Tom Gridley Cox was born in Greinton, Somerset, on 31st August 1880. He was baptised at St Michael and All Angels, Greinton, by Reverend Barter on 7th November of that year.
Tom’s parents were George and Elizabeth (nee Gridley) Cox. The family lived on Greylake Road, somewhere between the two villages of Greinton and Moorlinch, which are situated on the marshy Somerset Levels about halfway between Bridgwater and Glastonbury. George and Elizabeth were both Somerset-born and George was from nearby Moorlinch. Tom had at least three older brothers: William, John and Edward.
Sadly, Tom’s mother died when he was 15. His brothers had married and left home by the time Tom was 19 but they didn’t go far: one lived next door and another in a nearby cottage. Tom stayed at home with his dad, working as a dairyman at a local dairy farm while George tended to the herd in the fields.
George retired in the 1900s and Tom moved north across the Bristol Channel to live with his eldest brother, William, in Wales. They, together with at least one other man, worked as carmen, delivering goods in horse-drawn vans. In 1911, Tom was recorded living with William and his family at 24 Leckwith Road, Canton, Cardiff.
Tom, 5ft 8in tall and a pipe smoker, was a bell ringer. On 31st August 1903, he rang his first peal for Llandaff & Monmouth Association of Ringers, ringing the treble bell at St John the Baptist, the oldest church in Cardiff, in a three hour and seven minute peal, J.J. Parker’s Twelve Part, conducted by John Clutterbuck. The bells were half muffled in respect to the late Lord Salisbury, three-time Prime Minister, who had died a fortnight earlier. Tom is recorded taking part in several peals in the years leading up to the war, the last on 27th June 1914. The bells then fell largely silent as the ringers answered their country’s call.
Although Kitchener’s volunteers numbered over 2 million by the end of 1915, the number of recruits had fallen sharply since its peak in September 1914 and had been gradually declining ever since. The age limit was raised from 38 to 40 in May 1915 but still it wasn’t enough. The Derby Scheme (named after Lord Derby, Director-General of Recruiting, and descendant of the Lord Derby for whom the horse race was named) was introduced in the autumn of 1915 and required men to make a face-to-face declaration to a recruiting officer as to whether they intended to attest or not. Those that agreed to join the Army had the option of deferring their service until their age group was called up at a later date and were issued with an armband to wear showing that they had either pledged to serve or were ineligible and so unable to serve. Uptake under the scheme was disappointing and conscription would soon be brought in. Tom was among the last men to join under the Derby Scheme, attesting at Cardiff on 11th December 1915 and choosing to defer his service.
The younger Derby Scheme men began to be mobilized in January 1916 and older Derby men and conscripted men from March onwards. A proclamation was issued on 16th February that Tom’s age class were to be mobilized on 18th March for both Derby and conscripted men; Tom was officially mobilized a few days late, on 23rd March. Two medical boards met each day at Cardiff to examine the men. Although you could express a preference for the Navy (which was in need of more men), there was now no choice of which regiment you joined if you ended up in the Army. The Welsh Guards took 200 of the men enlisted at Cardiff in March and Tom joined them.
On 2nd February 1915, a letter to The Times had pointed out that Wales was the only country of the United Kingdom not to have its own regiment of Foot Guards, having to share the Grenadier Guards and Coldstream Guards with England while Scotland had the Scots Guards and Ireland had the Irish Guards. The idea of a Welsh Guards regiment gathered support in the Welsh Press and a deputation of civilians and military men formally put the suggestion to the Minister of War, Lord Kitchener. He approved the idea – and ordered that it be done within a week! The King authorised the Regiment’s creation and they were on duty, mounting the King’s Guard at Buckingham Palace, by St David’s Day. The nucleus of the Regiment was formed from 300 Welshmen of the Grenadier Guards and another 200 (presumably guardsmen of the other regiments) joined within a few days. They began a recruitment campaign all over Wales and their first battalion was soon up to strength.
The 1st Battalion were stationed at Wellington Barracks, by Buckingham Palace. They sailed to France in August 1915. At this time, a reserve battalion was formed in order to train new recruits and to reintegrate convalescent wounded men of the 1st before they returned to duty. They were based at the Tower of London over the winter of 1915-16.
Tom’s basic training would have been at the Guards Depot at Caterham, Surrey. He would then have joined his battalion at the Tower of London before they moved to Tadworth on 12th June.
Tadworth Camp was a “miniature city of marquees and tents” on Epsom Downs which stretched from Tattenham Corner as far as Walton-on-the-Hill. It was “teeming with lads in khaki” and home to 8,000 men at its peak. There had been soldiers training on the Downs since November 1914, when the Royal Fusiliers arrived. They had been billeted in houses in Epsom and in railway carriages at Tattenham Corner station (from where they used to march to St Mary’s, Burgh Heath, on a Sunday morning for church service, led by their band). A proper camp – eight of them really (three at Tadworth and five at Walton-on-the-Hill) – was constructed in Spring 1915 and later expanded to at least eleven sites. Here men would be trained in trench warfare in mocked-up trench systems dug in the fields of generous local landowners, learn how to protect themselves against gas attacks in what is now known as Gas School Wood, practice their shooting on a rifle range, learn to throw (dummy) grenades and be “exercised in everything that the military mind deemed necessary and in every kind of athletic sport.”
The London Territorials, various volunteer units, artillery and field ambulances used the camp, as later would the Volunteer Defence Corps (the WW1 equivalent of the Home Guard). The Guards also had a large presence there. The whole of the 2nd Welsh Guards were based at Tadworth over the summer of 1916 and the other Guards regiments sent individual companies there for month-long spells of field training and occasionally sent larger parties to join Brigade camps. When the Guards formed a machine-gun battalion later in the war, their training was carried out at Tadworth Camp.
Drafts of men regularly crowded the platforms at Tadworth and Epsom stations as they left for the front line and a draft of men from the Welsh Guards left once or twice a month, with smaller groups of specialists (machine-gunners, signallers, etc) leaving more regularly. The group of men that Tom joined with would eventually leave to join the 1st Battalion in France in October 1916.
The war claimed its victims in many ways: on 26th July 1916, Tom, suffering from some unknown trauma, found a quiet spot behind a hedge and took his own life. He was 35 years old.
Tom’s body was found after noon on the 26th. An inquest was held at the Church Institute, Banstead, by the Surrey Coroner on 29th July. Several witnesses were interviewed and it was determined that Tom had been of unsound mind on that sad day. His death was not reported in the Press.
Tom was buried at All Saints on 31st July. He is commemorated on the wooden panels in the Lady Chapel in All Saints, on the Roll of Honour in the Burgh Heath War Memorial Hall, on the Llandaff Diocesan Association of Change Ringers war memorial in the ringing chamber at Llandaff Cathedral, and in the Bell Ringers Rolls of Honour and (with incorrect details) in the All Saints Book of Men Who Served Overseas. He does not appear to have a memorial in Somerset.
On 1st July 2016, 12 Llandaff ringers rang 1311 Stedman Cinques in 50 minutes for the men who died in the Battle of the Somme and to honour Tom. The All Saints’ bell ringers rang the tenor bell 100 times at noon on 26th July 2016 and then rang handbells by Tom’s graveside.