Tuesday 14 November 2017

Alexander Cooper – Colour Sergeant, Cameronians, Scottish Rifles

My wife’s grandfather, Alexander Cooper, was a military man. In his later personal life he is said to have been difficult, almost tyrannical in the treatment of his children. His life story may explain part of that. I told quite a bit about the man in a post on 12 August 2014: Sometimes Those Family Stories Have a Grain of Truth. In it I only briefly mentioned his army career.

In this piece, relevant to this time of year, I will tell more about that period in Alexander’s life that may have significantly impacted his attitudes and approaches to people.

Alexander joined the British Army with the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) on 14 August 1885, at the age of 18 (his attestation form says he was 19 years and 2 months old so he fibbed a bit about that). He was discharged on 30 June 1908, having spent most of his adult life as a soldier. During his service he almost certainly was imbued with a sense of order and a penchant for following the instructions of superiors in rank. That mind-set would likely have permeated his private life after he left the army, particularly when fate dealt him serious personal setbacks.

Alexander rose rapidly through the ranks achieving the position of Colour Sergeant in 1896 (the highest rank possible for non-commissioned soldiers). In addition to the time spent at the Cameronian headquarters in Hamilton, he also served in India (1894-1895) and South Africa (1901-1902). Toward the end of Alexander’s army career he was posted back to Glasgow with the Lanarkshire Rifle Volunteers, an established battalion that was linked with the Cameronians in 1881.

He met and married his first wife, Margaret Scott, in 1890 while stationed at the regimental quarters in Hamilton, Lanarkshire, Scotland. She was then living on Auchingramont Road, in the nearby village. They moved to Church Street, Hamilton, shortly after their marriage. Alexander and Margaret had two children together, Mary Jane, born in 1892, and Alexander, born in 1895. Both children were born in Lossiemouth, Elgin, Scotland, where Margaret’s parents lived. Mary Jane died of measles in February 1895 on board the ship they were sailing home on from after a posting in India.

In 1901 the family was located in Kent, England, possibly a stopover on their way to a posting in South Africa. Alexander would have worked then at the Brompton Barracks. Following their time in South Africa, Alexander and Margaret returned to Glasgow. They were living on New City Road in 1907 when Margaret fell ill with heart disease and died.

Alexander met and married Elizabeth Walker in 1908 just before his discharge. Both were living in Glasgow at the time. No doubt Alexander appreciated the help Lizzie brought to care for his young son. Lizzie also had a child at the time, daughter Violet, born in 1905. The couple went on to have six children together between 1908 and 1917, the first born on Napiershill Street, Glasgow, and most of the rest when the family lived on Gayfield Street in the city.

The family endured another tragedy in 1916 when Alexander Jr. was killed in action near Bethune, France. He is buried in the local military cemetery there. Alexander is our lone family connection to WWI, having joined the Cameronians in the fall of 1914, just before his 19th birthday.

Another misfortune for Alexander’s family occurred in 1918 when Elizabeth suffered a severe mental affliction. The seriousness of her condition resulted her being institutionalized. Their children, shockingly, were told she had died. (I will deal with that story and subject in a later blog post.) Alexander was now left with a family of young children, the oldest ten years of age and the youngest only one.

Having lost a wife, a daughter and a son, and now losing a second partner, is it any wonder that Alexander may have been overwhelmed with grief and uncertainty? His military training did not prepare him for the new familial situation. His inability to relate to his children other than as a disciplinarian left them traumatized even more. All of them were either sent to live with grandparents or enrolled in boarding schools. The radical change to family life affected them all. Eventually they were separated, growing up under wildly different conditions.

It is important to remember that Alexander served his country faithfully and with distinction. His transition to private life, though, was met with unhappiness and misfortune.

He died in Glasgow at the relatively young age of just 60, felled finally by cancer.