The date is August 1914. The British Expeditionary Force is in France and You're in the Royal Field Artillery. You're riding alongside one of the battery's gun limbers on its way to the assigned position on the east side of Mons, Belgium. This begins your journey into the Hell they called World War One. To purchase this historical memoir go to https://createspace.com/3649268

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Fred's life after the war


I have received accolades from family and friends on publishing “The Great Promise”, although rewarding, the success would have been sweeter if my father would have been able to share this adventure with me. He passed away in 2006, two years before I was given the journal. I’ll never know if he was aware of this father’s exploits during the war, or for that matter, if he knew the journal existed. Indeed it would have been interesting to know the answers to these questions.

Following active duty my grandfather returned to his civilian occupation as an electrician. At one point he was involved in rewiring the Parliament Building and Buckingham Palace in London. There is a reliable family rumor that during the rewiring of the Parliament, my grandfather took a lunch break and sat on the throne of England while eating his cheese sandwich.
     By 1922 climatic conditions in England had degraded, continuing to adversely affect my grandfather’s lungs, already damaged by exposure to gas. This postwar environment drove a difficult decision to emigrate from England, with either the United States or Australia as appealing destinations. Many years later, during a conversation with my paternal uncle, I was astonished to learn that the Frederick Coxen family’s destiny was determined in 1922 by the toss of a coin! It was at this point that the family had boarded a ship bound for the United States out of Southampton, England.
     Upon arriving in New York harbor, they were processed through Ellis Island. The family moved to Detroit, Michigan, to stay with one of my grandfather’s relatives. While living in Detroit he participated in at least one Memorial Day parade, which takes place on the 30th of May each year to honor fallen soldiers. (Figure 21)
     He worked in various jobs in the area until he landed one working for a man that blended automotive polishes and waxes and sold them to Ford Motor Company. Along with product blending responsibilities, he also double as a salesman and called on the Ford buyer. During one of their meetings the buyer suggested that if my grandfather started his own business, he would rather buy from him than the current supplier.
     In 1930, he started his own company, Excelda Manufacturing and true to his word, the Ford buyer did purchase product from Excelda. Through the years I often wondered why my grandfather named his company Excelda. I asked both my father and uncle and neither one had an answer, which seemed strange since they worked with him from the company’s inception. It is family lore that Fred met and shook Henry Ford’s hand.
     As was common with many enterprises during World War II, in order to meet the growing needs of a country at war, my grandfather converted the business to a tool and die shop. For a time, the facility manufactured parts for a military bomber being assembled in Detroit’s Willow Run Airport. He was also very influential in selling War Bonds to help finance the war. After the war Fred G. Coxen received the Distinguished Service Medal for the company’s contributions during the war.
     After the war ended and my father and uncle returned home after serving in the US Navy, he retired without ceremony, and handed the keys to the business over to his sons.
     Although retired he remained active and at one point he became involved in a Florida land development project. Along with three partners, they planned a development called “Santa Barbara Shores”, which was located in the southern section of Pompano Beach. The development took place during the 1950s and each new home had a minimum of 1,350 sq ft and had a starting price of $20,000 dollars.
     Excelda continues to be owned and managed by family members, retaining Ford Motor Company as an important customer.

To the best of my knowledge, there were at least two occasions when my grandparents returned to England to visit relatives. I don’t believe he took advantage of these opportunities to fulfill the promise made at the onset of his active military duty. However, in 1938 he drafted a letter to the RFA Records, Woolwich, England requesting any information they may have on George Millington, he wanted get in touch with Old George and hopes that they could meet when he visited England that summer. I do not know if that meeting ever took place. I wondered what happened to George so I did some investigation and found that he survived the war and remained in the RFA until retirement. To qualify for a military pension he accepted a reduction in rank from 2nd Lieutenant to Sergeant Major. 
     My conversations about my grandfather’s involvement in the Great War, either active or inactive, with any senior family members never evolved, therefore the box of mementos is my only link to this phase of my grandfather’s life.
     I was thirteen when he died of lung cancer in 1960.The doctors attributed this fatality to damaging gas exposure during the war, combined with cigarette smoking. My grandmother remained with us for a few more years, at which point she was laid to rest alongside my grandfather, in a small cemetery in Pompano Beach, Florida.
     To use a quote from Douglas McArthur, “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away”, which is what happens to most soldiers. When they die, their names and exploits are memories housed by family or friends, until they too depart life, taking the memories with them. What remains of the soldier’s life are the few personal items saved as well as archived military records.
     Captain Fred G. Coxen had faded from existence until 2008 when his journal brought him back to life. Publishing his story insures his immortality as a piece of British and American history.
     When researchers view his journal and military documents, now housed in a museum, his name will be remembered in a footnote or bibliography.
     There is a lesson to be learned from this, and that is the importance of writing down your stories. Perhaps they will not include historical content, but they will carry on your life for future generations.
     Many soldiers perform heroic tasks without recognition and thereby end up as footnotes in a sea of military records, such as George Millington. Their names are not found among the elite honored for their heroism, like Frederick Holmes, who received the Victoria Cross for bravery for carrying a badly wounded comrade two miles to safety, and then returned to his battalion to find even more wounded. He placed one man on a horse of an artillery gun team in an attempt to get him to safety; but somewhere in the dark he lost him. He himself was badly wounded during the Battle of Le Cateau. [1]
     For the majority of soldiers, they just fade away, and remain unknown except by friends and family. Over time their names will be but a branch on a family tree, their exploits and accomplishments lost.
     However, by publishing my grandfather’s story, his name and deeds will live on through eternity, and become a small fraction of both British and American history.

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