Sidney Cooper was born in London in 1892 and moved to Ware with his mother, brother and two sisters in his teens. Sidney joined the 1st Herts Regiment Territorial Force and was amongst the first to land in Le Havre in November 1914. Sidney spent two years on the Western Front with the Hertfordshire Regiment until he was hospitalised with trench fever and later pneumonia at the end of 1916, serving the remaining years of the war in England.
Sidney recorded his experiences in detail after the war and donated his harrowing account and collection of souvenirs to Hertford Museum in 1979, “trusting that they may be of interest to future generations”. Here he describes the Battle of Festubert in May 1915:
“The explosions of Heavies are deafening, and the nervous strain is unbearable. Diving into dugouts if handy; dodging, swearing, as shells drop and explode on the parapet. Trench blown in flat in places, a heap of dead man, dying men, wounded men, and earth all in one unholy jumble. Equipment sticking out here and there, arm and legs, heads, earth and sandbags unable even to distinguish, which is a whole body or not, …all had been blown to bits, blood saturated earth, groans, cries and confusion. The living one minute, being the dead or dying the next as shell explodes amongst those whose faces betray the terror and tension, written all over them. Hysterical men, crying men, cursing men, shaking men with nerves all gone, floundering men, trying to dig down in the trench, with their hands like moles, anywhere for head cover.”
In 2015, Private Coopers account, which fills four exercise books, was transcribed by museum staff and volunteers. A copy of the full account is available via our shop here