Walter Vernon COPE was employed as a Clerk in Bunbury prior to his enlistment in the Great War on 24th July 1915. He was allocated to ” D ” Company of the 32nd Battalion, and completed training in WA, before embarking from Fremantle on the troop ship ” Katuna ” in late November 1915. Walter arrived at Alexandria Egypt a week before Christmas 1915, serving and training in the sandy environment of the Region, until disembarking at Marseilles France, on 23rd June 1916, for action on the Western Front.
His family received advice that he was Reported Missing in Action from 20th July 1916, causing great anxiety for his wellbeing. Sadly, a Court of Enquiry held in the field France on 12th August 1917, was to confirm that Walter Cope was Killed in Action at Fleurbaix France on 20th July 1916 ( A statement from one of his Battalion mates is included below ).
Walter is commemorated by Inscription at Section 5 of the VC Corner Australian Cemetery & Memorial, Fromelles France.
His Father received the following memento’s to honour his Son’s Service :-
1914/1915 Star No. 25817
British War Medal No. 24787
Victory Medal No. 24620
Memorial Scroll & Kings Message
Correspondence between the Soldier’s Father, Walter James Cope and the Army, follow for your information :-
1/09/1916- Letter from Walter James Cope to Army – ” I have received word through your Perth District Headquarters that my son Private W.V. COPE 1241 ” D ” Company 32nd Battalion is reported missing from July 20th. This is dreadful news for us all although to a certain extent we have been prepared as we all know there has been a lot of fighting, which all our brave Australian lads have been prominent and it is recognized that no victory can be secured without losses. It means a lot of anxiety to my wife and I until we learn the ultimate fate of our boy. I need hardly request you to communicate at once any further news you receive. Can any good be obtained by cabling, if so please advise me the best way to go about it and I will take immediate steps to cable home? “.
11/09/1916- Reply from Army to Mr. W. J. COPE – ” I have to acknowlege receipt of your letter dated 1st instant concerning your son , No. 1241 Private W.V. Cope, 32nd Battalion, reported missing 20/07/1916, and to state no further information has since come to hand. You will be promptly notified of any further reports. Everything possible is being done by the authorities overseas to determine the fate of missing soldiers “.
29/01/1917 ( London )- Statement Reference C. Morris, 1324 ( D ) 32nd. Battalion, Harefield Hospital- ” COPE, W. V. 1241, Missing 20/07/1916- I saw him shot and fall in No. Man’s Land but do not know for certain if he died. He was left lying there ( at Fleurbaix ). He was in same Platoon “.
19/07/1917- Letter from Walter James Cope to Army – “In reference to my son Private W.V. Cope, No. 1241, D. Company, 32nd Battalion, officially reported as missing July 19th 1916, have you any further information to report. It is just a year today since the lad went into action and nothing more has been heard of he and many of his comrades in the 32nd. I have had several letters from lads who know my son but all they can say is that he was seen in the trenches in a hand to hand struggle with the enemy but did not return the next morning when the roll was called. The boy did his bit as you will see from the enclosed cutting. I should like to hear from you at your early convenience “.
1/08/1917- Letter from Army to Mr. W.V. Cope – ” I have to acknowledge receipt of your letter dated 19th ult. and regret to state no later information has been received regarding your son No. 1241 Private W.V. Cope, 32nd Battalion, since he was reported as ” missing ” on 20/07/1916. In the case of a missing soldier it is the practice of the overseas authorities to hold a Court of Enquiry after a certain time has elapsed to collect all evidence and record an opinion as to what may reasonably be assumed has been the soldier’s fate. When information has been received that such action has been taken regarding your son, you will be promptly communicated with “.
5/09/1921- Standard Letter from AIF Base Records Office Melbourne to Mr. W.J. Cope- confirming that they have been unable to trace the final resting place of No. 1241, Private W.V. Cope, 32nd Battalion and seeking copies of correspondence that may identify the circumstances surrounding his death, particularly the exact locality at which it occurred, or where he was last seen alive.
12/09/1921- Reply from Mr. W.J. Cope to Army– ” I have nothing to report beyond reference made in letters from Capt. Geddes as per attached. No belongings whatsoever ( personal or military ) have been sent from France, no information gleaned as to how my son met his death. He was last seen in the trenches in the early morning July 20th “.
AUTHOR NOTE :-
The most unfortunate aspect of Walter Vernon COPE’s death, is the extended period of worry and grieving afforded the Family during the ensuing years. Having received the initial advice of ” Missing “, referred to, in his Father’s letter dated 1st September 1916, the family were still lacking any clear information five years later, as evidenced in the Army’s Correspondence dated 5/09/1921.
We are left to wonder why the contents of a statement made in London by 32nd Battalion soldier No. 1324 Morris, C. on 29th January 1917, appear not to have been made known to the Cope family.
The poor handling of this case, which obviously caused the Cope family unwarranted , additional emotional stress, was further compounded by the failure to return any of the Soldier’s personal belongings from France, or at least correspond that they had not been found.