Percy Leonard Cooney was a fallen WWI soldier from the Kenmore-Moggill district who, like many other Australians, enlisted to fight for their country. Percy never returned home and was one of the 877 men of the 26th Battalion killed during the war.
This story has been researched by Amrit Aulakh and Megan Du.
Born in Spring Hill, Brisbane in November 1893, Percy Cooney was presumably the only child of Ellen Cooney and an unidentified, deceased father. He was raised at 50 Bowen Street, Spring Hill and attended a Brisbane public school (most likely Brisbane Central State School). Prior to enlisting in the military, Percy’s occupation was a farmer. He had an Anglican upbringing and identified himself as a member of the Church of England. He never married and lived with his mother well into adulthood. His father died in 1905 when Percy was just 12 years old, making Percy the man of the house.
The outbreak of WW1 was met with astounding enthusiasm and willingness on behalf of the Australian people. With the majority of white Australians having a British background, and the nation itself being bound to Britain, they had a strong sense of allegiance to Great Britain and were determined to defend their ‘mother country’ to the last man. So much so, that an overwhelming 416,000 Australians, from a population of below 5 million, volunteered to serve in the Australian Imperial Force. On 23 September 1915, just into the second year of the war, Percy enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force.
He was 22 years and 10 months old. Following his enlistment, 4112 Pte Percy Leonard Cooney, 26th Australian Infantry Battalion, embarked from Brisbane aboard the HMAT Commonwealth (A73) on 28 March 1916 and went on to serve on the Western Front for the next two years.
Throughout his military career, Percy sustained a myriad of injuries and endured many hardships. On 5 May 1917 he was wounded in action in Rouen, France. He was admitted to hospital suffering from a severe gunshot wound to the head and a severe wound to the left thigh. Given the seriousness of his injuries, he immediately embarked to England from Boulogne, France. By June his condition had improved and by 27 July, more than two months after his arrival in England, he was declared convalescent.
On 11 August 1918, little more than a year after his previous injuries, Percy was killed while on active service in France. He was struck in the head by a shell while attacking in front of the Harbonnieres. It was a gruesome departure for Percy – he was described as having “all his brains laid open.” Somewhat miraculously, he didn’t die immediately; he was transported to the 7th Australian Field Ambulance, where he lived out the last moments of his life.
Percy is buried in the Villers Bretonneux Military Cemetery (Plot X, Row B, Grave No. 2). He was posthumously awarded the British War Medal and Victory Medal, for his courageous service.
Following Percy’s death, his mother Ellen received a package containing his belongings, which included 3 discs, 2 wallets, photos, cards, 1 YMCA wallet, 1 metal wrist watch, 1 pipe, 2 gold rings, 1 notebook, 1 mouth organ, 2 purses and 1 matchbox holder. An AIF Receipt for Consignment from the Defence Department detailed that one of the rings the package was supposed to enclose was missing.
News of Percy’s death travelled. By 5 October 1918, his name was published in The Queenslander newspaper’s Roll of Honour, List No. 430. At this time, Spring Hill consisted of mainly farmland. It would have been a small and perhaps close knit, semi rural community and the loss of one of their own would have reverberated throughout, and greatly affected the local community and those who knew him.
Percy Leonard Cooney’s name appears on the Kenmore-Moggill cenotaph, although he was raised in Spring Hill. It can be assumed that perhaps there was a larger influx of soldiers coming from the Kenmore-Moggill area as compared to the numbers of men wanting to enlist from surrounding regions, including Spring Hill. Therefore, it may have been more realistic and convenient to group all soldiers within reasonable proximity to the Kenmore Moggill area on the one cenotaph. There is no cenotaph in the Spring Hill area.
Private Percy Leonard Cooney was a hero, an extraordinarily honorable young man who made the ultimate sacrifice for his nation in laying down his own life. Through records of his life and military service, his bravery, sense of duty and kind spirit have become known to those who have never had the pleasure of knowing him. He left deep imprints in the lives of those who loved him, especially his mother, Ellen; with whom he shared a very close bond.
Lest we forget Percy and his journey.