Stoker George’s World War One Grave is official for the first time

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AN official war grave will be part of the Remembrance events for the first time at St Mary’s, Shenley, Milton Keynes, this month.

The day starts with a traditional service before a gathering at the war memorial outside the church. After an act of remembrance, there is an all-age service, exploring themes of remembrance, and praying for peace.

George Cox’s grave.

The day starts with a traditional service before a gathering at the war memorial outside the church. After an act of remembrance, there is an all-age service, exploring themes of remembrance, and praying for peace.

“We try and make sure there is something for everyone regardless of their age or tradition. People can come for a short time or stay for the whole morning,” says The Revd Sharon Grenham-Thomson, the Team Vicar for Watling Valley Ecumenical Partnership. The Sunday before St Mary’s hosts the whole Watling Valley for a Remembered in Love service. “This is an opportunity for all who have either been bereaved in the previous year, or those who remember loved ones on an ongoing basis, to come to church for a creative, contemplative service,” says Sharon. “During this time together we read out the names of all those to be remembered, and members of their family can come forward to collect a sprig of rosemary as a symbol of remembrance.

“Some people have names read out decades after the death, and find it a great support. This is attended by folk of all ages and backgrounds, some church-goers, some not.”
Meanwhile the grave of George Cox, a Leading Stoker from the Royal Navy, in the church yard at St Mary’s has been officially recognised by the War Graves Commisison this year. As a stoker leading a team of men shovelling coal into the engines of the ship, George was below the waterline. Stokers stood no chance if they hit a mine. His story is based on an article from the Bucks Standard from 15 July 1916, census returns and George’s war records.

The Cox family were from Launton near Bicester, and re-located to Shenley Church End in about 1900 to 1901. Three of the Cox brothers, George, Charlie and Fred are listed on the Shenley War Memorial. Charlie was in the Australian Navy for 14 years, and served in the Royal Navy before that. He lived to be 80.
George was born in Deddinton on 18 February 1877 and joined the Navy in 1897. His first ship was HMS Diadem, where

HMS Diadem is pictured. Photo: The National Museum Royal Navy

he started as a stoker second class, shovelling coal in high temperatures in the engine room. He travelled the world working on 13 different ships, working his way up to become a leading stoker first class. At the start of the First World War he served on HMS Southampton, sailing through shore batteries that were shooting at ships and dense minefields.

From there he moved to HMS Canada, a ship fired by oil. He no longer had to shovel coal but had a more technical job keeping the engines running. However, years of coal dust had taken their toll and George ended up in hospital with tuberculosis.

He also suffered a nervous breakdown – what we would now call post traumatic stress disorder – from the horrible conditions and fear of waiting for an explosion that never came. Invalided out of the Navy, he was sent home, but he died of TB a few weeks later, aged just 38. Although he died in Shenley, it was agreed that he lost his life because of his military service.
With many families losing sons in the War, the funeral was an event, showing how all service men’s efforts were appreciated. The Last Post was played and that evening the Shenley ringers rang a half peal with muffled bells and the church flag was flown at half mast.