COX, Wilfred Lionel (SX16710)

Studio portrait of SX16710 Wilfred Lionel “Bill” COX taken in June 1942, the photographer is unknown. The shoulder patch is of the 2/9th Armoured Regiment. Bill COX later transferred to the 2/3rd Machine Gun Battalion. Of the 17 men he trained with in his armoured platoon, Pte COX was the only soldier not to survive the war. From the MILNES family collection.

SX16710 Private Wilfred Lionel “Bill” COX – killed In Action 23 July 1945

Wilfred Lionel “Bill” COX was born on 1 July 1916 at Prospect, South Australia, the eldest of six children of Ray Sylva COX and Myrtle Amyria COX (nee MITCHELL). The family later moved to Victor Harbor and after leaving school Bill joined the 18th Light Horse Regiment, a militia unit. Prior to his enlistment in the AIF he married Doreen ARROLL Bill enlisted in the 2nd AIF and after basic training was posted to the 2/9th Armoured Regiment at Puckapunyal. In July 1942, Trooper COX requested a transfer to the 2/3rd Machine Gun Battalion and was posted to A Company of the Battalion. The 2/3rd was based at Cowra until May 1943, when it moved to the Atherton Tablelands in Queensland. Later in the year the Battalion was concentrated at Wondecla, where it came under the command of the 6th Division. The Battalion spent the rest of 1943 and almost all of 1944 on the Tablelands.

On 4 December 1944, the Battalion embarked on the ship U.S.A.T. Evangline from Cairns and disembarked at Aitape, New Guinea on 10 December. According to the Battalion’s war diary, held by the Australian War Memorial, the 2/3rd Machine Gun Battalion was not used in its primary role but utilised as an infantry unit and was engaged in offensive operations against the enemy. The Battalion fought in deplorable conditions in dense jungle and rugged, mountainous terrain and often encountered flooded rivers and swamps. Malaria and other tropical diseases caused more casualties than the enemy. At times the enemy were only ten yards away in well-concealed ambush positions in tall grass. The Japanese were being continually pushed back, but waged aggressive resistance against the Australians. On 5 March 1945, an air strike by Beaufort bombers missed the target area and hit the Battalion’s position, killing two soldiers and wounding eleven. The war diary records the soldiers in the Battalion “were visibly shaken” by this mishap.

The Japanese forces in New Guinea were cut off from supply and reinforcement but continued to maintain tough resistance against our forces, often holding the high ground, which had to be taken by the advancing Australians. The Battalion discovered evidence of cannibalism by the enemy of Australian soldiers killed in the field. The 2/3rd continued to mount regular patrols and inflict casualties against the enemy. In July 1945, orders from Australian Brigade Headquarters to all subordinate units were not to “take unnecessary risks” but merely conduct a policy of containment of the Japanese.

On 23 July 1945, Private COX was reported as killed in action at Aitape. His brother, SX31702 Pte Doug COX was serving in

Borneo at the time and was told the news by his company OC “A Japanese soldier fleeing from a skirmish had turned and fired a wild shot which killed Pte W.L. COX”. Bill COX was buried in the field and was later re-interred in the Lae War Cemetery.

Original grave cross of SX16710 Pte W.L. COX at Wewak War Cemetery. The War Graves Service sent a photograph of each soldier’s grave to the next-of-kin. The crosses were later replaced with stone plinths and brass plaques when the casualties were re-interred in Lae War Cemetery. From the COX and MILNES family collections.



Service file of SX16710 Wilfred Lionel COX purchased from the National Archives of Australia ( ).