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Devon County

Devonshire Rgt.

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Parish Records




War Memorials


by William Wylie


Tracing the history of men who served in the 2nd Boer War can be very difficult, the exception being those men who were regular soldiers in the British Army. We are most grateful to William Wylie and other members of  his family for sharing historic photos and military documents with us, giving us a rare insight into the life of a Victorian soldier.


When we left Sergeant William Cox of the 1st Battalion, the Devonshire Regiment, at the end of Part 1 of our story, he was still in Ladysmith. It was some weeks after the siege had ended, but he was only just beginning to recover from the effects of starvation and other privations which had touched every man, woman and child trapped in the town.


Like all the British soldiers trapped there, he was just an emaciated shadow of his former self and worse than that, his spirits had become worn down by protracted imprisonment within the confines of a very small town, surrounded and outnumbered by an enemy whose military tactics the British had never met before and did not know how to counter.


In the final sentence of his letter to his brother and sister, this experienced and battle-hardened soldier summed up his current state of mind precisely when he wrote: "we can't compete with outsiders yet."


But at some point  William Cox's brother Charlie of the 2nd Battalion, the Devonshire Regiment, had arrived in Ladysmith with the relief column and the two brothers met at last. Not only that - they went to a photographer's studio and re-enacted their meeting for the camera - and for the folks back home!


Will Cox with his brother Charlie Cox

Sergeant Will Cox and his brother Charlie Cox,

of the 2nd Battalion, the Devonshire Regiment.

© William Wylie


William Samuel Cox was born in the December Quarter of 1864 in Stonehouse - now part of Plymouth but then a separate entity. His father, also named William, had been born in Dawlish and at 11 years old, was already working as an agricultural labourer. He married Emma Mary Stocker, a girl from the tiny hamlet of Ashcombe, just outside Dawlish, and moved to Plymouth where he found employment as a cab driver.


By 1881, his son, who seems to have been known as "Will" within the family, was working as a baker's errand boy in Teignmouth - not because he had left home but because the family had left Plymouth and now lived there. His father had initially found work as a labourer, but the town was becoming a thriving resort and soon, he was driving cabs and coaches again.


But 1881 turned out to be a critical year for young Will Cox. It was the year that the British Army reinvented itself - out went the old, in came the new and what had been the 11th Regiment of Foot disappeared, only to reappear as the Devonshire Regiment. Local newspapers were full of inspiring stories about the future of the newly-formed  local regiment and the need for enthusiastic young recruits,  so the following year, 18 year-old Will, no doubt inspired by what he had heard and read, set off for Exeter and on 20 November 1882 took the Queen's shilling and became 337 Private William Samuel Cox of the 1st Battalion, the Devonshire Regiment.

From this point, for the next 25 years, Will's history and that of the Devonshire Regiment follow the same path.


Emma Charlotte
Dawlish 1863
William Samuel ("Will")
Stonehouse 1864
Hannah Bella*
Stonehouse 1873
Charles James ("Charlie")
Plymstock 1878
Alice Maud Mary
Teignmouth 1880
Thirza Jane
Teignmouth 1882


"There was an earlier child of the same name who died.




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