Princess Anne talks to Australian veteran

In the lead-up to the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal had a video conversation with Australian Second World War veteran Les Cook.

28 October 2020

Elderly veteran sits talking to TV monitor with woman standing by his side and WWII display in background.

Second World War veteran Les Cook and DVA Secretary Liz Cosson AM CSC talk to Princess Anne via Zoom. Photo: Australian War Memorial.

During the roughly 45-minute conversation, 97-year-old Les reflected on his experiences serving as a corporal in the 2nd Australian Imperial Force (AIF) from 1940 to 1947. The backdrop for the Zoom call was a display in the Second World War galleries of the Australian War Memorial (AWM) in Canberra.

Mr Cook was introduced to Princess Anne by DVA Secretary Liz Cosson AM CSC and AWM Director Matt Anderson PSM.

Ms Cosson said Les was in fine form and thoroughly enjoyed sharing his experiences. ‘It was truly humbling to hear Les share his memories from the War with Princess Anne,’ Ms Cosson said. ‘We only have around 12,000 Second World War veterans with us today, from the one million Australians who served, and Les is truly one in a million.’

‘Her Royal Highness is Colonel-in-Chief of the Royal Australian Corps of Signals and she was keen to hear of Les’s experiences as a Signaller during the war,’ Mr Anderson said.

Born in England, Les enlisted in the AIF in May 1940 soon after his 17th birthday. Having learnt telegraphy at night school in civilian life, he was posted to the 1st Australian Corps as a signaller and sent to the Middle East.

Les served in the campaigns in the Western Desert, Greece, Crete, New Guinea and Borneo.

He describes traversing the Kokoda Track as a process of climbing ‘never-ending hills with a multitude of heartbreaking false crests. When we got to the top of each one, too tired to take off our equipment, we just collapsed on the ground as we were’.

Before dawn on 15 August 1945, Les heard a lot of gunfire near his position. Assuming that the Japanese had broken through, he and his comrades prepared for an attack. It was only later that day that they discovered the gunfire had been their fellow Australians celebrating the end of the War.

Les then served in Japan for a year as a part of the Australian contingent of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force.

Elderly veteran standing in front of Second World War display.

Les Cook. Photo: Australian War Memorial.

Les said he felt honoured by the interest Her Royal Highness took in his wartime experiences, and her kind words.

‘I believe it was a privilege to enlist in the AIF,’ Les told Princess Anne.

With his voice breaking with emotion, Les proudly quoted the final lines of a Second World War poem written by an Australia serviceman which read: ‘In spite of our critics, this war will end. And those of us that are left, will proudly proclaim: I was in the AIF’.

‘As you get older, your eyesight and hearing gets weaker but the emotion gets stronger,’ Les said.

An edited version of the video is available on YouTube: