108772 Gunner Albert Cox,179th Siege Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery
And 55th Protection Company, Royal Defence Corps
Albert Cox was the youngest of four children born to the marriage of Samuel Cox and his wife Mary Ann. Samuel Cox, who worked as a foreman in the Midland Railway Good Department for more than forty years, was originally from Normanton-on-Soar, near Loughborough, and Mary Ann was from Nottingham. Of the four children in the family, only Albert Cox and his sister, Annie, who was three years older than Albert, survived beyond infancy. Annie Cox was born on 23rd September 1879, and Albert was born in 1883.
The Cox family lived at Kay Street in Shipley until the early 1900s, when they moved to Shipley Fields Cottages in Frizinghall. Samuel Cox died, aged 66, on 17th November 1907. Because of his long service to the railway company he worked for Mr Cox had become well known locally and his death was reported on in the Shipley Times and Express. His widow and the two grown-up children continued to live in Shipley Fields Cottages after his death. Annie Cox was now a qualified teacher and had returned to Bradford after teaching at the school in Hackness, near Scarborough.
Albert Cox worked as a yarn salesman and was often away from home visiting cloth manufacturers. Between 1911 and 1915, the Cox family moved from Shipley to 13 Manor Drive, Headingley.
When war was declared in August 1914, Albert Cox did not rush to enlist on the wave of patriotic fervour that gripped the country immediately afterwards. In the first weeks of the war, all across the country, committees were raised to encourage men to enlist in response to Lord Kitchener’s appeal in what would be called the ‘New Armies’. Initially, men flocked to join the army, but as the Regular Army suffered enormous casualties in the first few months of war, which forced the War Office to make up those losses by deploying the Territorial Force to the Western Front, and elsewhere, the volume of men volunteering for service waned. The army needed a regular and predictable number of recruits, and it became obvious that the traditional reliance on wholly voluntary enlistment was not sustainable, and alternatives were sought.
General conscription of men into the army was the uncomfortable inevitability, but as a steppingstone between wholly voluntary enlistment and general conscription, the Director-General of Recruiting, Lord Derby, devised a plan to encourage men to join up, or at least pledge to join when called. This was the birth of the Group System and was introduced during 1915. Under the terms of the Group System, often referred to as ‘The Derby Scheme’, men could voluntarily enlist, and they could either begin their service immediately, or they could defer it until the army needed them and called them up. The men who deferred their service were issue with a grey flannel brassard, or armband, with a red crown on it, and a certificate. They were transferred to the Army Reserve and depending on their year of birth and marital status, they were placed into groups to decide in which order they would be mobilised, or ‘called up’.
Albert Cox attested for the army under the terms of the Group System on 9th December 1915. He chose to defer his service until he was needed. He reported for training at Great Yarmouth, joining No. 4 Depot, Royal Garrison Artillery on 7th August 1916. His service record, fortunately, survived the fire in the War Office warehouse on Arnside Street in Walworth, south London caused by German bombing. Unfortunately, the records are very badly water damaged, rendering much of what is written in them illegible. From the Depot, Gunner Cox would have been posted to one, or more, gunnery training units, where he would be trained to operate the large calibre guns that the Royal Garrison Artillery were equipped with. On the completion of his training, Albert Cox was sent to France to join his fighting unit, 179th Siege Battery.
The battery was equipped with four, BL 6-inch 26 cwt howitzers, and was established for six officers and usually about 130 men. The nomenclature of the gun refers to it being Breech Loading (BL), and the weight of the barrel and breech combined was 26 hundred-weight, which together with the carriage brought the total weight of the gun up to about 2 tons. By the time that Gunner Cox joined the battery, on 27th July 1917, the teams of horses that were used to transport the guns had largely been replaced by a three-ton lorry.
While Albert Cox was preparing to go to go off to the army, back home, his sister Annie was about to take up the head-teacher’s position in Scholes School, replacing Mrs Florence Haigh, the step-mother of Eric Burton Haigh. She was installed on 31st July 1916 and would stay at the school for more than 23 years, until she retired on 28th September 1939. Because Scholes had its own railway station, the commute from Headingley would have been possible, but it was not practical, and at about the same time as she took up the headship, Annie Cox and her mother, Mary Ann moved to The Terrace, on Main Street.
Albert Cox, now serving with 179th Siege Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery joined his unit as it fired in support of the British Offensive around Ypres, officially called the Third Battle of Ypres, but also remembered in popular consciousness simply as ‘Passchedale’. The aim of the offensive was to advance north and east from Ypres to clear the Germans from the Belgian coast to deprive them of the use of the ports, from which their U-Boats operated. The neighbouring Netherlands was neutral, so a loss of the U-Boat bases in Belgium would force the German U-Boats back into home ports, severely restricting their operations.
The Third Battle of Ypres came quickly after the successful operations around Arras and on the Messines Ridge in the spring of 1917, and though the summer campaign began with promise, the men and equipment were worn out from their exertions earlier in the year. Supply lines were stretched, and the reserves of stores that would be needed to support the summer campaign had not been sufficiently built up to fully supply the fighting units involved. The early battles of the 1917 summer offensive went well, but with the men and equipment becoming excessively fatigued, the momentum could not be maintained. And then the summer weather broke, bringing a wetter summer and early autumn than the region had known for many years. Flanders is low lying, and for centuries, the people who worked on the land had created an intricate system of ditches, dikes, and canals to carry away excess water and make the ground tillable and habitable. The Great War was an overwhelmingly artillery dominated war, and as the area around Ypres had been fought over almost constantly since the war first touched the town in October 1914, this groundwater management system had been destroyed. What remained could not cope with the volume of rain that fell that summer and the ground the men had to fight over became swamp like very quickly. Any stores not kept off the ground on dunnage rafts got wet, and perishable items were ruined. Transport and artillery movements became extremely difficult.
179th Siege Battery belonged to 60th Heavy Artillery Group when Albert Cox joined his battery, but on 5th September 1917, it was transferred to 84th Heavy Artillery Group. Except for where the battery’s fire mission orders came from, and which unit supplied their ammunition, this would have made little difference to the men in the battery, which was based in the area around Vlamertinghe, northwest of Ypres, and later moved to near Karte Farm, near the village of Elverdinghe. The battery had been busy firing throughout the summer campaign, but the Germans had also been busy conducting counter-battery firing, working in conjunction with their air force to seek out and destroy British artillery positions.
At the end of the first week of September, Albert Cox’s battery came under enemy fire, and he was wounded by shrapnel from an exploding shell. He was evacuated back to England for treatment after just 46 days' service in France, but his wounds were such that he was medically downgraded to class B2, which meant he was unfit for further front line service. He was, however, still fit to serve in the army, and he was transferred to the Royal Defence Corps, which had a role of providing men to guard vital installations, such as railway infrastructure, dockyards, coal mines and factories engaged in the manufacture of war materiel. Albert Cox was posted to 55th Protection Company of the Royal Defence Corps, which came under the control of Eastern Command, which at this time, was headquartered at 50 Pall Mall in London, under the command of Lieutenant General Sir Henry Wilson.
On his transfer to the Royal Defence Corps, Albert Cox became a Private, and was re-numbered 74653. He served until 12th April 1919, when he came to live in Scholes with his mother and sister.
It is likely that Albert Cox went back to his pre-war employment as a travelling salesman, but he was not a well man. From 1919, he received a disability pension from the army amounting to eight shillings per week in respect of his 20% disability. This was later reduced by 6d per week as his condition improved, and when that period of payments came to an end, he was awarded £20 as a final payment in 1924, the equivalent of 50 weeks’ pension at eight shillings per week.
Mary Ann Cox died in 1930. Two years later, Annie and Albert Cox moved from The Terrace to No. 3 Elmete Avenue, almost directly opposite the school where Annie Cox was head teacher.
Albert Cox died in 1933, aged 50 years. He is buried in Barwick Churchyard.
Following her retirement from the school, Annie Cox remained in Scholes, and stayed in touch with the life of the school, which had trebled in sized under her leadership. Her successor, Mr Amery, regularly invited her to participate in school events and she was regularly asked to present prizes at the school. In 1939, Miriam Wormald, herself a retired head teacher, formerly of Headingley, was living in Annie Cox’s house, although she died in 1943 in Horsforth.
In 1951, Annie Cox was elected to the chairmanship of the church fellowship in Scholes, but by the following year, her name was not listed among those registered to vote in Scholes. It isn’t known when, or where Annie Cox died, but burial records for Barwick Church show that she was not buried with her brother.