Corporal William Cox

Cox Wm retouchedscanCorporal William Cox

20927, 86th [i] Coy., Machine Gun Corp (Infantry)  who was killed in action on 23rd May 1917, aged 25

Remembered with honour
Barrow Hill Memorial
Staveley Parish Memorial
Arras Memorial Bay 10



WILLIAM COX was born in Chalfont in the Amersham district of Berkshire in 1892, the first child of William and Catherine Cox (Longland). Catherine had been born in Northamptonshire but the newly married couple had made their home in the Amersham area where William Senior originally hailed from, and where he worked as a maltster preparing the malt from grain to a brewer’s specification.

By the age of 9, William was living in the small hamlet of Magpies in the parish of Harmondsworth, Middlesex, an area which today has been mainly taken over by Heathrow Airport.

The Cox family moved to live at 5 Adelaide Cottages, Canal Side, Southall in Middlesex where, a year later, when William was 10, general labourer William Senior and Catherine increased their family with the birth of George James and again, in 1904, when Emily Clara was born.

Shortly afterwards, Catherine was left a widowed, single mother when her husband, William, died. In 1911, 19 year old William was working as a picture frame maker whilst Catherine is listed as a Market Gardener.

William enlisted in the army at Hounslow at the outbreak of war where he joined the Royal Fusiliers, in the 86th Infantry Brigade, 29th Division and was given the service number G/5835. (see footnote)

In August 1914 the tactical use of machine guns was unappreciated by the British Military. Consequently, the Army went to war with its infantry battalions and cavalry regiments each having a machine gun section of only two guns each. In November 1914, a Machine Gun School opened in France and in England the Motor Machine Gun Service formed at Bisley, originally by the Royal Field Artillery, with motor cycle mounted machine gun batteries. This organisation was some 3,000 strong by late 1915.

The Machine Gun Corps, authorised in October 1915, absorbed the Motor Machine Gun Service. A Training Centre formed at Belton Park & Harrowby Camps, Grantham, Lincolnshire. Volunteers from every part of the Army arrived from mid November 1915 and 36 companies were raised, trained and sent overseas within 3 months.

The MG Base Depot was at Camiers, north of Le Havre on the French coast. Other Ranks came to the MGC from other regiments and were allotted new numbers. Infantry & Cavalry Brigades formed or had sent an MG Company or Squadron. According to his Medal Roll Index Card, William Cox went to France on 15th December 1915 with the new service number 20927.

MGC Arras 1917

The Machine Gun Corps during the Battle of Arras 1917 © IWM (Q 5172)

The 86th Machine Gun Company was formed in 86th Brigade, 29th Division (VI Corps, 3rd Army) on the 26th of February 1916. In July they went into action on the Somme at the Battles of Albert and Transloy Ridges and in 1917 they were in action in the First and Second Battles of the Scarpe during the Arras Offensive.

William Cox was killed in action on 23rd May 1917 whilst the 29th Division was in a comparatively quiet sector. It is not known if his death was as a result of a sniper, shelling, or other cause.

Arras MemorialThere is no known grave for William Cox who is remembered with honour on the Arras Memorial at Faubourg-D´Amiens Cemetery which commemorates almost 35,000 servicemen from the United Kingdom, South Africa and New Zealand who died in the Arras sector between the spring of 1916 and 7 August 1918 and who have no known grave.

William’s mother, Catherine, had moved to the Chesterfield area around 1916 and made her home at 12, Allport Terrace, Barrow Hill, one of the Midland Railway Cottages at the top of the hill, the home William would have returned to had he survived.  To be allocated these cottages, some-one living at the address was required to work for the Midland Railway and it could be surmised that either Williams’ younger brother, George James, was employed by the company or that Catherine had lodgers who were.

1914 15 trio

William himself “was not known in the district, his mother having removed to Barrow Hill about a year ago.” He was posthumously awarded the 15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.

[i] The Commonwealth War Graves Commission lists William Cox as a Corporal with the 85th Company MGC, remembered on the Arras Memorial. However, the 85th Company MGC were in Salonika at the time of his death. A search of other service numbers on Medal Index Cards reveals that he is far more likely to have been with 86th Company MGC in the 29th Division and that there was a clerical error in recording his details.

©Ann Lucas