Film star Gary Cooper’s brother could also handle a rifle

Dunstable School shooting team
Dunstable School shooting team

There was a time when schoolboys were expected to endure some military discipline, and encouraged to know how to handle a rifle.

This photo is of Dunstable Grammar School’s shooting team, taken in 1911 outside what became the school library but which was then a gymnasium. The doorway will be readily recognised by today’s pupils at Ashton Middle School in High Street North.

In the centre is Sgt Major Odell, a formidable figure who became the school’s drill instructor in 1903.

He remained in the job until 1936, apart from his time in the army during the First World War, when he was severely wounded at Gallipoli.

Every fit boy at the school was required to undertake military drill in the quad, tactical drill in Dunstable Park and physical drill every evening.

Miniature rifle shooting was practised in the gymnasium and .303 shooting at the butts in Pascombe Pit on Dunstable Downs.

There’s a particularly significant figure seated in the front row, on the left.

This is Arthur Cooper, known at the school as Cooper I (only surnames were used in those days) to differentiate him from his younger brother Frank (Cooper II) who was also at the school. The two boys were excellent marksmen, having learned to handle guns from an early age on their father’s ranch in Montana.

Their dad had lived in Hockliffe and Houghton Regis before emigrating to the USA, and sent his boys back to Dunstable in 1909 to give them a good English education.

Frank later used his cowboy skills to work as a stunt rider in Hollywood westerns. It led him to film stardom and world-wide fame.

He changed his name to Gary in the 1920s to avoid confusion with another Frank Cooper who was working in Hollywood at the same time.

Meanwhile Arthur Cooper went into the banking business.

> Yesteryear is compiled by John Buckledee, chairman of Dunstable and District Local History Society.