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Grantham man pays tribute to great uncle, a hero of the Great War

Barrie Cox with his painting of his great uncle Harry Cox who was killed in Palestine in the First World War.

Barrie Cox with his painting of his great uncle Harry Cox who was killed in Palestine in the First World War.

Barrie Cox never knew his great-uncle but feels very close to the young man who was killed in the desert in the First World War.

Harry Cox was only 22 when he was killed in Palestine. While many thousands of men were losing their lives in the mud and trenches of the Western Front, others were fighting the Ottoman empire in the heat and sand of the Middle East.

Barrie, who lives with his wife Janet in Manners Street, Grantham, has his great-uncle’s medals and a number of photographs of him in uniform and another of him in a local football team. He also has the letter sent to Harry’s family signed by George V after he was killed. Harry was one of eight children and was born in Billingborough.

Barrie talks fondly of Harry, who fought in a conflict few people are aware of when they think of the First World War. Barrie refers to the war in Palestine as “the forgotten war”.

He said: “I have always felt very close to him but never knew him. To me it was the forgotten war. They would go out on patrol in the desert for days on end. From what my father told me they were strafed by Turkish aircraft and Harry was mortally wounded.”

Harry went to school in Billingborough before moving to lodgings in Grantham where he became an apprentice in the grocery trade at Cliffords in Market Place. One of his colleagues was Alfred Roberts, the father of Margaret Thatcher.

On the outbreak of war, Harry joined the Lincolnshire Yeomanry and was shipped out to the Middle East on HMT Mercian, a fruit ship converted to carry troops and horses. During the journey, the ship was attacked by a U-boat and about 100 men were killed or wounded.

After months of inactivity Harry’s first taste of battle was possibly an attack on the town of Gaza.

Barrie said: “Harry was involved in long reconnaissance rides in great heat over very difficult country and covering 50 miles, the horses receiving no water for 24 hours. The third battle of Gaza started on October 30, 1917. Harry, alas, did not live to see this, he was mortally wounded by gunfire and died on October 16, 1917, aged just 22 years. He is buried in Port Said cemetery; the photos show his temporary grave and his final resting place, also the plaque that each family received. His mother, my great grandmother Sarah, was also sent his canvas wallet with many photos of himself and comrades in arms.”

Harry had brothers who also fought in the war. John was killed in France and his body never recovered. His name can be seen on the Menin Gate. Barrie remembers seeing another brother George, who survived the war, in 1948, when Barrie was about 12.

Barrie is a keen amateur artist and has lots of his paintings around the home, including one of Harry which he painted from a photograph.

In this, the 100th year since the outbreak of the Great War, Barrie says he will pass on Harry’s medals, plaque, and photos when the time comes. Barrie aims to display the medals, plaque and photos in a box frame.

Do you have any First World War connections? Tell us your story.

Email graham.newton@granthamjournal.co.uk or call 01476 541439.

 

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