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Charles Frederick Denman Cook DSO, 1883 - 1918

Charles Cook died of meningitis at the Royal Victoria Hospital in England on 2 May 1918. He was aged 35. He is buried at Reading Cemetery, Berkshire, England. Lieutenant Colonel Cook followed a successful legal practice with a distinguished military career in which he was twice mentioned in dispatches and awarded the Distinguished Service Order.

Charles was born in Christchurch on 23 April 1883. His parents were Emily Denman and Charles Henry Herbert Cook. His father was the first Professor of Mathematics at Canterbury University College.

Attending Christ's College, Charles was a brilliant student. He won both Junior and Senior Somes's Scholarships and he was seventh in the country in the Junior University entrance scholarship in his last year at school. He was particularly adept at languages, being the best in the school at Latin, Greek, French and English. He was also prominent  in cricket and athletics.

Cook began studies in 1901 at Canterbury University College. He completed a BA in Latin and Greek at the end of 1903, when he was also named the university senior scholar in Latin, and the first student in Greek. He also completed an MA in 1904, with first class honours in Latin and Greek. In May 1904 Cook was selected by the Canterbury College Professorial Board as the Canterbury candidate for a Rhodes Scholarship. However, he was not chosen in the final national selection. He continued to study, switching his focus to law, and in 1908 he graduated with an LLB. He was admitted as a barrister and solicitor of the Supreme Court shortly afterwards. 

While at university Cook took an active part in sports. He represented Canterbury College in rugby (playing in the forwards), tennis and athletics. He competed in Easter Tournaments in the high jump and hurdles events, and was selected for the Canterbury team in the New Zealand Amateur Athletic Championships in 1905. He competed in the high jump but was unplaced. Cook was a keen cricketer. As an opening bat he played for the United Canterbury Cricket Club and the West Christchurch district team while he was in Christchurch. He belonged to the Canterbury Lawn Tennis Association.

While he was studying law, Cook was articled to Izard and Loughnan. Once he had been admitted he joined Harper, Son and Pascoe, but did not remain there long. At the end of 1908 he moved to Marton to join the Marton office of the Feilding firm of Prior and Gillespie. He quickly became an important part of a busy provincial firm, making regular appearances in the local Magistrates' Courts and also appearing in the Supreme Court. Cook was a leading member of the Marton Debating Society and he continued to play cricket, for the Marton Cricket Club. In March 1911 he was selected to play for Rangitikei against Southland in Christchurch in the match to decide the first-ever possessor of the Hawke Challenge Club (Rangitikei lost). 

Cook also became increasingly prominent in the territorial forces. He was appointed Acting Lieutenant in the Royal Rifles (Marton) on 4 August 1910 and passed the examination for full Lieutenant in June 1913.

His legal practice changed in 1 February 1913 when Olliver Gillespie left the partnership and it carried on business at Feilding, Marton and Taihape under the name Fullerton-Smith, Miles & Cook. The new partnership ran into trouble in June 1914 when it was the defendant in a Supreme Court action for possession of a mortgage which Cook's firm had registered on behalf of the plaintiff but refused to deliver up. Problems arose when the new firm started a fresh trust account but did not take over the old partnership's trust account. Gillespie, who had left New Zealand, appears to have been suspected of negligence and overdrawing his trust account. Stout CJ found for the plaintiffs, deciding that the rights the plaintiffs may have had against the partners of the old firm had vested in the defendants.

On the outbreak of war Cook enlisted. He reported to Awapuni Camp on 18 August 1914 and was appointed Captain in the B (Hawke's Bay) Company of the Wellington Infantry Regiment. His medical examination report shows he was 6 foot 2 tall (1.88 metres), weighed 12 stone (76.2 kg) and had grey eyes and fair hair. He embarked from Wellington with the Wellington Infantry Battalion on 16 October, arriving in Suez, Egypt on 4 December.

After a period of training and skirmishes with the Turks he embarked for the Dardenelles on 12 April 1915, landing at Gallipoli on 25 April. He was appointed Captain on 4 May 1915. His actions at Gallipoli resulted in him being mentioned in dispatches. He fell ill and was evacuated to Malta, arriving there on 16 September and embarking for England on 22 September. He was admitted to Endsleigh Palace Hospital in London on 5 October 1915.

Discharged from hospital, Cook left England for Egypt on 1 February 1916, moving to the New Zealand base at Ismailia. He was promoted to Major on 1 March 1916 and transferred to the Second Wellington Infantry Regiment on 3 March 1916, leaving for France in April. On 19 July he assumed temporary command of the Second Battalion of the Wellington Regiment on the front line, relinquishing his temporary command on 29 July. Cook was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel on 15 March 1917. The high regard in which he was held was shown on 9 April 1917 when he was mentioned in despatches by Sir Douglas Haig and awarded the Distinguished Service Order.

The citation for the DSO read: "For continuous devotion to duty and gallantry in the Field. He has been on active service since the outbreak of war, filling many positions of importance, including the temporary Command of a Battalion, and he has constantly discharged his duties in a most conscientious and efficient manner. He has taken part in practically all the operations in which the Division has been engaged, in Gallipoli and France, and in action has always displayed keen judgment and the utmost coolness and bravery, especially during period 21 September 1916 to 26th February 1917."

Cook was given leave in England from 16 to 30 July. After a period back in France he took further leave in England from 19 November to 20 December. He used this leave to get married, on 21 November, to Agneta Mary Haynes. They were married at St Luke's Church, Reading.

By 18 February 1918 Cook was back on the front line, then going on leave to Paris from 23 February to 3 March. Two weeks after he returned from that leave, on 14 March, he fell seriously ill. He was evacuated to England on 22 March and admitted to the New Zealand Hospital at Brockenhurst on 24 March. His condition worsened, and on 17 April he was placed on the dangerously ill list, being transfered to the Royal Victoria Hospital, Netley on 18 April. He died on 2 May 1918, the cause of death being given as cerebro-spinal meningitis.

His funeral took place on 4 May in Reading at the same church in which he had been married six months earlier. He was buried with full military honours, with the New Zealand Expeditionary Force providing the firing party, buglers and gun carriage.

Cook is remembered on the Wellington District Law Society bronze tablet and on the Marton War Memorial. A memorial tablet to his father, Professor Charles Cook, and to Cook himself, was dedicated in Christchurch Cathedral on 12 July 1920. On 24 April 1921 officers and ex-officers of the Wellington Regiment gathered at All Saint's Church in Palmerston North for the unveiling of a memorial tablet to the memory of two lawyer soldiers: Lieutenant-Colonel William George Malone and Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Frederick Denman Cook. 

Sources: Press, 20 November 1896, page 5; Press, 15 March 1900, page 4; Press, 19 December 1900, page 5; Press, 18 December 1901, page 8; Press, 4 October 1902, page 8; Press, 13 April 1903, page 6; Press, 18 February 1904, page 4; Press, 17 May 1904, page 5; Evening Post, 18 May 1904, page 6; Press, 18 April 1905, page 8; Star, 30 January 1907, page 3; Otago Daily Times, 18 March 1907, page 3; Dominion, 13 April 1908, page 4; Timaru Herald, 12 May 1908, page 4; Manawatu Standard, 23 February 1909, page 7; Wanganui Chronicle, 26 September 1910, page 3; Star, 14 March 1911, page 3; Evening Post, 9 November 1911, page 3; Feilding Star, 13 October 1913, page 3; Feilding Star, 27 May 1914, page 2; Feilding Star, 10 June 1914, page 4; Press, 26 August 1914, page 10; Star, 30 September 1914, page 6; London Gazette, 28 January 1916; Feilding Star, 12 April 1917, page 3; London Gazette, 1 June 1917; Dominion, 19 January 1918, page 4; Evening Post, 2 March 1918, page 7; Press, 6 May 1918, page 7; Press, 10 July 1918, page 10; Press, 14 July 1920, page 2; Evening Post, 27 April 1921, page 8; Press, 21 July 1922, page 2. 

Auckland War Memorial Museum Online Cenotaph soldier profile.

This obituary has been prepared by the New Zealand Law Society to preserve the memory of members of the legal profession who died while serving in World War I.

Lawyers Roll of Honour.

By Geoff Adlam, New Zealand Law Society. Further information is welcomed: geoff.adlam@lawsociety.org.nz

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Last updated on the 21st April 2015