All wars are terrible, but the Great War seems particularly so. In 1914 almost a whole generation of very young men were thrown into a conflict for which they were ill-prepared. Romantic tales of daring cavalry charges and valorous knightly combats on the field of battle were scant preparation for a war where death was on an industrial scale and came from the unseen sniper, the howitzer miles away, or a creeping cloud of poison gas. Yet men endured in the squalor of the trenches, and some survived; survived to come home to the ‘Land fit for Heroes’ of the politicians promised. But those that came home came with the unending memories of what they had seen and suffered. Many could not even tell their closest loved ones of what they had endured and took their memories to the grave. Now their lived memory of the Great War is no more, the last veterans have passed on and we are left with only the flimsy evidence of their passing. That is why now, almost a hundred years after the event it is so pleasing to have found an unpublished account of one man’s experience of that most terrible war.
Frederick Coxen was a professional soldier, enlisting in 1905 and serving until 1911 in the Royal Field Artillery. But being in the Army Reserves he was recalled in 1914, and went on to serve until his final discharge in 1920. His war service makes for interesting reading – serving through the early battles of Mons, First Ypres and Neuve Chapelle, he saw a war of movement stagnate into a statis as trenches and barbed wire brought all movement to an end. Commissioned in the field, Coxen also served in home defence with an anti-aircraft battery, and later back in France, as one of the defenders of Paris. At war’s end he was attached to the Royal Air Force, and ended his military career as a captain in February 1920. To have survived the war might well be considered lucky, but that sort of luck comes at a price, and for Fred it was to see the horrors of war close-up, his friends killed and injured and all the suffering that battle brings. Fred lived a long and full life but as the memoir he wrote in …… demonstrates, his Great War experience
never left him. Like so many veterans of 1914 -1918 war was a constant presence.
These valuable memories might never have seen the light of day had it not been for Fred’s grandson and name sake, Frederick L. Coxen, it is through his tenacity and commitment that his grandfather speaks to us today.
Emeritus Professor of Modern History
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