2Lt Cecil H Coxe - 6 Squadron Royal Air Force
The story of 2nd Lt Cecil H Coxe is an interesting one. He gained his commission as a pilot (temporary 2nd Lt Special Reserve on probation) at the tender age of 18 on 08/12/1915 and was confirmed in his rank on the 15/05/1916. I'm not sure when he was posted to 6 Squadron in Abeele but he didn't last long enough for an entry to be made in the squadron's register of officers. His death was on 1st July 1916. Despite his short time with the squadron, he gets two mentions in the official squadron operations book, which I will summarise below.
As a prelude to the attack at the Somme valley (later called the Battle of the Somme, lasting between July and November 1916), on the 25th June 1916 hostile kite balloons were attacked along the whole of the British front. 6 Squadron, along with each of the other squadrons supporting the Second Army, took part in the attacks in the north around Ypres, sending four BE2c aircraft fitted out with thirty phosphorous bombs in two carriers. The four machines from No. 6 Squadron went without observers because of the weight if the bombs and were piloted by Lieutenants A. Brooke, N.M. Brearley, M.D. Barber and C.H. Coxe. It was arranged that two balloons were to be attacked by the squadron, each by a pair of B.E.2c’s escorted by two fighting machines (6 Squadron shared the aerodrome at Abeele with 29 Squadron, which flew DH2 fighters). No. 6 Squadron’s machines duly attacked the balloons in their area, but without success. The operations over the whole front resulted in the destruction of five balloons, four by means of Le Prieur rockets and one by phosphorous bombs.
For most of WW1, 6 Squadron was stationed at Abeele and supported the allied forces (artillery initially and the cavalry in the latter part of the conflict) in the fighting around Ypres. However, on the first day of the Somme attack (01/07/1916), only weeks after the squadron had been brought up to a strength of eighteen aircraft, including some of the latest BE2d machines, three of its aircraft (along with nine BE2s from other squadrons based near Amiens, closer to Cambrai) were involved in a long range morning bombing attack on the railway system around the city of Cambrai as part of the initial allied attack. Because of the large distance between Abeele and the Somme valley as well as the weight of the bombs 6 Squadron aircraft were carrying, once again the pilots had to fly without observers and they also had to stop at Vert Galand aerodrome (between Doullons and Amiens) in order to refuel before joining up with the other aircraft. During the attack, Cambrai station and the lines near it were hit with seven bombs and a train was blown up between Aubigny au Bac and Cambrai by a pilot of No.7 Squadron who bombed it from 900 feet.
As a matter of interest,The engine of the BE2c consumed about 5 pints of oil each hour and when flown on long-distance missions it was standard practice for it to be overfilled by as much as 5 pints (total of 30 pints for the RAF type 1a engine).
No. 6 squadron’s machines were piloted by Lieutenants C.H. Coxe, R.J. Bennett and A. Gordon-Brown and each carried two 112 lb bombs, four of which were dropped on the objective. Coxe failed to return and was last seen flying over the Central Station at Cambrai. Initially he was listed as Missing in Action but was later reported as having died in a German dressing station. As this happened so far away from Abeele, plus the fact that this was the only time that 6 Squadron machines took part in the Battle of the Somme, the death of 2nd Lt Coxe did not appear on the official squadron's casualty list that was maintained in the field and was only added to its records after the war. His name is included on the Squadron's Roll of Honour.
In summary, 2nd Lt Coxe was one of the youngest pilots ever to fly with 6 Squadron and was the only 6 Squadron pilot to have died in the Battle of the Somme. It was asking a lot to expect an inexperienced pilot to attempt such a dangerous mission over a huge distance, especially as German railway yards were always well defended with anti-aircraft guns and, because of the weight of the bombs, he was unable to take an observer who could look after and defend him. He really didn't stand a chance. But then, the same could be said for hundreds of other pilots (in both World Wars) who were sent into battle with a minimum of flight experience.
Cecil’s brother, Lt H C H Coxe was a Lt in the RN and went down with HMS Formidable. There was a third brother, Arthur Coxe who was in the Royal Artillery and he too was killed.
Incidentally, Cecil Coxe's name is included on the WW1 memorial at St Mary’s Church, Shefford. The Coxe family apparently attended the church at Shefford, even though they lived at Watlington.
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