HERBERT JAMES COZENS
Corporal 2607 'B' Company, 2nd Battalion Rifle Brigade
Killed in Action on Saturday 25th September 1915
Commemorated: Ploegsteert Memorial, Comines-Warneton, Belgium, Panel 10
Herbert Cozens was born at 19 Peel Place, Brighton, on the 14th September 1887, the son of Archibald and Caroline Cozens. By the time of the 1901 census the family were living in the village of Coombes, Sussex, where Archibald Cozens worked as a gardener, and Herbert was the second of four sons. It's not known when the family moved to Lancing, but their house in Myrtle Terrace was built about 1910 at the western edge of the village, adjoining the brickfields.
Herbert Cozens army service record has survived in part and it shows that he joined the army on 16th January 1908, and enlisted in the 2nd Battalion the Rifle Brigade. There is little evidence of illness or bad conduct during his pre-war service - one admission to hospital with 'traumatic cellulitis' and on one occasion a spell of fourteen days confined to barracks for being 'drunk on duty and using obscene language to a Warrant Officer.' At the outbreak of war the battalion were in Kuldana, India [now part of Pakistan], and returned immediately to England, arriving in Liverpool on October 22nd, 1914. They were attached to 8th Division, 25th Brigade, and quickly set out for France and the Western Front, arriving on the 7th November, to reinforce the British Expeditionary Force which had suffered badly in the previous three months. Herbert Cozens was promoted to Lance Corporal on 10th May 1915, and to full Corporal on 12th September 1915, probably a reflection of the high number of NCO casualties during the costly actions of the spring and summer.
A major offensive was planned for the area around Loos on 25th September 1915, and the 2nd Battalion Rifle Brigade were part of an attack at Bois Grenier, one of three subsidiary attacks that day designed to divert the Germans away from Loos. The Battalion War Diary [The National Archives WO95/1731] shows that even on the preceding day things were not going smoothly:
September 24th 1915. Paraded 9.30 a.m. for inspection by G.O.C. and Church parade, but owing to shelling, parade was dismissed ... billets burnt, but only a few articles of kit were lost.
By 6 a.m. the following day, the battalion's first objectives were reached without too many casualties, but they then found that they were not able to join up with the Berkshire Regiment who had failed to reach the German trenches. The diary continues:
At about 6.30 a.m. owing to strong German bombing attacks, [and] to the impossibility of joining up with the Berkshires and to difficulty in getting bombs up for our side, it was found necessary to abandon the German 2nd line trench.
By 10 a.m., however, a firm position had been established in the German front line trench, blocks being made to our right and left ...
At about 3 p.m. a fairly determined counter attack on our left was easily repulsed, and our artillery bombarded heavily.
At about 3.45 p.m. information was received that the Lincolns and Berks had withdrawn from the German captured trenches and orders were given for our companies to withdraw ...
Our losses were 6 officers killed, 3 officers wounded, 32 other ranks killed, 173 other ranks wounded, and 29 other ranks missing - total 243.
They were due to German rifle fire and to the really hard hand to hand fighting in the German first and second line trenches, the enemy being on both our flanks, and in their second line trench during practically the whole day. Many Germans were killed and wounded, and about 15 captured, including 11 who were shot by German machine guns ...
Herbert Cozens was among those many casualties - one of the killed or missing. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Ploegsteert Memorial, 8 miles south of Ieper [Ypres].