November 18, 2015

First World War soldier will be added to Erin cenotaph

As published in The Erin Advocate

The name of Private Alexander Cochrane will be added Great War plaque on the Erin cenotaph, after it was recently discovered that he died while on overseas service.

Cochrane had emigrated from Ireland and was working on a farm in Hillsburg (as it was spelled then). With no prior military experience, he enlisted in Erin on October 13, 1915. His wife Annie and his parents, James Beattie and Mary, still lived in Dechomet, Ballyward, Banbridge, County Down, in what is now Northern Ireland.

Erin Legion Service Officer Doug Kirkwood said Cochrane’s name would be added to the cenotaph with a small plaque. The Legion had a record of Cochrane enlisting, but not of his death.

Maple leaves are engraved on most of the tombstones at the Caix British Cemetery in Northern France,
marking the final resting places of 219 Canadian soldiers from the First World War.

Chaplain Irene Walback highlighted Cochrane in her address at the Legion’s Ecumenical Service on November 8. Echoing author Ted Barris, she said, “For every war statistic, there’s a story to be told.”

Cemetery records list Cochrane’s age of death at 44, but the Attestation Form he signed when enlisting shows he was born on October 31, 1880, in County Down, making him 37 years old when he died on August 8, 1918.

That was the date on which the Canadian Corps won a battle for the village of Caix, located about 28 km south-east of Amiens in Northern France. Caix had been occupied by Commonwealth troops in March 1917, lost during the German advance of March 1918, and recaptured on August 8, 1918, according to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

Cochrane served with the Central Ontario Regiment of the 4th Battalion of the Canadian Infantry. He is buried in Caix British Cemetery. It was created after the Armistice when graves (mainly from March and August 1918) were brought in from the battlefields and from small cemeteries in the neighbourhood. It has the remains of 219 Canadian, 133 British and 13 Australian soldiers.

Cochrane’s Attestation shows that he was Presbyterian. He was 5 feet, 4 inches tall, with a dark complexion, blue eyes and light brown hair. He had images of a star and a woman’s face tattooed on his right wrist. Unfortunately, I have not located a photo of him.

Cochrane’s name, rank and battalion number appear in the First World War Book of Remembrance. The Canadian Virtual War Memorial produced by Veterans Affairs Canada ( has information on him, as does the database at

It’s not certain what year he came to Canada, but there had been a surge of migration from Ireland to Canada, with 5,980 people moving in the years 1911 to 1913. Ireland was in the midst of severe political turmoil at the time. Emigration had been most intense during periods of famine during the mid-1800s, but it was still running at a high rate. Between 1850 and 1913, more than 4.5 million men and women left Ireland, leaving its population reduced by about one third.

Recently, I was doing some research for the Great War Open House that was held October 29 at the Town office. It was hosted by the Heritage Committee, with about 45 people attending, and it included several tables filled with war memorabilia.

I made a presentation about what it was like to live in Erin during the First World War, based on old issues of The Advocate, which I reference every week in the Looking Back column.

It was while looking through the Erin soldiers on the Canadian Great War Project database that I noticed Cochrane, and the fact that he had died overseas. I am very glad to have made people aware of his sacrifice.