Nelson’s Ron Cox stormed the beaches of Normandy, lived through a prisoner-of-war camp and spent nearly 70 years married to the love of his life, Sheila. This week he passed away at 96, one of the last local survivors of D-Day.
“We got on board and you had to wait. We went to sleep, went down to Normandy and the waves were going up and down like this,” Cox told the Star in 2014, describing the events of D-Day.
“The small craft comes along, and you climb down the rope ladder. The big ships are going like this. It was quite risky. We got on ’em and right before we landed the guy says ‘I’ll be back for you’. I said like hell we’re going back on that water.”
Cox was a member of the Canadian Scottish Regiment when he charged the beach, advancing on Hermann Goering’s division while bullets whizzed by his head. He was fighting alongside his Creston Valley-raised captain, Denis Huscroft, who was later killed — but got the chance, seven decades later, to meet his comrade’s son George.
He successfully survived the violence and horror of D-Day only to later be captured by German forces. He ended up in a prisoner-of-war-camp after a piece of shrapnel shredded into his neck—something he didn’t see coming.
“I dropped like a stone. There’s no warning and then boom.”
His time in the camp was gruelling, and had a long-term effect on Cox.
“The Germans had nothing to give you. They had nothing for themselves. They put us on the road and we marched. We started hearing the Russian guns and they turned us around and started walking the other way,” he said.
Cox said he had to adopt a certain emotional attitude to make it through. “You don’t want to have any special friendship because you’re missing ’em every day. It’s that simple. You’re standing there, and he gets shot?”
Below: Ron Cox and wife Sheila are seen in 2014 and at bottom, at ages 18 and 20.
A 1945 article by Matthew Halton in Star Weekly described an attempted kidnapping of a German soldier that Cox participated in while Huscroft was still his captain. The men were exhausted after a failed attempt.
“Will Cox go with you again?” asked a colonel.
“There was a painful silence then as we waited for Cox to speak,” Halton wrote. “At last Cox said ‘I’ll go with you, sir, I’m all right.’ The tension seemed to snap and Huscroft turned to Cox almost eagerly. ‘You mean you will come with me and have another spit at it?’ And slowly, Cox replied, ‘Sure I’ll come again.’ They looked at each other, the lieutenant and the corporal, two brave men, friends. It was like a film.”
Cox, however, was self-effacing about his accomplishments.
“To me it’s another medal,” he said. “They came in the rations.”
Cox recently sat down with the cast of the Capitol Theatre production of Liberation Days to give them insight into his experiences fighting overseas. He told them that upon returning home he often found he couldn’t sleep in a bed and hiked into the wilderness to find rest.
The most recent medal Cox received was from the government of France and commemorated the 70th anniversary of D-Day. He joked his outfit was getting crowded, and couldn’t fit anymore. But it wasn’t the medals he cherished, but the long-term love and partnership of his wife Sheila.
A memorial service will be held on Sunday at 11 a.m. All Legion members are encouraged to arrive in uniform.
— With files from Greg Nesteroff