George Albert Cook was born on 23 February 1893 and died, just short of his 70th birthday, on 9 February 1963. Sadly his last dozen years had been marked by a series of strokes which had physically incapicitated him, though he remained mentally alert – he continued to run through complicated pieces of ringing in his head even when he could no longer physically handle a bell. His father, William Cook was also a ringer at Ashtead, as was his grandfather.
George learnt to ring around 1903, at the same time as his older brother, John William (Jack). Sadly Jack died aged just 15 in 1905. I’ve not yet traced the date of George’s first peal, but it seems to have been before 1911 as neither of the two peals he rang that year are marked as his first. In 1912 he was elected to the Ancient Society of College Youths, ringing his first peal for them on 17 August that year at Ashtead. He rang four more peals over the rest of 1912, 1913 and 1914.
By the 4 December 1914 he had enlisted, it seems likely he joined up at the same time as Sydney Reddick and Hedley James Wyatt. It seems all three joined 2/5th Battalion, East Surrey Regiment at Wimbledon, but at some point their paths diverged. By the time George was posted overseas he had been serving with 21st (Reserve) Battalion (1st Surrey Rifles, the London Regiment (this suggests he went to France after 8 April 1916, as prior to that date it was known as 3/21st Battalion, though it could have been a later clerical slip, so it may be wise not to rely on this detail too much). However, since he did not qualify for either the 1914 Star or 1914-15 Star we know he did not go to France before 1916, and since he is shown with a four figure number in the rolls he probably entered France before March 1917. After arrival in France he then served with 1/21st Battalion, the London Regiment – then part of 142 Infantry Brigade in 47th (2nd London) Division. With them, he would have fought at the Battle of the Somme in 1916, Messines in June 1917, various parts of 3rd Ypres (Passchendaele), Cambrai and many of the major actions of 1918, from the frantic defence against the German Spring Offensive, through to the final Advance to Victory. Despite the fact he served all this time with 1/21st Londons, he remained on the books of 5th East Surreys, and received his medals via their medal rolls. Unfortunately that leaves us with the problem of trying to date the various aspects of his service as unlike the medal rolls of the London Regiment which gave much useful information about the service of Reddick, those of the East Surrey Regiment do not give much additional information beyond the units with which a man served.
George married Ethel H Banyer on 20 September 1919, so presumably he had been demobbed by then. The wedding was marked by a peal rung by other members of the Surrey Association. They had a son Cyril in May 1921, again marked by a peal on 28 May.
George spent his working life as a gardener, but from the early 1950s a series of strokes brought an end to both that and his ringing, apart from a single occasion when he managed a short time ringing (when neither his wife nor doctor were watching) about five years before his death on 9 February 1963. He was most proud of the effort he had put into training new ringers, particularly those who rang in the 300th peal on the Ashtead bells a few years before his death. He is believed to have rung 76 peals himself.