John Cook VC

b. 28/08/1843 Edinburgh, Scotland. d. 18/12/1879 Sherpur, Afghanistan.

John Cook (1843-1879) was born in Edinburgh, Scotland on 28th August 1843, and was the second son of Alexander Shank Cook, a well-known Scottish Advocate and Sheriff, and grandson of George Cook, Doctor of Divinity, who for many years was leader of the moderate party in the Church of Scotland. He was educated at Edinburgh Academy and Addiscombe Seminary. When John was 11, his father received a nomination for him for Addiscombe.

John Cook VC

When John was 17, he was posted to India, and soon after his arrival, he joined the 3rd Sikhs, with which regiment he went through the Umbeyla Campaign. He was mentioned in despatches and specially thanked by his Colonel for his gallantry in leading a very effective bayonet charge. In 1868, he took part in the Hazara Expedition. For these services he received the India Medal with two clasps. After ten years of services, he took a leave from service and returned home for a year, before returning to India in 1871.

In 1872, he was promoted to Captain, and in 1873 transferred to the 5th Gurkhas as Wing Commander. When the Afghan War broke out the 5th Gurkhas joined the Khurram Field Force under General Roberts, and led the attack at the Battle of Peiwar Kotal on 2nd December 1878. It was on this day that Captain John Cook would earn the Victoria Cross. His medal would be gazetted on 18th March 1879.

During heavy enemy fire, Cook charged out of the trenches with such intensity, that it caused the enemy ranks to break and flee. During the resulting melee, Major Galbraith was involved in fierce hand to hand combat with an enemy soldier. Captain Cook intervened and drew the enemy’s attention to himself. The enemy soldier bit into Cook’s arm with his teeth, until he was shot in the head.

Cook was presented with his medal by Lord Roberts VC on the 24th May 1879 at Ali Khel, Kabul, Afghanistan. Sadly, Cook would only hold the medal for 7 months. When the Kabul rebellion broke out later that year, the 5th Gurkhas accompanied Lord Roberts in his march to the scene of the massacre. Cook was promoted to Brevet of Major shortly before the action. On 12th December 1879, he was wounded in the left leg while leading an attack on a high conical hill, the Takht-i-Shah, near Kabul. Sadly gangrene set into the wound, and he died a week later on 19th December. He was buried two days later in Sherpur Cantonment Cemetery. His medals are owned by the Ashcroft Trust and displayed in the Imperial War Museum.