Family: Fred Cocks with sisters Martha, Elizabeth and Maud.

According to his family, Fred Cocks was possibly one of the unluckiest Diggers of World War I.

Looking at his war records, it is hard to disagree.

Cocks enlisted not once, but twice, after his first stint in uniform ended in injury and discharge.

And his second stint ended in tragedy when he was killed in a railway accident in France while returning from an expedition to look for vegetables.

His death came just after the war ended.

The sad story of Cpl Cocks has been written into a booklet by Kevin Lehane, of Alexander Heights.

Mr Lehane said Cocks, a brother of his wife's grandmother, was born in Bendigo, Victoria, in 1894 and was one of 12 children, although only six survived to adulthood.

The family moved to Kalgoorlie in 1896 and in June 1915, at age 21, Cocks enlisted in Perth, giving his occupation as "cleaner".

He was sent for training at Blackboy Hill camp, Greenmount, where he was to join the 11th Battalion reinforcements.

While at the camp he fell and injured cartilage in his right knee but was eventually considered fit for action and sent to Egypt, leaving Fremantle on October 1, 1915, aboard the Hororata.

But the knee continued to be a problem and Cocks found himself in hospital at the end of the year having surgery.

By late January 1916 he was "invalided to Australia" and sailed from Suez for home on the transport ship Kanowna.

Cocks disembarked at Fremantle on March 3, 1916, and was discharged on May 13.

But he was not done with the war, and his knee must have improved enough for him to enlist a second time in January 1917, this time describing himself as a "loco fireman".

As a member of the 3rd Australian Light Railway Company, he sailed from Fremantle on January 29, 1917.

His war service records about his time on the Western Front reveal nothing particularly remarkable, but the manner of his death falls squarely into that category.

In October 1918, the appalling conditions meant he was admitted to hospital with serious diarrhoea.

On November 4, just a week before the war ended, Cocks was back with his mates in the unit as he, like many Diggers, continued operations as he waited for his chance to go home. But the events of December 4 meant he would never have that chance.

Three Diggers told an army inquiry what happened that day.

One of the men, Lance-Cpl White, said Cocks' death came when they drove a tractor and wagon out of Marquillies to see if they could "secure any vegetables".

On their return, Cocks uncoupled the wagon and was standing "between wagon and tractor" when he called out to "hit her up".

"Shortly after truck cleared points it became derailed and ... tractor following up struck the truck," he said.

"The deceased was thrown off the truck when it became derailed … was caught by the balance plate of the tractor and dragged about four yards."

Another report recorded that the accident happened at 1.15pm and Cocks died at 2.15pm. The officer in charge declared in his report "the fatality was, in my opinion, purely accidental".

Frederick James Cocks is buried at the Don Communal Cemetery, near Lille, in north-west France.

The West Australian

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