The battleship HMS Ramillies

World War 2 sailor remembered

World War 2 censors obliterated information in letters from service people that might tell their loved ones where they were when far from home but Emily Cosstick always knew where her sailor husband was.Ramillies George Cosstick, Stoker 1st Class crop

The information was months out of date, but when she read letters from George she knew whether, at the time of writing, he was in freezing conditions with Russian arctic convoys or off the coast of Africa where the ship deck was too hot to walk on.

George Cosstick on right hand side facing, in tropics kit

George Cosstick is on the right in tropics kit.

The couple devised a code which enabled them to share this information. It was hidden in the way George addressed the letters to his wife, Mrs Cosstick, Mrs E. Cosstick, Mrs E.E. Cosstick or other variations.george_emily_cosstick

The original code still exists and is treasured by their son Richard who was born against the odds, because the couple saw so little of each other, in November 1943.

Mr Cosstick contacted after hearing about a memorial service due to be held in Uckfield for Eugene Seghers, a Belgian pilot who died after making a last-ditch bid to divert a V1 flying bomb which was about to fall on the town.

Flt Lt Seghers’ forgotten story was pieced together by Uckfield resident Duncan Bennett who has organised the service and arranged for a memorial stone to be place in the grounds of the Highlands Inn.

Mr Cosstick said he was pleased to read about Eugene Seghers and his Spitfire but he also hoped that, during the event to remember him, someone would spare a thought for the thousands of Merchant Navy sailors who died bringing fuel for the planes to fly, and the many Royal Navy sailors who died protecting the merchant ships.

Mr Cosstick said: “Without them no planes would have flown at all and it is sad for the folk of the Navy families who have lost someone when this sort of event takes place. Most of them have no known grave at all, just the sea.”

Mr Cosstick said that like many others who fought during World War 2 his father, one of 1200 or 1300 sailors serving on the battleship HMS Ramillies, didn’t talk about it until very late in his life.

“Then when he did say a few bits it made one realise what Hell they went through, which basically no one ever considers.

Part of the structure of HMS Ramillies.

Part of the structure of HMS Ramillies.

“They called the Navy the silent service and they were that in more ways than one. One of the things my father mentioned was an oil tanker being blown up alongside and blokes floating in the sea. Those poor devils have no grave or memorial.”

George Cosstick was plucked from his life as a chauffeur in Whitesmith just outside Uckfield, passed A1 medically fit and allowed to join his first choice of service, the Royal Navy. His second choice, not needed, was the Army Tank Corps.

“There were rows and rows of men waiting for medicals in a centre in Queens Road, Brighton, but very few passed fit for the Navy,” said son Richard.

When George eventually heard he was to join HMS Ramillies in Liverpool he was most concerned about whether he would find the battleship.

“He was just a country boy really. But he didn’t have to worry, it was an enormous craft which towered over everything else.”

George was in the Indian Ocean when Richard was born. Leave was rare and when the ship docked only men from the surrounding area were allowed to go ashore.

Notice of sons birth Richard Cosstick from wife 001

The message sent to George Cosstick to tell him his son was born. He was in the Indian Ocean at the time.

Brighton was the closest port to George’s home but even then Whitesmith was too far to enable him to qualify for leave so George would put his home address as Salvation Army hostel, which was in Queens Road, Brighton, at the time..

He would arrive home on the ten to ten bus and then take the first bus back to Brighton in the morning at 8.30am.

“When Mum and Dad said goodbye they never knew when, or if, they would see each other again.”

King George VI came on board HMS Ramillies a few days before they left for D Day, June 6, 1944. George Cosstick is fourth up from the bottom of the picture in the second row from the front.

King George VI came on board HMS Ramillies a few days before they left for D Day, June 6, 1944. George Cosstick is fourth up from the bottom of the picture in the second row from the front.

On D Day, during Operation Neptune, the Ramillies fired 1002 15 inch shells into France. Each 15 inch shell weights one ton and to re-load the ship would return to Portsmouth and then go back again. There were eight 15 inch guns on the Ramillies and one of them now stands outside the Imperial War Museum.

HMS Ramillies firing on D Day

HMS Ramillies firing on D Day.

George Cosstick was in the engine room, below sea level. He was on action stations for four hours and then off for four hours.

“In the four hours off they had to do everything to look after themselves, washing, whatever. They would get some sleep then go back into action for four hours.”

Richard said: “Nobody knows much about the Ramillies because nothing happened to the battleship. It did its job and came home.”

Ramillies George Cosstick's Navy Bible, signed by HMS Ramillies Chaplin 001

George Cossticks Navy Bible. It was signed by HMS Ramillies chaplain.

After the war George Cosstick returned home to his job as a chauffeur and kept his experiences to himself.

Richard said: “It was very difficult for people of my generation and younger generations to understand what an influence that period of life had on people like my father, who went from being a simple chap working as a chauffeur to suddenly being taken and put on board a battleship.

“They just got on with it, came home to be demobbed, and went back to work, picked up the reins. As a youngster I was always aware of something being in the background, but he didn’t really talk about what happened during the war.”

Emily and George Cosstick lived in their rented home in Whitesmith from 1935 to 1989 and then moved to Vernon Road in Uckfield.

Emily died in 1990 and George died in 1994.

Read more about George’s life as a chauffeur here.

Read more about the Ramillies here:

Memories of HMS Ramillies

The battleship’s service details

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See also:

Eugene Seghers – the pilot who ‘saved Uckfield’ – forgotten no longer

Uckfield history: hidden story of World War 2 heroism becomes clearer

The night incendiary bombs and high explosives lit up Uckfield

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