The Bedfordshire Regiment in the Great War
Private 13908 Christopher Augustus COX, V.C.
VC Citation from the London Gazette, 11th May 1917:
"Private Christopher Augustus Cox No. 13908 For most conspicuous bravery and continuous devotion to duty when acting as a stretcher bearer. During the attack of his Battalion the front wave was checked by the severity of enemy artillery and machine gun fire and the whole line had to take cover in shell holes to avoid annihilation. Private Cox, utterly regardless of personal safety went out over fire swept ground and single handedly rescued four men. Having collected the wounded of his own battalion, he then assisted to bring in the wounded of the adjoining battalion. On the 2 subsequent days he carried out similar rescue work with the same disregard to his own personal safety. He has on all occasions displayed the same high example of unselfishness and valour."
Christopher Augustus Cox was born Christmas Day 1889 in Kings Langley. In 1912 he married Maud Swan with whom he eventually had eight children. Christopher enlisted into the army weeks after war broke out and became a Private and Stretcher Bearer in the 7th battalion of the Bedfordshire Regiment. He landed in France with the battalion in July 1915 and was wounded in the leg on the 1st July 1916 when the 7th battalion stormed not only the first two German trench lines but also took the Pommiers redoubt. Christopher was back with the battalion in time for the storming of Thiepval and the Schwaben Redoubt in September 1916 and served through the winter of 1916 / 1917.
He survived the assault on the Miraumont trench system in February 1917 during the Ancre operations and won his Victoria Cross in March 1917 when his battalion was one of those who pursued the Germans as they fell back onto the formidable Hindenburg Line defences. The 54th brigade moved into the Loupart Line on the 13th March with Christopher and the 7th Bedfords being south of Achiet-le-Grand. Although the Germans were withdrawing to the Hindenburg Line they fought a controlled rearguard action and held Achiet-le-Grand and Bihucourt villages strongly. The 54th Brigade had to advance 2 miles over open ground which took five days and cost many casualties. It was during that advance that Christopher Cox earned the right to join the small band of hero's who were awarded the coveted Victoria Cross.
A map of the final phase of the assault
The 13th March saw him carrying several wounded Bedfords back to the dressing stations through a horrendous barrage and sustained machine gun fire. On arrival at the station each time he did not hesitate to turn around and return to the battlefield in search of more wounded men.
On the 14th, his company were in the rear but the stretcher bearers were called on for assistance. Having advanced straight through the barrage across open ground to the line of shell holes the advance had dug in around, he set about moving blatantly from hole to hole dressing all the wounds he could find. After he had covered all he could find he started carrying the most badly hurt men back on his back as there were no stretchers available. The first 200 yards were covered under intensive, aimed machine gun fire but he dashed across the open, completely ignoring the fire as he went. Onlookers were amazed to see him return unhurt some time later, when he went back with a second man. This continued all day and into the night.
From his actions on the 15th Second Lieutenant Chapman is quoted as saying 'I saw him wandering about in front of hill 130 in the front wave attending to the wounded. He showed absolutely contempt of the volume of machine gun fire and heavy bombardment, although M.G. opened on single targets. I previously saw him carry back a man on his back on three different occasions, and on withdrawing my Company I found he had similarly treated six others, two of whom were wounded a second time while he was carrying them.'
He also ferried machine gun supplies to where they were needed the most when he returned to the battlefield having dropped a wounded man off. Whilst carrying one man on his back, the wounded man was hit again but Christopher carried on despite knowing he was being targeted by the efficient German gunners. At one point in the day Second Lieutenant Dealler saw him moving through a hail of machine gun fire being aimed at him, completely ignoring it as he did so. He arrived back with the Officer and, having listed what work he had been busy doing, asked for any direction as to the next location of any wounded men. With no immediate reply being forthcoming, Christopher advanced back into the fire on his own initiative and disappeared over the brow of a hill, completely disregarding the attention of the German gunners who had so few targets to fire at. Once he had found all the wounded Bedfords he could, Christopher turned his attention to the Middlesex men who were next to them in the advance. Second Lieutenant Dealler added "He did not rejoin the Company till about 12 hours after and although a very powerful man, whom I have never seen tired before, he was thoroughly exhausted."
The 16th saw him ferrying the wounded back from the most advanced point through a hail of machine gun and artillery fire, transferring ammunition across the battlefield and marking out gaps in the enemy wire with tape in full view of the enemy gunners. When the advance was finished and the battalion was hurriedly digging in beneath an intense barrage, Christopher was one of the few men who could be seen above ground where he was busily carrying on moving the wounded back to the aid stations to the rear.
The 17th saw him advance to help the company in front of his own as all their stretched bearers had fallen. On passing through the gaps in the enemy wire whilst looking for wounded men he paused to mark the passages that allowed following waves to move quickly through them later on.
All told Private Cox must have moved around 20 men from where the fell wounded back to the dressing stations despite intense fire and barrages. With so little movement taking place above ground he was constantly a target for any German observer with a gun yet ignored the obvious danger and repeated the action time and time again. In addition, the number of men he must have dressed as they lay wounded in shell holes is another matter entirely and must surely measure somewhere between 40 and 60.
As the recommendations were moved back through the chain of command Christopher went about his daily business of being in the battalion. Six weeks later the 18th Division assaulted German positions around Cherisy during the Battle of Arras and the battalion were attacking south of the village. They advanced on the heels of the British bombardment only to find the wire uncut, after which the front waves had no option but to dig in and shelter from the crossfire and artillery barrage that rained down on them that day. It was during the advance that Private Cox was wounded twice in the foot and was helped off the battlefield by one of his mates. After an operation to remove the bullets he was invalided back to Blighty, to the Queen Mary Military Hospital in Blackburn.
Christopher Cox was presented with the VC by the King on 21st July 1917 at Buckingham Palace. His was one of 32 VCs presented that day. The photograph below shows him with Maud on returning to Kings Langley after the presentation ceremony.
Christopher and Maud Cox, Taken after receiving his Victoria Cross
Private Cox was unable to return to the front again after receiving his third wound as he did not regain full fitness afterwards. Instead he helped to train the new recruits rather than being idle and of no use to his country and comrades.
Christopher Cox was a very unassuming man who did not appreciate the fuss that surrounded his award. In an interview after it was presented he simply said "I was only doing what any British soldier would have done". On his return to Kings Langley, Christopher gave a speech at his local hall but remarked that he would rather be in the trenches than give a speech to a group of people. Private Cox was offered a Commission as well as a house but refused both, saying he would not accept a penny for his fallen comrades. After the war he returned to live in Kings Langley and loved to spend time in his garden. He worked for a few years for a builder, then worked for another 32 years as a Maintenance Labourer at the Ovaltine Factory.
During the Second World War he served in the Home Guard and again showed his courage by entering the bombed-out Griffin Pub to search for the publican in the ruins. Unfortunately Ted Carter was already dead, the only civilian killed in Kings Langley during the war.
After the war he was back at work in the factory when, in 1954 aged 64, he fell off the factory roof. This unavoidable fall put him in hospital on and off for the rest of his life.
Christopher Cox, V.C. died 28th April 1959 aged 69, the father of eight children.
In 2006 Mr Philippe Drouin of the Somme Rembrance Association started to organise a plaque that was to be laid at a remembrance ceremony to mark Christopher's V.C. as well as to honour those who fell whilst liberating his home village of Achiet le Grand. On the 17th March 2007 the unveiling of a plaque of remembrance to Christopher's V.C. and those who fell at Achiet le Grand was witnessed and saw a well attended ceremony. The photo's below are a few from the event, showing (from left to right) the reading of the names of those who fell, laying of the wreaths, the plaque itself and a lovely representation of the Old Guard standing next to the New Guard. Later this year another ceremony is planned in Christopher's home town of King's Langley.
Christopher's grandson, Steve Cox, has a website which also includes transcripts of the original recommendations from several Officers and NCO's who were witness to his bravery.
Mary Hallett has also written a biography on Christopher Cox, V.C. called 'Without Hesitation' that can be purchased from Amazon and other such outlets.
The reading of the names of the fallen and laying of the wreaths
The plaque and the old and new guards
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