The Cumberland Wilcox Family Three Generations of Military Service 1851-1918
by Linda Ayres
Edward Richard Cumberland Wilcox was born on the 3rd October 1830 in Lucknow in Bengal, India. His christening took place on the 14th November 1830 in Benares (also known as Banaras) in West Bengal. He was the son of Margaret Ellen and John Theodore Wilcox, who was born on the 19th May 1808 in London, and died on the 17th May 1845 at Sagar (formerly Saugor), Madhya Pradesh in central India.
In 1851 Edward R. C. Wilcox joined the Bengal Infantry East India Company’s service as a cadet. On the 13th June 1852 while he was stationed in Meerut, Lahore, Punjab, India, he became a 2nd Lieutenant with the 49th Regiment of the Bengal Native Infantry. On the 18th July 1856 he became a Lieutenant. In 1857 Lieutenant Wilcox was with his regiment in Meean Meer, when the Indian Mutiny began. On the 13th May 1857 soldiers went to Meean Meer to disarm the 49th Regiment of Native Infantry and other regiments believed to be at risk of mutiny. Lieutenant Wilcox received the Indian Mutiny Medal for his services in operations against the mutineers.
On the 3rd October 1862 Lieutenant Wilcox (aged 32) married Catherine Mary Kelly (aged 18) at Lucknow. Catherine was born on the 25th September 1844 at Muttra, Bengal, India. She was the daughter of Mary Ann and William Kelly. During their time in India, Catherine gave birth to eleven children, five girls and six boys.
On the 13th June 1864 Lieutenant Wilcox was promoted to the rank of Captain. He was appointed quartermaster on the 28th September 1865 with the 35th Bengal Native Infantry. Captain Wilcox subsequently transferred to the Bengal Staff Corps, and was posted to Bombay, for twenty months on the 29th June 1879. Over the next 3 years he rose quickly through the ranks until in 1882 when he held the rank of Colonel. On the 9th February 1883 he retired with the honorary rank of Major General of the Bengal Staff Corps on full pay.
After his retirement Major General Wilcox and Catherine and four of their eleven children moved to 66 Chaucer Road, Bedford. The Cambridge Independent Press, 19th September 1885, reported that Major General Wilcox had been declared bankrupt.
Their youngest son, Frederick Herbert Cumberland Wilcox, was born in Bedford on the 28th June 1888. A few months later, on the 10th November 1888, Major General Wilcox died aged 58 years, at 27 Ashburnham Road, Bedford. His burial took place at Foster Hill Road Cemetery on the 14th November 1888. His grave is unmarked. Grave Ref: G2.112.
The 1901 census shows Catherine living with her married daughter, Bessie (aged 28) and her husband Arthur Steinmitz (aged 27), at 9 Woburn Road, Bedford. Two of Catherine’s children, Eleanor (aged 19) and Frederick (aged 12) were also living with them.
Catherine and Major General Wilcox’s seven sons and two grandsons joined the Army. Some fought in the Second Boer War and some in World War One. One son died of disease, another son was gassed, another suffered from a mental breakdown and two sons and one of the grandsons were killed in action.
THE SONS OF CATHERINE AND MAJOR GENERAL WILCOX
James Ernest Cumberland Wilcox was the fifth son of Catherine and Major General Wilcox. He was born on the 4th December 1877 in Bengal, India. James attended Wellington College in Berkshire. In 1900 he joined the Army and was dispatched to Cape Colony (present day South Africa) where he served as a Private in the Cape Mounted Rifles. He fought in the Second Boer War which started on the 11th October 1899 and ended on the 31st May 1902.
Private James Wilcox was one of the few survivors who took part in the siege of Wepener, a small village on the western edge of the Orange Free State near the Basutoland (now Lesotho) border. The Freeman’s Journal of Saturday 14th April 1900 reported: “Friday afternoon of the 13th of April 1900 the Boers attacked vigorously, and were repulsed with great loss. It is stated four Commandants have been killed and two guns injured in our gun fire”. The Boers abandoned the siege of Wepener. It was later reported that the Boers fled north-eastwards along the Ladybrand Road, their numbers being stated at between four and five thousand.
From May to July 1900 Private Wilcox took part in the operations in the Orange River Colony. The Evening Star and Daily Herald, 31st July 1900 reported: “The unconditional surrender of 5,000 Boers in the Orange River Colony is far and away the best piece of news which South Africa has provided since the occupation of Pretoria”. From August to September 1900 he took part in the operations in the Transvaal west of Pretoria, including the action at Wittebergen.
On the 19th May 1900 Private Wilcox was appointed to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant of the 2nd Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regiment, which was attached to the West African Frontier Force.
On the 27th July 1903 2nd Lieutenant Wilcox took part in the operations in the town of Burmi, Northern Nigeria, in what proved to be the war’s most intense battle, which was fought from 11am to early evening. The enemy put up much opposition and there was house to house fighting.
The Town was completely destroyed. The ex-Sultan of Sokoto, with most of the chiefs, was among the enemies killed, which in all numbered 700.
The British casualties were heavy too; ten men were killed and seventy-two wounded. For this service 2nd Lieutenant Wilcox was awarded the war medal. He also received the Queen’s medal with four clasps and the King’s medal with two clasps.
On the 19th September 2nd Lieutenant Wilcox died aged 25 years, from black water fever, at Boutchi in Northern Nigeria. It was at the request of his mother that the remains of her gallant son were brought from where they had rested for over a year and buried in Foster Hill Road Cemetery, Bedford, where his father was buried.
Thousands of people turned out on the afternoon of the 15th November 1904 to witness the arrival at Midland Railway Station, Bedford, from West Africa, of 2nd Lieutenant Wilcox. Weedon Barracks in Northamptonshire provided a gun carriage that carried his coffin. The gun carriage was drawn by six horses; there was three drivers and two gunners, and beside it rode an officer of the Royal Artillery Unit. The coffin was covered with the Union Jack, upon which were laid 2nd Lieutenant Wilcox’s sword and belt.
A detachment of 120 soldiers from the Bedfordshire Regiment under the command of Major Longridge, supported by Captain Stevens, Captain Hood, and Lieutenant Knight, walked alongside the carriage. Sombre music was played on the way to Holy Trinity Church by the Beds. Regimental Band who, during service in Church continued the singing of a hymn, “Let Saints on Earth in Concert Sing.” The Vicar of Holy Trinity, Rev. W. H. Davis, officiated. 2nd Lieutenant. Wilcox’s brothers and sisters were also among the large congregation.
On leaving the Church for the Cemetery, the procession moved slowly along Bromham Road towards Foster Hill Road, to the music of Handel’s “Dead March.” Reaching the entrance to the Cemetery, the soldiers formed a guard of honour. The gun carriage drew up in close proximity to the graveside, the Vicar of Holy Trinity again officiating at the graveside committal service.
The coffin was lowered into the grave amid the many floral tributes covering the graveside, including a large spray of white flowers attached to palm leaves. Officers present were in full uniform, with medals and different decorations. The arms of the military were in reverse during the procession to the Church and the Cemetery, and the drums were draped in black. Then in the midst of the silence and dullness of the darkening skies of a late November afternoon, a forty gun volley was fired, and bugles sounded “The Last Post.” Grave Ref: F3.60
William Cosmo Cumberland Wilcox was born on the 3rd June 1869 in Nowgong, Bengal, India. He joined the Army in 1882 and served in the Royal Irish Fusiliers. He retired as Colour Sergeant in 1904. In 1906 he married Eliza Sophia Stacey in Surrey. The 1911 census shows him working as a jobbing gardener and living in lodgings at 18 Star Street in Paddington, London. William died in 1919 in London.
Edward Alexander Cumberland Wilcox was born on the 26th October 1870 in Sangore in India. He served for 5 years in the Royal Scots Fusiliers 21st Foot and the Royal Irish Fusiliers 21st Foot. He served with his regiment in the Second Boer War. In 1906 Edward went to Canada with his wife Constance and their two sons, Frederick and Edward. The family lived at 123 South Syndicate Avenue, Fort William, Ontario.
In March 1915 he was commissioned a Lieutenant with Kenora’s 98th Regiment. On the 23rd March 1915 he signed his attestation papers in Fort William, Ontario, Canada, with the Canadian Expeditionary Force. He served as Major with the 52nd Battalion and was gassed in 1916. He was one of the seven officers commanding the 52nd Battalion in France and Flanders, from 11th July 1917 to 4th August 1917. In 1918 he was transferred to England, where he was assigned to the 18th Reserve Battalion. In 1919 he was taken ill with pneumonia related to his gassing. He died in on the 9th October 1921, aged 51, in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, from complications from his gassing. His burial took place at Ross Bay Cemetery, Victoria, which is one of Canada’s oldest and largest Victorian cemeteries. Grave S5 E44.
Richard Percival Cumberland Wilcox was born on the 12th March 1873 in Bengal, India. He served as private with the 2nd York and Lancaster Regiment (1900-1912).In 1913 he went to Canada and settled in Kenora, working as a farmer.
When Great Britain declared war on Germany on the 4th August 1914, Canada was automatically at war, along with other nations in the Empire. Richard was 41 years of age when he enlisted on the 11th August 1914. He lied about his age in order to enlist, saying that he was 38 years old. On the 23rd August 1914 Richard boarded one of the trains taking the reservists and volunteers to Valcartier in Quebec, where Canada’s 1st Contingent was being gathered and trained.
In Valcartier Richard signed his attestation form for overseas duty. He was assigned to the Winnipeg-based Royal Winnipeg Rifles, designated the 8th Battalion Canadian Expeditionary Force for service overseas. On October the 3rd 1914 Richard was shipped to England, and arrived in France in mid-February 1915 as part of Canada’s 1st Division attached to the British Army.
Two years of frontline service for a man of his age took a toll on his health. In 1917 he reported to a medical aid station after dropping out of a route march while the battalion was moving from one frontline position to another. He told medical authorities he ‘went to pieces’ on the march. His medical file noted he ‘is very broken down by service. He was diagnosed as suffering from ‘general debility’ with shortness of breath and a weak heart.
Richard was returned to England and transferred to the 18th Reserve Battalion, which served as a training and recuperation unit for western Canada battalions. He was given light duties until his discharge in 1919. His health did not improve. The doctor reviewing his case noted that he was 46 and looked 60. Following his release from service in 1919 Richard moved to Bedford and lived with his sister Bessie and brother-in-law Arthur Steinmetz. Richard never married and died in 1940, aged 67, in Lambeth, London.
Alfred George Cumberland Wilcox was born on the 29th April 1876 in Roskhi, India. In 1901 Alfred married Amelia Thompson at St. Andrews Church, Kensington, London. In 1906 he went to Canada. On the 18th October 1914 he was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant of the 4th Northamptonshire Regiment Army Service Corps – North Midland Divisional Transport and Supply Column. He retired as Captain. The 1911 census showed him as a political agent living at 4 Vallis Way, Frome, in Somerset. He died in 1924 aged 47 years, at Newton Abbot, Devon.
Jack (John) Theodore Cumberland Wilcox was born in 1885 in India. After he left Wellington College in Berkshire he went to the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, where he trained as an officer. On the 5th August 1905 he received his first commission, becoming Captain of the 2nd Battalion, 39th Garhwal Rifles, Indian Army. On the 12th May 1915 Captain John Wilcox was killed in action on the western front near the village of Richebourg, France. His burial took place at St. Vaast Post Military Cemetery, which lies near the village of Richebourg, L’Avoue, Pas de Calais, France, Plot I.B.3.
His memorial cross bears the inscription: ‘We know ‘tis well with you the very brave, the very true’. Capt. John Wilcox is commemorated on the 1914-1919 Roll of Honour in St. Paul’s Church, Bedford, and the memorial in Holy Trinity Church, Bedford.
He was survived by his wife Carmelita whom he had married at Bombay on the 29th August 1913. At the time of his death Carmelita lived at Dove Cottage, Haddenham, Bucks.
Frederick Herbert Cumberland Wilcox was born on the 28th June 1888 in Bedford. He was educated at the United Services College, Westward Ho!, Devon. In 1908 Frederick was promoted to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant of the 6th Battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers. In 1911 he went to Canada and settled in Fort William, now Thunder Bay. He became a Customs Officer in Canada. On the 23rd June 1914 he married Emily Richards of Bristol, Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada.
He returned to England in September 1914 and was appointed a Lieutenant with the Lancashire Regiment. He served in France in 1915 before being seconded as Captain to the 8th Battalion Cheshire Regiment. On the 12th February 1916 the 8th Battalion moved to Mesopotamia, to join the force being assembled near Sheik Sa’ad for the relief of the besieged garrison at Kut al Amara.
Captain Wilcox was killed in action in Mesopotamia on the 14th January 1917. He is commemorated on the Basra Memorial, Iraq, Panel 14 Iraq. He is also commemorated on the Roll of Honour 1914-1919 in St. Paul’s Church, Bedford.
THE SONS OF CONSTANCE AND EDWARD ALEXANDER CUMBERLAND WILCOX
Edward Percival Cumberland Wilcox (1892-1976) was born in Bedford. He was a clerk in the Canadian Bank of Commerce at Melfort, Saskatchewan, when he joined the 52nd (new Ontario) Battalion as a Lieutenant in June 1915. He rose to the rank of Major. He was twice wounded, and was awarded the Military Cross. He returned to the bank after the war and died in Vancouver.
Frederick Alexander Cumberland Wilcox (1895-1916), enlisted in Winnipeg and joined the 16th Battalion and went overseas in October 1914. He received a commission as Lieutenant in December 1914 with the 6th Battalion Northampton Regiment. He was killed in action on the 14th July 1916 while serving in France. He is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial Pier and Face 11A and 11D in France.
On the 12th August 1925 Catherine Wilcox died aged 79 years, at 28 Chaucer Road. She survived her husband by 37 years and six of her sons and one grandson. Her burial took place in Grave Ref: F3.72 a short distance from the grave of her son, James. Two of her sons, John and Frederick, are commemorated on her gravestone.
LEST WE FORGET
Three of the Cumberland Wilcox brothers were killed in World War One, along with millions of others. The horror of the war and its aftermath altered the world for decades, and World War One more than any other war is associated with the so-called ‘war poets’.
John McCrae was a Canadian doctor and poet. He wrote the poem “In Flanders Fields” on the 3rd May 1915 after the death of an artillery officer. The poem remains as poignant today as it was both during the war and immediately after it.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place: and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead, Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved we loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, through poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
Researched and written by Linda S. Ayres
Photograph of Memorial Linda S Ayres
Canada Great War Project. Kenora Great War Project
Allen’s Indian Mail Page 83. The Bombay Gazette November 30th 1852. Harts Army List 1867
The Homeward Mail 20th January 1873. The Homeward Mail 14th Sept 1882.
Englishman’s Overland Mail 30th July 1870
The London Gazette, 27th April 1883. Harts Army List 1888. Volunteer Service Gazette 4th January 1901
The Surrey Mirror and County Post, 23rd October 1903. The Army and Navy Gazette 24th October 1903
Manchester Courier 25th January 1908
The Grantham Journal 24th October 1914. 8332 Supplement to the London Gazette 17th October 1914
Herts At War Great War Commemorations 1914-1918. Bedfordshire Times and Independent May 28th 1915
Photograph of John Theodore Cumberland Wilcox. The Sphere August 7th 1915
Photograph of Frederick Herbert Cumberland Wilcox. The Illustrated London News May 5th 1917
CWG Archives. Family Search. Census Records
Bedfordshire Mercury, 18th November 1904
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