in December, 1889 and received his commission in the 1st (Kings’s) Dragoon Guards on March 1st 1890, joining the 2nd Central India Horse in June 1891.  He received his captaincy in 1901 and his majority in 1908, and was made Lt Col in March 1915, on completion of 26 years service. 

He served with the Gwalior Imperial Service Transport Corps on the North-West Frontier in 1897, obtaining. medals and two clasps, and afterwards commanded  a squadron, CIH, with the Tirah Field Force in the action of 9th November 1897, in the Kamana Defile, for  which he received one clasp.  He was adjutant of the 1st Regiment for six years, and then appointed adjutant of the Surma Valley Light Horse from 1902 to 1904, when he rejoined the 1st CIHorse.  He became Commandant of the 56th Sillidar Camel Corps at Montgomery, an appointment he held for four years, rejoining his regiment in 1910.  Being in England on the outbreak of war he at once applied to go to France, and was eventually ordered there in  December 1914.  He remained in the Flanders area during the whole period of the war up to March 1917.  He was commandant of an officers’ training school for six months.

In March 1917, he was ordered to India to take command of a new  battalion.  He had however, through his work in France, overtaxed his heart, and was placed on sick leave, and died from the effects of this at 28, Nettlecombe Avenue, Southsea on the 8th March 1918.  He married in 1905, Constance, third daughter of of Major General GRJ Shakespear, Indian Calvary, and the late Mrs Shakespear, of Dane Court, Gerrard’s Cross, Bucks.  He leaves a widow and four young children.

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Samuel Arthur Cooke in the regiment and with three granddaughters and one great grandson in 2011.

India, the place of my ancestors

Lt Col Samuel Arthur Cooke, Central India Horse

Susi Richardson.  December 2007 (Diary Entry)

Samuel Arthur Cooke was born in 1869 in Poona, he was the eldest child of Professor and Mrs Samuel Cooke. Samuel Arthur, known as Arthur, spent 25 years in the Indian Army in the Central India Horse. Constance, nee Shakespear and Samuel Arthur were married in 1905 at St Jude’s Church,  Southsea. Constance was born in Shimla into a military family in 1881.  Two of their four children were born in Poona.

The life that this young couple understood well, and expected to be their future, was a life lived the way the British lived in India.  It was their intention that their lives would continue as they had aways been.

The First World War was to thwart their dreams, and in effect completely change their lives and the lives of their children, and leave us searching for answers to questions. Modern technology is helping us piece the bits together, but there will always be unanswered questions.

In 2007 we, my husband and I, were given the opportunity to visit the Central India Horse regiment in Bathinda in the Punjab to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the raising of the regiment.  We travelled with a group of people who all had a personal interest in the regiment and were a part of the Central India Horse Association in the United Kingdom.  

At the start of our journey we knew very little about my grandfather, his regiment or career and were particularly interested in seeing the scrapbooks that are normally held in the Officer’s Mess.  We had no photos of Samuel Arthur or his family.  

The first lead in discovery came one early morning as we were travelling along the Silk Road in China in 2006.  Col Peter Blaker appeared at breakfast wearing a baseball cap with a logo on the front.  This seemed such an unusual item of attire for our very correct military man that it required further investigation.  The CIH logo on the cap was the start of the adventure to find out more.  What Peter had started we were going to pursue when we had travelled across China.  Peter and Hildegund were apart of the regimental family with us on our trip to Bathinda.

The flexible people perched on the side of the roads, railway lines or on top of the piles of rubbish are not part of the population that is rushing to make India rule the world. Life for them is just managing to exist.

The people along the railway are walking briskly; they are covered in many layers of clothes, their heads covered in woollen hats and scarves. The weather is beautiful, cool at 22 degrees; the sun is hidden behind the grey of pollution in the overcast sky.

The acute poverty of the people along the miles of track as we head north from New Delhi station to Bathinda in the Punjab is obvious. The shacks erected on the piles of plastic rubbish look neither waterproof nor homely; but they are homes to thousands of families. They are also providing them with their livelihood as they pick over the rubbish. 

As the slums give way to the countryside the number of people  declines and their prosperity improves. The small fields are showing green shoots. The rains stopped three months ago, and now there are infrequent showers the fields are giving up their crops to the hand scythe. The small piles of precious crop lying beside the valuable cow dung pats. The pats piled high ready to be the ‘winter fuel’. 

The view from the train window is timeless India. There is air pollution but the natural recycling and simple way of life doesn’t have the same stresses that are dominating the so called ‘civilised world’ of the 21st century at the present. 

As we journey towards Bathinda the talk among our group of thirty is not of the sights outside the window; it is of the years ago when Britain ruled the Empire. 

The Central India Horse was a cavalry regiment raised on December 16th 1857. 150 years to the day of our visit to the Regiment. The time of instability known as the First War of Independence or the Indian Mutiny was the reason for the raising of the Regiment. Our group are all in some way connected with the regiment. Lieutenant Colonel  Samuel Arthur Cooke, my maternal grandfather, was in the regiment for 25 years. He married Constance Shakespear in India, his wife and generations of her family were born and lived in India.   

Samuel Arthur Cooke died in 1918 in England and is buried in Highland Road Cemetery, Southsea, just eight miles from our home in Chichester, later his wife was buried with him and beside his mother and sister.

Until some recent research we believed that he had died in India, but have found that the family home was Havant and a family burial place was Southsea. Our current trip to India is to see if we can place a few more pieces into the jigsaw puzzle that is our  inheritance!

Our British travelling companions are joined by many Indians going to the celebrations, all prosperous, educated Indian Army officers with impeccable English and beautiful manners and an old world charm. Their counterparts outside the windows of our first class/air-conditioned carriage scuttle along in survival mode, no better or worse a person than those in the carriage but stuck in a lifestyle that is a life trap, expecting reincarnation to improve their lot in their next life.

The next three days will be an extraordinary insight into the regiment that was in full action in the days of the Raj, and is still in full action as part of the modern day Indian army.  The regiment is stationed at the Indian/Pakistan border with tanks instead of horses, completing a spell of duty defending their country from possible hostilities.

With the experience of more than three decades when I was associated with the Army through John being in the Royal Army Medical Corps, I can see there are many similarities with the peripatetic life that we lived and the life the wives of the CIH are living now.  The same feeling of ‘The Regiment’ as being ‘the family’, the feeling of belonging and of membership of a nonjudgmental group whose philosophy is to assist each other and show genuine love for a common interest is found in the present day Indian Army.

Soldiers are not encouraged to ask academic questions about the     reason for, or question the need to spend, a lifetime working close to the border of Pakistan in different locations maintaining stability.  They exercise in tanks to ensure they are ready for any eventuality. The regiment will follow the flag with comrades wherever they are sent; this is a requirement to produce the strength of the Regiment. Soldiers are not allowed to voice opinion in the media, question politics or disobey orders. This loyalty, personal commitment and endeavour are reasons for the respect shown to soldiers of all ranks. 

Everyone that we have seen in the regimental family of the Central India Horse in the Punjab, seems to be following the tradition while ensuring the stability of the Indian/Pakistan border in 2007.  In the years we spent in 1970’s and 1980’s in Germany there was the same spirit of commitment, with little investigation as to reason why so many British troops were strategically positioned facing the Cold War frontiers of Communism, this mirrors the situation in the Punjab now. 

The journey to India to the current home of the CIH was to bring history to life. I hoped to see a photo of my grandfather in the Officers’ Mess Regimental photo albums and try to picture something of his life in the regiment.  The 150th anniversary and the loyal group of people all    travelling to celebrate was the ideal way to make such a venture.  

Working and playing together, simple celebrations outdoors when every one of all ages is invited to attend achieve this regimental family group. We were straight into the parties as soon as we arrived in this rather remote part of the Punjab, the training areas of Germany were similar.  From the train station to the truly basic hotel near the camp the journey required transport in jeeps over roads well potholed and single track.  The night time returns after midnight on these roads raised the question of health and safety each evening!  There was no choice as we were returned from some remote desert area in a rapidly dropping temperature. 

At Bathinda,  the ceremony to officially bless the  celebration started with us all sitting crossed legged on the floor with the regiment and their families present. The Sanskrit speaking Holy Man is blessing the gathered crowd and the festivities of the 150th Anniversary of the raising of the Central India Horse. 

The rituals with fire, food and praise are loud and colourful and the comfort of the group sitting on the concrete floor is beginning to show. Sitting crossed legs is no challenge for youthful flexibility but the majority of our celebrants are old and now possess the awkward, slow movement of old soldiers. Too many route marches in regulation boots on hard, unforgiving surfaces tell their toll on soldiers’ joints. 

The incense burns, the smoke billowing across the room; the visibility reduced and the music with a strong with a regular beat. The ladies’ saris are in vibrant colours everyone with expectant and excited faces, all listening to the bearded Sanskrit speaker in an atmosphere of a long awaited special occasion. 

The ceremony gives way to lunch in the outdoors and on to the afternoon at the gymkhana in the dust of the life behind the lines of the Regiment. The tent peg stickers on galloping horses race passed our canopied viewing point at break neck speed waving their stolen peg aloft in victory. 

The gymnasts achieve feats of pure physical strength, balance and all with an element of risk. There are no pieces of equipment made for the sport, just self made slopes of sand to run and jump off, a bed and   ladder to jump over and the most basic of white gym shoes and an eclectic mix of gym clothes. The ‘team’ was both enthusiastic and inventive, perhaps a grant towards equipment would be beneficial, but as it is now it is totally transportable and always accessible! 

The assembled young horse riders from a near by school showed us their paces and jumping ability, even jumping one circuit of 10 jumps while standing in one stirrup!

The afternoon was rapidly closing in and the temperature dropping when the cardamom tea appeared piping hot and sweet. The day ends with the evening dinner at the Commandant’s house and time to talk over life in the past, present and future with our very hospitable hosts. 

Life in the Indian military is very similar to life in the British army, which I have experienced for over 35 years, and it is probably very similar to life in India in the Army when my grandfather Sam Cooke was here. The horses he rode, probably charging passed while enjoying tent pegging, have been replaced by metal with tracks; tanks dominate the regimental space. Most of the life style elements of the Officers’ mess and associated life remain the same.  It is fascinating to imagine a man I never knew with the love he would have had for his regiment, an important day like today would have been an unmissable event for him, and I am here to celebrate on his behalf. 

The ‘family’ festivities in the next morning included a motorbike display that was gutsy and the beautiful old cycles on the design of the famous Enfield were the stable base of acrobatics of amazing skill and balance. The display was followed by time spent with the wives in the welfare centre. The beauty of these Indian ladies was more than skin deep; they were so welcoming, warm and pleased that we had come into their world. We were welcomed with songs and acting for their ‘family celebrations’, all five hundred of them!  The end of the day was again across the countryside to an outdoor show of dancing and singing and a large raffle, the worry being that one might win the first prize…. A fridge!  A fridge, after sitting out for two hours in freezing conditions, was probably the last prize I wished for!  

After freezing for two hours it was time to eat the next meal of rice and dhal, a menu that is repeated twice a day! The timings of eating are taking some time to get used to, the arrival time for dinner is 8.30 ‘drink whiskey time’ is until 11.30pm leaving is 12.30am. We are trying to get to bed before 1am!  Family life with a celebrating Central India Horse is exhausting!   

Things would have been similar for Sam Cooke in the 1890’s. The simple pleasures of homespun entertainment, good comrades and bit of hunting!  His name does not appear in the polo memorabilia but in the results of the hunting book. There are photographic memorabilia at the officer’s mess, but they have not been well looked after and pictures have been removed, damp has attacked and they have been well thumbed.  There is a pencil drawn cartoon of Sam Cooke, and a picture post hunting with the shot animals in front of the line up of soldiers and a name but the print is too small to see a face. 

Now I have an understanding of his way of life, I know where he rests in Southsea and I know he had a wife, two sons, two daughters, a father, mother and sister but to me he is still a Cartoon figure. 

I feel very proud to have been allowed to be a very small part of this anniversary and ‘the family’ can count on a new member!  Our time was short with the regiment but we were extended such kindness and hospitality that we all left with hearts full of praise and new knowledge of the life and of the people who still carry the flag that our family members were so committed to in the past. 

The party in Bathinda ends and the train slowly moves us south; the early morning sun brings cheer to the group exhausted by the late nights and constant socialising of the last three days.  The early start this cold, misty morning, the noise of the town waking, the camping down the side of the railway line in makeshift constructions emitting the smell of burning dung are all reminiscent of India. Little has changed over the years, the majority of people with little hope and few possessions. Life is basic, life is hard, the cold in winter with nothing but the burning brazier; and in summer the stifling heat of the plains.  

The understanding of the western society that India is moving into in the 21st century as a world leader is unknown to the people scraping a  living beside the railway line in Bathinda in the Punjab.  Hopefully the people who are the enormous population of India will benefit in the years to come. 

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Lt Colonel Samuel Arthur Cooke. C.I.H

In the Regimental Scrapbook, The Officer’s Mess, Bathinda, Punjab, India 2007 

A Regimental saying is:

MEN DIE THE REGIMENT LIVES ON.

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The Army Career of Lt. Col Samuel Arthur Cooke

Susan Richardson 2008

Samuel Arthur (known as Arthur) Cooke is remembered on War Memorials in Sandhurst, Havant, Southsea, Portsmouth, Berkshire and in a church in Indore, India.