James 'Eddie' Cooper
Eddie Cooper joined the Salvation Army when he was 16-years-old after attending Sunday School from an early age. He was working as a production manager at a hosiery mill before he became a Salvation Army Officer. Eddie was posted to the military camp, 'Recruit Reception Depot' at the Wayville Show Grounds in South Australia , as a Salvation Army welfare representative in early 1941. Then, after a short time at Warradale in South Australia and Red Shield House in Melbourne, Eddie was offered a position as a Salvation Army welfare representative with the 2/14th Battalion AIF. He jumped at the chance and arrived in Papua New Guinea in September 1942.
Eddie met up with the 2/14th in the Koitaki area in the foothills above Port Moresby , after the remnants of the unit had finally been pulled out of the Kokoda Track. As a Salvation Army welfare representative, he tried to lift the morale of the troops, providing them with a few home comforts such as hot drinks and biscuits, clean socks and writing paper and envelopes. He also served at the Red Shield hut at Owers Corner.
In late November, Eddie flew from Port Moresby to Popondetta on the first flight carrying the 2/14th's Headquarters Company. From Popondetta, he travelled to the Gona battle front where he set up a Red Shield hut close to the beach and mission. Here, close to the fighting, he served coffee to exhausted troops, wounded men, stretcher-bearers and medical personnel.
Eddie was most struck by the troops' courage, mateship, good humour and complete dedication to winning the war. He recalls the time Lieutenant Charles Butler was being carried out from Gona by Papua New Guineans after receiving severe facial and head wounds including the loss of an eye. As Eddie walked alongside him, Lieutenant Butler joked that he would have to be a 'one-eyed' footie barracker!
Eddie was visiting the troops when the last of the Japanese at Gona were attacked and killed. He recalls the many dead strewn all over the battlefield and the terrible smell. He remained with the troops as they buried the dead and marched out with them when the 2/14th was relieved and returned to Australia for rest and reinforcements. Eddie returned to New Guinea in 1943 with the 2/16th Battalion, serving in the Markham and Ramu Valley campaigns. In 1945 he served in Balikpapan , Borneo , with Headquarters, 7th Division AIF.
Eddie was discharged from the Army in March 1946 and married Bonnie in April. Eddie continued to be involved in the Salvation Army and worked in a range of occupations before owning and operating a cabinet-making business. Eddie and Bonnie have one daughter and three grandchildren.
Today Eddie is kept busy as the secretary and life member of the Red Shield Sub-Branch of the RSL, which has awarded him a meritorious service medal. He is also secretary and a cornet player in the Salvation Army Melbourne Veterans' Band and is involved in his local RSL.