‘Some Corner of a Foreign Field’ John, George and Walter Cox of Burton Overy

Over the months since the centenary of the outbreak of the Great War, the Chronicle has been telling the stories of local men who served their country. Some came back to the villages and their lives here; others did not return. As the generations go by, the longing to find out what happened to family members and to pay respect to their memory does not diminish. In June, Glyn Hatfield wrote about Harry Holyoak, one of the very first volunteers from Kibworth, and the discovery of his headstone in France. This month, we include the account that Hayley Welby gave at the memorial service at Burton Overy Church of how she was inspired to research her own family’s experiences in the Great War and to find the final resting places of her great-grandfather and two of his brothers.

Grandad John

Many years ago I watched a documentary about the First World War. At the time I knew very little about this war. Watching video footage and looking at photographs that revealed the harsh reality of what the soldiers had to endure was shocking. Listening to the soldiers’ personal recollections of their experiences, many of which were very emotional, and hearing extracts from diaries touched me the most. I have tried to imagine what it must have been like for the servicemen in all theatres of war, particularly those in the infantry waiting as time ticks by for the moment to ‘go over the top’, knowing that death could be just moments away. Knowing that they may never see their loved ones again. I don’t think there are words even to begin to describe how terrifying it must have been for them. After watching that documentary I decided to find out about my own family’s involvement in the First World War and I was deeply saddened to discover that three members of our family had lost their lives.

My great-granddad John Charles Cox died in September 1918 in London. He was 34 years old. He served in the Royal Army Service Corps. Our family have letters that John wrote to his wife and parents and we have been able to establish that he was somewhere in France in 1917 and Jerusalem in March 1918. He was in the general hospital in Egypt in May 1918 and by June 1918 he was sailing home on the Red Cross ship Kalyon. From there he was admitted into the Bermondsey Military hospital in London and his letters say that he hoped his wife Mary would be able to visit him. She did.

We do not know the full circumstances surrounding John’s death but we do know that he was crushed by a lorry although we have been unable to establish where this happened. I feel that it is tragic that John survived a number of years in the war only to be killed in a freak accident just a few months before the war ended. From the letters we can deduce that John was a loving son and a devoted husband to Mary and father to his three children Emily, John and Hilda. He did not get to see his children grow up, get married and have families of their own, just like thousands of other men that died in the war.

It wasn’t until I visited The Somme that I realised just how many lives the war had claimed. The thousands of names carved onto the Thiepval memorial and the vast number of cemeteries situated along the front line astounded me and that is just one of many battles fought during the war. As my family and I wandered through the endless white graves, some with names on, some without, I thought about the men lying beneath them. Every one of them had a life, loved ones and hopes for the future that were shattered in an instant. There was one grave, however, among the thousands that I was particularly looking for and that was of George Cox, John’s brother. After a lot of searching we managed to find Grove Town cemetery and the grave where he is buried. I cannot describe how I felt that day. I had mixed emotions, I was elated because we had found his grave but I also felt great sorrow because he had died so young. It was a special moment and it is one I will never forget.

I feel that I am lucky because John is buried right here in Burton Overy churchyard, the place where he was born and grew up with his nine other siblings. I can visit his grave as often as I wish. Every year when I come here to the Xmas tree festival my mum and I bring flowers or a wreath to put on Grandad’s grave. I am also very lucky that Grandad has a grave. Grandad’s other brother Walter unfortunately has no grave but his name is carved onto the Tyne Cot Memorial in Belgium along with over 33,000 other names of soldiers with no known grave. I have not seen this myself but a friend of mine has visited the cemetery and kindly photographed his name on the wall for me. I will be visiting myself in the very near future.

The tragic loss of John, Walter and George must have been devastating at the time for all their loved ones but especially for their parents Robert and Mary, but as time passes by the scars heal, or do they? 96 years after granddad died our family is still deeply saddened by our loss. If you throw a stone into a pond, the impact creates a shock wave that sends ripples out far and wide. The effects of war are like everlasting ripples in a pond. As time passes by the ripples may become weaker and further apart but they are still there, like scars, and felt by a great many people. So many lives have been touched by the effects of war. So many ponds and so many ripples.

All the family are so very proud of Walter, George and Grandad John. As I look around me here today, there are generations of John’s family here to pay their respects to him. His grandchildren, his great-grandchildren and his great-great-grandchildren and as the generations pass we will be sure to pass on the memory of John and to remember the sacrifice he and his brothers made. Finally, I have a poem that John wrote to his family during the war, I will read just one short verse to you.

In cherished memories you will live.
Till I return to you.
To live again those happy days.
The days that we once knew.

If only he’d had the chance……