Algernon Burton Cook: Swimming star and flying ace

AB Cook in the 1912 Arlington Swimming Team photo. Arlington Baths Club.

Algernon Burton Cook was a school sports star considered to be one of the best swimmers in Scotland, who became a motor cycle dispatch rider and aeroplane pilot in the First World War.

He was born in New Zealand where his father, Alfred E Cook, died when A Burton Cook was a boy. He came to Scotland in 1911, when he would have been about 15 years old and then started at the High School of Glasgow where, according to the High School Book of Service and Remembrance, he was an all-round athlete.

“…[he] soon took a leading position on its athletic side. He played centre three-quarter for the Fifteen [rubgy] with brilliant success in 1912-13 and 1913-14. At the Annual sports he won the quarter-mile and mile two years in succession, and took the second place in other School-cup events. He twice won the swimming championship, and was a fine water-polo player. Indeed he was considered one of the best swimmers in Scotland.”

24 August 1912, Algernon Burton Cook, age 16, Schoolboy, Belvoir, Milngavie, Proposed by Ernest Cameron and supported by W Fairlie Alexander and W A Herron.
Proposal form for AB Cook, age 16, to join the Baths. Supernumerary Proposal Book 1912- 1916 (Glasgow City Archives TD965/34)

He joined the Club in August 1912 and is listed in the Arlington Baths Supernumerary and Ladies membership book for 1912 and 1913.

In 1912, Burton’s address was originally given Belvoir in Milngavie and then that was scored out and replaced with Roman Court, Hillfoot, Bearsden.

He was a member of the 1912 Arlington Baths Swimming Team, and is in the team photo which still hangs in the Club.

The 1912 Arlington Baths Club Swimming Team. From left to right, AB Cook, WF Alexander, RH Ashton, JW Bruce and WG Cullen. Of the five young men in this photo, four were to die in the First World War. Arlington Baths Club.

Underage volunteer

According to the High School of Glasgow Book of Remembrance and the Evening Times, which published the news of his death, he was still at school and under age when he joined up.

Juniors 1913, September, Cook A Burton, number 153, R
A Burton Cook’s name in the September 1913-1914  membership list, showing the ‘R’ for Resigned. Supernumerary and Lady Members Book 2 (Glasgow City Archives TD965/101)

In the 1913 Supernumerary membership list there is an ‘R’ written next to his name, which probably indicates ‘Resigned’. His membership was due to be renewed in September 1914 so it seems likely that he enlisted soon after War was declared in August 1914.

We don’t know exactly when his birthday was but he was 21 when he died in November 1917 so it’s possible that he was almost 18 years old when he enlisted. The official age for joining up was 18 or older, though many young men and boys lied about their ages to volunteer.

Burton enlisted as a private in the Scottish Horse and became a motor cyclist.

“Though under military age, he volunteered for service and acted as a motor dispatch rider to the Scottish Horse. While so serving he met with a very serious accident, his left leg being badly broken, necessitating a serious operation and a convalescence of nearly nine months.”

Evening Times, 4 December 1917, pg 5

“On recovering he joined his regiment in Egypt, and shared in the desert fighting. There he was gazetted Second Lieutenant and shortly afterwards he transferred to the R. A. F.”

High School Book of Service and Remembrance

At this time the Royal Flying Corps was a branch of the Army, set up in 1912. It became the Royal Air Force (RAF) in 1918.

Evening Times, 4 December 1917 Glasgow officer killed Captain A Burton Cook, R.F.C, who fell in action on November 20, was the only surviving son of the late Alfred E Cook of Carlton, Christchurch, New Zealand, where the young officer was born 21 years ago. He came to the country in 1911, and was at Glasgow High School when war broke out. Though under military age, he volunteered for service and acted as a motor dispatch rider to the Scottish Horse. While so serving he met with a very serious accident, his left leg being badly broken, necessitating a serious operation and a convalescence of nearly nine months. On recovering he joined his regiment in Egypt where he took his commission and transferred to the Royal Flying Corps. Coming home from Egypt in May of this year he was ordered to the Western Front, where he had been on service ever since. He was wounded by a piece of shell a few weeks ago while flying 20,000 feet over the enemy lines. Captain Cook was an all-round athlete, a specially good rugby player and one of the finest swimmers in Scotland. His mother is Mrs M. B. Dickie, Romancourt, Bearsden.
Evening Times, 4 December 1917, pg 5

He returned home from Egypt on leave and then in May 1917 was ordered to the Western Front. You can see a photo of the Royal Flying Corps at the Western Front on the Imperial War Museum website.

He died on 20 November 1917. According to the Evening Times, “He was wounded by a piece of shell a few weeks ago while flying 20,000 feet over the enemy lines.”

He was a Captain in the 57th Squadron when he died and seems to have been an excellent officer and pilot. The Book of Remembrance states that in the Royal Flying Corps, “His promotion was rapid, and as a Flight-Commander he did very good work.”

And according to an obituary in the Glasgow Herald on 4 December 1917:

“Among his brother officers in the Flying Corps, especially the  squadron to which he was attached, Captain Cook was regarded as an ideal flight commander, courageous, cheerful, with a high sense of duty and a remarkable skill as a pilot. For his services at different times his commanding officer had strongly recommended him for the Military Cross.”

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission records that he is buried in Longuenesse (St Omer) Souvenir Cemetery, alongside Second Lieutenant Stuart B. H. Coppard, age 21, the Flying Officer (Observer) who was also in the plane and who died with him. The Tonbridge School website quotes the official record, which gives a different account of his death:

“Our aeroplanes attempted to work throughout the day in conjunction with our operations between St. Quentin and the River Scarpe.”… “low clouds and mist and a strong westerly wind, with drizzle and occasional rain, made aerial work very difficult and dangerous. Yet, undeterred by the conditions… our airmen did much excellent work, attacking troops and batteries and transport with bombs and machine-gun fire, and gaining valuable information, but lost heavily owing to the mist and the low altitude at which they were compelled to fly, no less than 11 machines failing to return. German troops were concentrating for a counter-attack, and his Squadron were ordered to attack them. When they had been up barely ten minutes his machine was seen spinning down from the clouds out of control, and both he and his Pilot were instantaneously killed by the fall.”

It seems that Burton and Second Lieutenant Coppard had a high esteem for each other and they each respected the other’s abilities in the RFC. The officer who was in command of the Squadron wrote of Second Lieutenant Coppard: “It was because he was such an excellent Observer that he was working with his Flight Commander, Capt. Cook, who was a very good Pilot indeed and also took infinite trouble over his machine and was extremely careful. ”

As well as appearing on the Arlington Baths Club war memorial, A Burton Cook is also remembered on the High School of Glasgow war memorial.

“Captain A Burton Cook, Royal Air Force, 20 November 1917. Captain A B Cook was he only surviving son of the late Mr Alfred E Cook, of Carlton, Christchurch, New Zealand, and of Mrs M B Dickie, Roman Court, Bearsden. On coming to this country in 1911 he entered the High School and soon took a leading position on its athletic side. He played centre three-quarter for the Fifteen with brilliant success in 1912-13 and 1913-14. At the Annual sports he won the quarter-mile and mile two years in succession, and took the second place in other School-cup events. He twice won the swimming championship, and was a fine water-polo player. Indeed he was considered one of the best swimmers in Scotland. wile still on the School roll, and under military ages, he volunteered for service , and was appointed motor dispatch rider with the Scottish Horse. While acting on this position at the front he met with a serious accident, his leg being so badly broken as to entail a convalescence of nine months. On recovering he joined his regiment in Egypt, and shared in the desert fighting. There he was gazetted Second Lieutenant and shortly afterwards he transferred to the R. A. F. In May 1917, he went to the Western Front, and, with the exception of one brief period of leave, was soon active service there up to his death. His promotion was rapid, and as a Flight-Commander he did very good work."
Extract from High School of Glasgow Service and Remembrance Book. Available on National Libraries of Scotland website.

The family before the War

Burton was described as the only surviving son of the late Alfred E Cook of Christchurch, New Zealand and Mrs M B Dickie, of Roman Court, Bearsden.

The 1911 census lists Maud B Dickie (34), living at a house called Belvoir, in Milngavie, with her husband Matthew B Dickie (31) and his sister Susan Dickie (29). The 1911 census records that Maud was born in New Zealand, and she and Matthew had been married for less than one year. There is no mention of Algernon Burton in the 1911 census return but perhaps he was staying with a friend on that day. Shortly afterwards the family moved to Roman Court, Hillfoot, Bearsden. Belvoir was Matthew’s family home: in 1901 Matthew (21) was living at that address with his mother Susan, his brother James (26), James’ wife Agnes (25), and his sister Susan (19). He was a was a bookkeeper.

It seems that Maud and Matthew were married in Victoria in Canada on 1 February 1911.

Matthew had made several trips to Canada, starting in January 1906, when at the age of 25, he travelled to New York en route to Montreal. He was described as a mercantile clerk. He returned to Britain in June 1906, and was then back to Canada via New York in May 1908 aboard the Lusitania – this time described as an accountant. He went again in May 1910 – the trip on which he presumably when he married Maud – and also in March 1912, both times on the Mauretania.

When they got married Maud’s surname was MacGregor, not Cook. So what had happened?

We don’t know when or where Alfred E Cook died but according to the New Zealand City and Area Directories there was someone called Maud Beatrice Cook living at 51 Andover Street in Christchurch in New Zealand, in 1902. Also at the address house were two other people with the same surname but spelled ‘Cooke’. They were Charles Henry and Rueben James. Possibly they were part of the family of her husband and Burton’s father, Alfred E Cook?

Then there’s a record of Maud Beatrice Cooke (with an ‘e’ this time) marrying James Duncan MacGregor in New Zealand in 1904. But the marriage was cut short by the tragic death of James on 12 May 1908. He died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 32 in Saskatchewan in Canada. You can see more on the Find A Grave website. He was buried in the family plot in Karori Cemetery, Wellington, New Zealand.

So presumably Maud had gone to Canada with her new husband and her child but was now a widow again. Then she met and married Matthew and she and Burton were on the move once more, this time to Scotland.

Working for a global business – Nobel’s Explosives

Perhaps Matthew’s frequent trips to the United States and Canada were to help him get ahead in business.

His occupation In the 1911 census is the assistant secretary of a commercial company called Nobel. He is also listed in the Post Office Directories. The first entry is 1910-11 when he is listed as Dickie, M. B; Assistant Secretary, Nobel’s Explosive Company Limited, 195 West George Street; residence, Belvoir, Milngavie. He continued to be listed throughout the war, and in the 1916-17 Directory his residential address is the one at Roman Court in Bearsden.

Post Office Directory 1910
Label for Nobel Detonators, stating Nobel Glasgow. No. 6 detonators for high explosives. Thistle brand manufactured in Gt Britain.
Label for Nobel Detonators, published on the Grace’s Guide to British Industrial History website.

Nobel’s Explosives Co Ltd was the successor company to the UK firm set up by Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel to market and sell dynamite. It was registered at 195 West George Street, Glasgow in 1900. According to Grace’s Guide to British Industrial History, “By 1914 it was manufacturing of all kinds of blasting explosives and chemicals, military and sporting powders, guncotton, picric acid, detonators, safety and electric fuses and blasting accessories.”

The Nobel Prize website gives more details, explaining that:

“The original UK-based company was set up by Nobel with a factory site on the west coast of Scotland… on the Clyde Estuary at Ardeer, in Ayrshire in April 1871 with the rights to work his patents under the name of The British Dynamite Company. He was principally assisted to get the factory set up by John Downie, then the General Manager of the Glasgow shipbuilding firm the Fairfield Engineering and Shipbuilding Company.

“The company prospered during the latter part of the 1880s developing an impressive overseas trade and, had by the time of Nobel’s death become the largest exporter of explosives in the world. … by 1907, Nobel’s Ardeer factory was reputed to be the largest explosives factory in the world.”

However the War brought changes to the business and by the end of the War the company was merged with other firms also manufacturing explosives.

The last entry for Matthew Dickie is in the 1922-23 Post Office Directory, when he is still listed by name but is no longer an agent for Nobel’s Explosives.

The family after the War

Entry in the marriage register for Matthew Bain Dickie – showing that he was divorced – and Daisy-Louise Wigmore

After the War Maud left Scotland.

It seems that the marriage between her and Matthew had also ended. For on 26 January 1925 Matthew Bain Dickie, 45, married Daisy-Louise Wigmore, 28, in Glasgow. He was now the general manager of a limited company, and she was a professional nursing sister. It is noted in the records that Matthew is divorced. His address, again, is the family home of Belvoir and the wedding was witnessed by his sister Susan Dickie and her husband Robert Watt, who are also living at there. It’s possible that the bride is not from the Glasgow area as her address is given as the St Enoch Station Hotel.

Maud seems to have left the country for while though she continued to use her married name. In 1921 she was a passenger on the Omar, returning from Sydney to London. She was 44 years old and her last country of permanent residence is given as Australia.

She then settled in England. The address given on the index card for her son’s war medals, which were collected, presumably by her, in 1923, is South Downs, 18 Bridhurst Road, South Croydon. (Burton’s first name is written as Alfred not Algernon on the medal index card – presumably an error). By 1931, the electoral roll lists her living at 168a Sloane Street in Chelsea, London. In 1939, when she’s about 62 years old, she was living at 29A The Gate House in Westminster, London.

It’s not clear where Maud was during or after the Second World War, and we don’t know when either Maud or Matthew died.

Researchers: Lucy, Lindsay, Colin

Sources

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