*LCMSDS Vimy Week Feature* – Laura Fraser Reflects on her Great-Great Uncle, Private Claude H. Cox, 7th Battalion Canadian Infantry

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Laura Fraser is an Teaching Associate of LCMSDS. She holds a BA in History from Queen’s University and her BEd from the University of Ottawa, and is an accredited educator with the Ontario College of Teachers. In addition to teaching, Laura has worked with Heritage Toronto and the Historica-Dominion Institute. You can follow Laura through her blog http://blackboardbattlefield.com and on Twitter: @lsfraser. The following is her recent blog entry which reflects on the service of her Great-Great Uncle who fought at Vimy Ridge.

April 9th. 2012: Private Claude H. Cox, 7th Battalion Canadian Infantry

Vimy Ridge has always held a special place for me as a Canadian historian and educator. Beyond its status as a nation-maker though, Vimy has a personal pull as well.

My Grandma Fraser’s uncle (making him my Great-Great Uncle) fought with the 7th Battalion, Canadian Infantry at Vimy Ridge. He survived the initial attack, only to be fatally wounded 3 days after. In many ways I attribute my love of history to Claude and his sacrifice. In honour of him and the 7000 wounded and 3578 dead, my post on this 95th Anniversary of Vimy Ridge is about Claude: a real person and story in the greater Canadian myth of Vimy Ridge.

Claude was born October 26, 1891 in Manchester, England to Owen William Cox and Ella Wills Wookey. His father worked as Receiver at the Manchester Grammar School. He had an older brother (my Great-Grandfather), Reginald Owen Cox and two sisters: one older, Kathleen, and one younger, Dorothy. His sister Kathleen tragically died when she was 8 years old (and Claude 7) when, playing with matches with a neighbourhood boy, she set her petticoats on fire.

Family lore suggests that Claude felt constrained in his life in England, and sometime in the early 1900s emigrated to Canada. His brother Reginald arrived in Canada in 1907; a passenger list has Claude arriving (perhaps for the first time, although it is not certain) in 1910 with his destination as Red Deer, Alberta. Census data has him living in St. Catharines, Ontario in 1912 as a Farm Labourer.

We know he left Canada in 1912 with his destination set as “Los Angeles, California.” His intention was a horseback trip down the North American West Coast. (With a trip like this, it’s not hard to see his personality, and how he may have felt constrained in England.) He was still on this trip when war broke out in 1914.

We know that Claude was rejected entry to Canada at White Rock, British Columbia on the 8 February 1915. After this, things get a little fuzzy. The Imperial War Museum biography of Claude has him enlisting with “the 72 Battalion Seaforth Highlanders of Canada on 22 February 1915, subsequently transferring to 11 Battalion Canadian Mounted Rifles.” His Attestation Papers, however, have him enlisting on 19 March, 1915, with the signing officer being from the Canadian Mounted Rifles and the regimental number associated with 7th Battalion.

The papers list him as 5ft 9 1/4 inches, with chest measurements of 36 1/2 inches and his range of expansion 1 1/2 inches. His complexion is listed as Fair, with blue eyes and brown hair. He has a vaccination mark on his left arm, and a scar on his left shin.

In 1916, Claude relinquished his rank of Corporal and joined the Lewis Gun Section – the Imperial War Museum biography indicates this was in order to see action on the Western Front. His rank in the Lewis Gun is confirmed by his letters home.

“That seems to be a fine advance we have made down on the Somme. I have not seen any of the details in the paper but —from all I have heard it seems good. Apparently Fritz withdrew under pressure. He will have to do considerably more withdrawing before we get through with him. His strength is tried out every night along the line somewhere by continual raiding and he does not like it. I wish I could bust-out and tell you the story of a raid  but the censor would not pass it so you will have to read the story in the newspapers. Being in the Lewis section I have no place in the small night raids. They are handled by the bombers and bayonet men whilst we stand to and take whatever Fritz sees fit to throw over in the nature of shells. Here I had better cease before I say too much.”

We know also of his plans for the end of the war, in a letter to his father (referring to a letter from his sister, Dorothy – here, Dorry):

“I still cannot think of any particular want that Dorry can supply. She says I am lucky if I want nothing. I want a lot of things – particularly the end of the war, a suit of civvies, a clean shirt, a square meal, a quiet fireside, a home, a retreat from the crowds and a beaten Hun. I have nothing more to write about so here’s the best of love  to all.”

Claude participated in the Battle of Vimy Ridge, and wrote a brief letter sometime after the attack to his father, sending along a few relics from the battlefield – relics that did not make it with the letters through history.

“Relics from the battlefields of Souchez Carency and Vimy  Ridge. Where the French lost 100,000 men in the earlier days of the war. We are now holding Vimy Ridge, near Lens and not very far from Arras. My battalion is here. Am sending this in haste by one of our Corporals  who is going on leave. The bayonet is French a relic of the fierce  hand-to-hand fighting which took place here 12 months ago. You will be  able to clean it up with emery paper. The handle I believe is of nickel. The shell fragments are modern, that is they fell within the last two days, one of ‘em un-pleasantly close. Very quiet here, however I am  quite well and uninjured. Mr. Lees and your parcel came all right. You do  not seem to have got my letter telling you so. No letter from you lately, but two from Dorry. Cold, dry, frosty weather. Written in the front lines.”

This was Claude’s final letter from the front. On the 13 April 1917 he was wounded by a shell blast and removed to No. 7 Canadian General Hospital. According to letters from W. A. Ferguson, the Chaplain at the hospital, by the 18 or 19 of April, the gangrene in his right leg had grown so bad that amputation was necessary. (The Imperial War Museum lists both legs as being amputated.) Ferguson wrote:

“Unfortunately his strength seemed unequal to the shock and he died peacefully yesterday afternoon, a day and a half (I think) after his operation. I saw him a couple of times the day before he died and was with him at night for awhile. The nurse also sent me a message at 6 a.m. yesterday, at his request, and I went over and sat with him holding his hand for awhile and talking to him. He was very weak but quite clear, brave, and peaceful and talked about his home, about you, about his little sister to whom he wished his love sent; and also about a young lady in Victoria B.C. who he said had “kept him straight” by her affection. He asked me to write to you, and tell you anything I could. He was strangely alive at this time and was even smoking his pipe and apparently enjoying it–though of course I knew, and I think he did, that there was little chance of his pulling through. The only thing noticeable except pallor and weakness was that he said his head was full of fancies, and occasionally for a minute or two he drifted off to describe the old friends he had (he said) just met outside–and then he would realize that he was wandering and become perfectly clear again. We talked about his prayers too, and he seemed to be trusting God. I was very greatly attracted to him and so was his nurse, and I feel I should like to express my deepest sympathy for the loss of so gallant and fine a son. I saw him again about 9:30 a.m. and he was weaker but very cheerful. The next time (3 p.m.) he was unconscious, and just slept away in the afternoon.”

A later letter, still to Claude’s father, read:

“You understand probably that the so-called “gas gangrene” is a very rapid and deadly, though painless infection of a wound, which arises quite suddenly, it is believed from contact with the  soil of the trenches. It was this which caused his death. There is at  present no antidote known. Amputation is the only hope, and so rapid is the infection 6 or 8 hours sometimes between its first appearance and the fatal result that even amputation naturally often fails. I know that your dear son was tenderly nursed and cared for up to the last, and that his mind was evidently at peace. I don’t know that there is anything finer or happier that one can say about death than that.”

Claude died April 20, 1917 of post-operative shock at age 25. He is buried at Grave 0.148 at Etaples Military Cemetery.

When we, as Canadians, think about Vimy Ridge, we think of a great Canadian victory. Sir Arthur Currie, the creeping barrage, and extensive rehearsals. We think of all the Canadian divisions fighting as one united Corps: a nation-making moment. Rarely do we think of the British artillery and 51st Highland Division who also participated. Although with our collective memory of the First World War, loss, death and mourning are ever-present, with Vimy it is often a celebration of nationhood. Rarely, with Vimy, do we think of the 7000 wounded and 3578 dead, including my Great-Great Uncle Claude.

Today, on Vimy’s 95th Anniversary, take the time to remember and honour the over 10,000 casualties from one of our most mythologized Canadian moments.



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caitlin.mcwilliams

1 Comment

  1. Isadora -  August 11, 2012 - 1:45 am 855

    a word about the war even after service in the home army durnig the Second War. He started to talk once I came around after joining Army Cadets (he died just before I joined the reserve army) but never about the first war, just the second.Years ago I became interested in military history and found a link to my present Regiment and the Battalion he was in in the 1914-1919.Both of our Regiments were part of the same Brigade/Division as my Regiments predecessors were the 31st Infantry Battalion CEF.During the battle of Vimy my regiment crossed no mans land to their first objective and once there dug in while the 27th Battalion passes by and took the lead to their objective to our front.While visiting Vimy I was able to locate where our two battalions ( as part of 2nd Div)) were positioned and walked the ground my Grandfather fought to his objective (the town of Thelus) The distance was about a mile but in 1917 it took 4 days and hundreds of lives.There is a small cemetery, small by WWI standards, that is one of the least visited, because it is off the beaten path {at Google Earth 50 (degrees) 21’ 4.42” N, and 24 (degrees) 47’ 17.28” E} that contains the remains of 31st and 27th Battalion soldiers, named and unknown, that is in eye view of Thelus.The monument is at 50(Deg)22’ 46.95”N and 2(Deg)46’ 23.17”If any get there look it up.The monument was in very rough shape and many of the names ( of those with no known grave) engraved had been weathered off. The restoration was greatly needed for sure.Glad they did.Promptly at 5:30 a.m. on a wet Easter Monday 90 years ago, 27,000 Canadian soldiers in four divisions climbed out of their trenches on a low but long ridge that would become synonymous with Canadian history and military pride. Vimy Ridge would become the first significant military reversal of the war and the beginning of the end for the German forces in France.At 9:10 a.m. as part of the 6th Brigade (the Iron Sixth), Canadian Second Division, more than 1,000 soldiers from the 31st Infantry Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force, (predecessors to the South Alberta Light Horse) crossedno man’s land into a hail of German bullets. Often leaning forward, as if walking against a fierce blowing snow storm, (many waiting for that bullet with their name on it), these brave men took the ridge that French and British troops had failed to take earlier in the war at a cost of more than 100,000 French lives.Some 3,598 Canadians over the next four days (April 9 to 12) would never see home again, and another 7,104 would be wounded including a large number of 31st Battalion soldiers, some from Medicine Hat. By the war’s end in 1918, two Teel boys from Medicine Hat, both of whom served with the 31st Battalion, would have their names engraved on the Riverside Veterans Memorial Park monument along with several others from that war.King Edward VIII unveiled the magnificent Vimy monument erected on the highest feature of the ridge on land granted to Canada on July 26, 1936. Engraved on the monument are the names of 16,000 Canadians killed inthe First World War that have no known graves. Amongst them is the name of the Unknown Soldier now resting in the tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Ottawa.After 70 years of neglect and degradation by the elements of time and weather, the Canadian government undertook a restoration program ending with the rededication of this huge memorial Monday to mark the 90th year of the battle. In attendance on Monday were members of the South Alberta Light Horse, a regiment that proudly bears the Battle Honour “Vimy, 1917” along with 22 other first war battle honours from its total historic register of 39.The regiment, having served this country and city as “Citizen Soldiers” from 1885, First World War, Second World War, and Afghanistan in 2006 is proud to be part of this 90th anniversary that established Canada as a country on the world stage. The sacrifice they made in that battle, made us what we are today. Jim Ogston, Master Warrant OfficerSouth Alberta Light HorseMuseum curator, Medicine Hat

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