Cosens, Aubrey

Sergeant Aubrey Cosens, VC was born in Latchford, Ontario, on the 21st of May 1921, the son of a First World War Veteran Charles E. Cosens and Yvonne Cosens. Shortly after his birth his family moved to Porquis Junction, near Iroquois Falls, Ontario and he was educated in the Porquis Junction School. He left school in 1938 to work with his father on the railway as a section hand.

He left Porquis Junction in 1939 to join the Royal Canadian Air Force but his application was rejected. Finally, in 1940, he went to Hamilton, Ontario, and was accepted by the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada (Hamilton) Regiment. He served with them in Canada, Jamaica and England; then transferred to the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada in the summer of 1944 and was soon promoted from corporal to sergeant.

Sergeant Cosens was 23 years of age when he died and is buried in Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery (VIII. H. 2.), Nijmegan, The Netherlands where a plaque was erected in his memory. On Aug. 29, 1969, a provincial plaque was erected in his memory on Highway 11 near Porquis Junction. A now retired tourist steamer on Lake Temagami was named after him as is the Latchford branch of The Royal Canadian Legion.

The question of naming a bridge in his honour was resolved when 2,500 delegates from the Legion’s Ontario Command persuaded the Ontario government to change its mind. In 1986, prominent signs were installed at both ends of the Sgt. Aubrey Cosens VC Memorial Bridge.

Citation

Victoria Cross
Victoria Cross

“In Holland on the night of 25th-26th February 1945, the 1st Battalion, The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada launched an attack on the hamlet of Mooshof, to capture ground which was considered essential for the development of future operations.

Sergeant Cosens’ platoon, with two tanks in support, attacked enemy strong points in three farm buildings, but were twice beaten back by fanatical enemy resistance and then fiercely counter-attacked, during which time the platoon suffered heavy casualties and the platoon commander was killed.

Sergeant Cosens at once assumed command of the only other four survivors of his platoon, whom he placed in a position to give him covering fire, while he himself ran across open ground under heavy mortar and shell fire to the one remaining tank, where, regardless of the danger, he took up an exposed place in front of the turret and directed his fire.

After a further enemy counter-attack had been repulsed, Sergeant Cosens ordered the tank to attack the farm buildings, while the four survivors of his platoon followed in close support. After the tank had rammed the first building he entered it alone, killing several of the defenders and taking the rest prisoner.

Single-handed he then entered the second and third buildings, and personally killed or captured all the occupants, although under intense machine-gun and small arms fire.

Just after the successful reduction of these important enemy strong points, Sergeant Cosens was shot through the head by an enemy sniper and died almost instantly.

The outstanding gallantry, initiative and determined leadership of this brave N.C.O., who himself killed at least 20 of the enemy and took an equal number of prisoners, resulted in the capture of a position which was vital to the success of the future operations of the Brigade.”

London Gazette, May 22nd, 1945
Casualty Telegram sent March 4, 1945
Photo by the late Captain Geoff Winnington-Ball
This photo was taken by Captain Craig Cameron in June 2000. The medals of Sergeant Cosens and his portrait are on display at the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada Regimental Museum, at Casa Loma in Toronto. The Victoria Cross in the collection is a replica.
Sources: Veterans Affairs Canada Citation Page
 


24 thoughts on “Cosens, Aubrey”

  1. I think getting to hear from everyone in this forum is fantastic. Since I was a little boy my father, Don Cosens, has always told me the story of his relative Aubrey Cosens. Back in the early 70s he went up to Porquis Junction to see if any of the family were still there. Aubrey’s first cousin Bill was still living there with his wife and kids at the time and when my father went to the door and met them he asked if there was anything left of Aubreys in the house. Bill brought out an old trunk from the attic and in it were Aubrey’s medals with the exception of the Victoria cross as well as articles of uniforms and his father’s metals from the first world war. My father sensing that the family had very little interest in these things offered to purchase them but was unable to make the purchase. About 10 years later in 1982 I travelled with my father back to Porquis Junction where I met Bill and his wife but living in a different house. When we inquired as to the whereabouts of the trunk we were told that it was left in the attic of the old house when they moved. Just something more lost in time, nobody knows whatever happened to all of it. Bill also told a story of a man who came to the door when Aubrey’s father Charlie was still alive. The man asked if he could see the Victoria cross, which apparently was a common occurrence at the front door. The man said he was from a Legion in Winnipeg and that they would very much love to hang it in on the legion hall. As the story goes, Aubrey’s father gave the medal to the man and as far as we are concerned it has not surfaced since. Although the QOR in Toronto say they have the original, they can’t seem to find it when we go looking? In two weeks my wife Brigitte and my son Aubrey are heading over to take part in the hundredth anniversary of the battle of Vimy Ridge . After that we are driving up so that I can take my son, Aubrey Cosens, to the gravestone of Sgt. Aubrey Cosens VC. I was there in 1994 as well as at Mooshof. I understand the Canadian history channel did a segment on Aubrey but I have not yet been able to find it. Please everyone keep posting and if you have any questions for us my father is still alive at 82 years old and is a bit of a family historian.
    Mark Cosens
    St. Thomas, ON

    1. I am unable to pass on any stories that my dad told, due to the fact that dad passed over 45 years ago and I was only 10 at his passing.I cannot remember any stories that he told.I know that he did an interview on I think it was the CBC in the 60’s about Moorshof but I think now the footage is lost.My brother did try to trace the footage but it seems to be lost

      1. The footage shown is not the report dad did. All i can remember is, that dad was sitting next to a table with a model of a barn and dad discribed to the interviewer what had taken place. It would have been in the late 1960’s.

  2. Cozens was not born in Latchford but in Cayuga ON. His father Charlie lived there in the late 1930s while working for the T&NO RR and Aubrey visited him and may have lived with him after leaving school and working summers for the RR. Until he left school Aubrey lived with his foster mother in Timmins.
    The Internet continues to repeat errors, but some serious drilling down gets to the original details. I will send you links to other sources after the weekend.

  3. Ealry Life of Aubrey Cosens
    Most of the brief biographies that accompany the story of Aubrey winning of the VC state he was born in Latchford, Ontario. Family stories and news accounts from May 1945 say he was probably born in Cayuga, in southern Ontario. Certainly Cayuga and Haldimand County claim him as their own. When Charles Cosens joined the Army in 1915 at age 22, he stated that he was born in Haldimand County, son of Edward Cosens. His occupation was farmer. When Charlie returned from overseas he married, but little is known about his wife, Yvonne Jean. Their only son Aubrey was born on May 21, 1921. In 1922, Charlie got a job as a section hand with the Temiskaming and Northern Ontario Railway (T&NO). He moved his young family north to Porquis Junction, an isolated railway stop named for the rail lines to Porcupine and Iroquois Falls . The family lived next to the tracks in a rail car that was fitted out as a house. Today this sounds a bit rough, but easily movable housing was common for rail crews and families.

    In 1926 tragedy struck – Yvonne had cancer. Charlie worked long hours in shifts, so the neighbours helped out. Sid Dowdall worked with Charlie and lived next to the Cosens. His wife Laura helped feed and clothe little Aubrey and for months was practically his mother, with Aubrey often sleeping at the Dowdall’s. Young Gerry Dowdall helped look after little Aubrey and today describes him as having been on the go all the time, and a bit of a loner. In this remote, tight knit community where people naturally helped each other, the Cosens family did not face their crisis alone. When Yvonne was near death in April 1926, John Richards, Charlie’s section foreman and neighbour, with two of his sons John and Ray, went on a thirty kilometer journey by horse and sled to fetch the closest doctor, Dr. O’Day, of Connaught . Nancy Richards of North Bay told the story of her grandfather and uncles with pride and wonder, but, despite this heroic journey, Yvonne Cosens died. Charlie, known as the strong silent type and a good hard working man, faced raising a small boy alone in a remote village on Ontario’s mining and lumber frontier.

    If community as well as family helps shape character, then Aubrey was shaped by a community that in effect became his extended family. The only connection between small northern communities like Porquis Junction and the rest of Canada was the railway and its telegraph and telephone services. The railway workers themselves formed a string of small settlements, as each section of the rail line was cared for by a section foreman and a work crew. Each isolated section was centered on the foreman’s house, and together, the workers and their families faced life on the frontier. Road access to northern Ontario towns did not come until the Ferguson Highway, now Highway 11, connected North Bay to the Tri-Towns of Cobalt, Haileybury, and New Liskeard in 1927, and it was not paved until 1937. But that road was well south of Porquis Junction and Timmins. In this isolated frontier, Aubrey Cosens eventually lived in Timmins and Latchford as well as Porquis, and in series of railway camps. All contributed to his character; all helped educate him and provide the northern spirit.

    In Porquis Junction, Dorothy Smith was another neighbour and wife of a railway man. She had no children, but took in Aubrey and became his foster mother. Under her care Aubrey attended grade one in Porquis and when she and her husband moved to Timmins, Aubrey went with them, attending Mattagami Public School. In Porquis, the Richards and Dowdall boys were Aubrey’s playmates. The Smiths, the Richards, and the Dowdalls were friends and indeed functioned as an extended family. Today Nancy Richards fondly describes Dorothy Smith as a combination of a less exaggerated Mrs. Naugatuck from the TV series Maude, and of a milder version of the late Jack Webster, west coast broadcaster. In an interview in 1979, Mrs. Smith revealed something of the young Aubrey who once was attacked by five older boys. He knocked three of them down, she said, and frightened the others away. She also said his ambition as a boy was to be a doctor. Under the Smith’s care, Aubrey played hockey with the Timmins Police Amateur Athletics Association and for the Frood Mines team. Aubrey loved all sports and, as with so many Canadians, the discipline and team work of hockey shaped him as a young man. Charlie visited the Smiths and Aubrey in Timmins, but Mrs. Smith was Aubrey’s mother – she raised him.

    If Aubrey was shaped by his extended family, community and team mates, he was also shaped by work. As so many did during the Depression, he left school at age 16, and because Charlie, Bill Smith and John Richards all worked for the railway, was able to get seasonal work in a maintenance gang. Employment records from the T&NO show that Aubrey started working at Moose River Crossing as an extra section hand in 1937 at the age of 16, earning 34.2 cents per hour. He worked fairly regularly in 1938 at Moose River Crossing and South Porcupine for 38 cents an hour. After a winter layoff Aubrey was at work through the summer and fall of 1939, getting an increase to 41 cents an hour. He was laid off in December 1939, his last job being snow clearing for 49 cents an hour. The work was always as a seasonal labourer, and family stories say that in winter, he and friends would make extra money cutting and selling fire wood. When not working with a section gang, Aubrey lived with the Smiths or with his father who had been transferred by the T&NO to Latchford. Ed Garreau remembers Aubrey in Latchford as a skinny, fair haired kid who, like most youngsters of the time, was too busy working to take advantage of camping and fishing in the nearby Temagami wilderness. Cecil Holmes of North Bay worked with Aubrey on the maintenance gang in 1940 and describes the young Aubrey as big, husky, easygoing and carefree. Whichever of the two memories actually fits the young Aubrey, in reality, his experience was the backbreaking work of railway maintenance, carried on in heat, rain, and cold, surrounded by clouds of bugs in spring and summer. The maintenance gangs lived in railway car bunkhouses or tents, far from the luxuries of home or big towns. The hard work in the wilderness and the companionship of fellow railway workers further shaped the character of Aubrey.

    The picture that emerges of Aubrey is an athletic, hardworking kid, raised by good people in isolated communities in a beautiful but harsh environment. He was surrounded by people who helped each other, in several northern Ontario lumbering and mining towns. His upbringing was not the “usual” family of two parents and children, but he was, in fact, part of a large loving family. And when war came, he did just what tens of thousands of other Canadian kids did. He volunteered.

    Angus Scully

    1. Thank you for the informative piece. Why do you say probably born Cayuga? From where do you have information that Yvonne was a war bride? Has your biography appeared?

    2. John Richards was my Great Grandfather and Ray Richards was my grandfather, the family has always considered Aubrey as part of our family.
      Derrick

  4. With all due respect to Sgt Aubrey Cosens VC it would be appropriate to show his proper age. Your obituary shows his age as 23 and his head stone shows his age as 21. Which one is correct?

  5. I am now 65 yrs old. As a child I would stay at my grandfathers and my aunt Dodie’s. on weekends. One day, I remember asking my aunt who that man was in the uniform. He was so kind looking and I thought he was beautiful. My aunt told me that he was her foster child, Aubrey. As the years went by and I was old enough to understand, I was told the story of our Aubrey Cosens. A copy of the original picture sits in my living room. The original pic. of Aubrey was given to my older sister on the death of aunt Dodie. My sister loaned it to a cousin of ours and our cousin gave it away. We are not sure where to. Luckily,a man writing a book about Aubrey contacted my sister and had a print of Aubrey’s picture. We are all so proud of him. Although I never met him, he is part of our family.

    1. Thank you for your story…although many have never met Sgt. Cosens, it seems to me that he affected our lives, and he has not been forgotten because of that.
      My father talked about his bravery, his compassion, and his locality, he looked up to Sgt. Cosens, even though they were roughly the same age; he was a remarkable young man.
      I truly hope that some day, the original picture will come into your possession once more.
      Could you tell me the name of the book written about Sgt. Cosens…I would like to buy it.
      Thank you for your story. I am always hoping to find more out about him.
      Sincerely, Marlene.

  6. My Uncle was the OIC of the unit….Lft..D.D. Chadbolt..have never heard of the actual circmstances of his death…o/t KIA… during night fighting…

  7. My dad, Ambrose A. Fougere, Queens Own Rifles, fought in the Battle of Mooshoof…he was, of course, 1 of the 4 survivors of this battle…I have heard on many occasions, of the outstanding leadership in one so young, of Sgt.Aubrey Cosens…I was so glad to view the video…Sincerely, Marlene Fougere

    1. My dad,Captain D.B.Hamilton was in command of B Company that day Feb.26th.1945 The only sense I can get of what that day must have been like for those men is reading accounts from QOR One Hundred Years of Canada (Barnard) and perhaps watching the movie ‘Private Ryan’… My father made it home from Europe but died of a heart attack in 1967 at age 51.I still go through his dark green army trunk a couple times a year.Be well.Bill Hamilton

      1. Mr. Hamilton, would you happen to have a photo of the QOR platoon. I am looking for a complete photo of my uncle Merrill Perez Lloyd with the platoon who died the same day as Sgt Cosens. I am sure he was with Sgt Cosens. My e mail is crazy_cat6@msn.com

        Thanks so much

      2. Dear Mr. Hamilton,

        With the 70th anniversary of the Liberation of Holland upcoming, I find myself again wondering about the battle of Mooshof and all the men my father fought alongside. Do you know if there is a list of names or a picture posted somewhere.
        Anything you could tell me would be greatly appreciated.
        My e mail is marlenefougere@ yahoo.ca

        Thank you, sincerely, Marlene

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