Stories from the Hadra War Cemetery (Egypt): Staff Nurse Ella Cooke

In the winter of 1914, Ella Cooke was looking forward to a grand adventure. The Auckland-born nurse and her twin sister Lily had just departed New Zealand in a boat bound for Vancouver, New York and finally England. She was looking forward to seeing the sights, and eventually a working holiday in London, or maybe Paris.

The outbreak of war in July 1914 dashed all her plans. By the time the pair finally docked in London, Ella was contemplating an assignment in one of the many under-resourced hospitals in France. In November 1914, Ella was one of a group of 14 nurses who left England to serve with the French Flag Nursing Corps. She spent the next six months at a hospital in Bernay near Rouen before to returning to England.

Instead of returning home, Ella was persuaded to join the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve. After completing her training at Aldershot she was posted to No: 17 General Hospital at Alexandria, Egypt at the end of September 1915.

During her two years at the hospital, Ella was regarded by her colleagues as a “happy and popular” recruit. On a Saturday off duty – exactly two years after arriving in Alexandria she was killed instantly whilst taking a short cut across a railway line behind the hospital enroute to visiting her friends, Major and Mrs Walshe. She was struck on the forehead by some part of the tram and fell back onto the verge. She died instantly as a result of a skull fracture.

A Court of Enquiry chaired by Lt Col Godding R.A.M.C concluded that she must have been either hurrying or dreaming and did not look up to see whether the tram was approaching. The enquiry exonerated the Driver and the Tram Company of blame and recorded the death was ‘due to a temporary and regrettable want of care on poor Miss Cooke’s part’. 

She was honoured with a full military funeral and buried in the Hadra War Cemetery, Egypt. Her name is inscribed on the World War 1 Nurses Memorial in York Minister, England.

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Service Number 2/RESC/1266 Staff Nurse Ella Cooke

Cemetery/memorial reference: B. 25.

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