Elsie May Muller was born as Elsie May Cox in Saffron Walden, Essex, England, in the first quarter of 1893 to George Robert Cox and Susan Anne Bletstow 1,4.
The UK Census of 1901 has the Cox family living at 11 Alpha Place. Elsie May Cox is now 7 years old and the youngest child. Her brother Alfred George is 16 and a grocer’s assistant. Elder sister Beatrice Kate is 11. Elsie’s father George Robert is 40 years old and works as a postman, her mother Susan is 42. The family has a 19-year-old boarder named Ernest H. Bridge, a Clothing Outfitter’s Assistant from Waltham, Essex 1.
Death of Mother Susan
Then we lose Elsie for some time, although we know that on 11 October 1906 Elsie’s mother Susan dies in Saffron Waldon. Elsie is thirteen 9.
1911 UK Census
By 1911 and the next UK Census, Elsie appears to have moved out of the family home. George Robert Cox and Beatrice are the only people still living at 11 Alpha Place, Saffron Walden. I searched all the 1911 census sheets for Saffron Walden and couldn’t find her, so she may have moved out of the town. I found a few Elsie Cox’s in and around Essex and London but unfortunately, the 1911 census is particularly sparse on data. That 1911 census dropped the parents’ place of birth, so it is difficult to make a direct connection between an individual and their parents. At this time I have concluded that none of the ‘random’ Elsie Cox’s are the one we are looking for.
Meeting Arthur Muller and Marriage
The next significant event in our story is one we know very little about. At some point after 1901, Elsie meets her future husband Arthur Muller (my grandfather).
A compelling theory is that Arthur, suffering from influenza, was sent from France to Walden Place Red Cross Hospital in Saffron Walden at the end of 1918. With the hospital being just a short distance from Elsie’s family home it would be perfectly plausible that they met in the town. Maybe Elsie was working at the hospital as a nurse or a domestic?
Unfortunately, whilst we do have a photo of Arthur at a military hospital with other patients and nurses, there is no indication which hospital it is. His war record states the various field stations he was moved to through France but not the hospital he ended up in 5. Searches of the Red Cross nurses database have failed to find conclusive evidence that Elsie was a nurse. We also lack evidence that Elsie was living in Saffron Walden at the time although Arthurs re-enlistment papers show her back at her family home address in Alpha Place in 1919, which might imply that she was in the town prior to meeting Arthur.
Regardless of where and how, we know they met because on 13 April 1919 their marriage bans are read at Arthur’s home town church in Sheet, Hampshire. At this time Elsie’s residence is given as Mill Cottage, Sheet, Hampshire, Arthur’s parents home 6. On 3 May 1919 Elsie May Cox and Arthur Muller were married in Sheet, Hampshire, England 2-3, 8
Interestingly the certificate states her father’s middle name as being ‘Donald’ although all other evidence shows that it was ‘Robert’. The certificate also understates her age as 20 rather than her real age of 26 2. During this time Arthur was in the process of re-enlisting in the British Army. He had fought on the western front in the Somerset Light Infantry, based out of Taunton, Somerset and planned to return to the unit. His papers clearly show Elsie as his wife and next of kin, her address is listed as 11 Alpha Place, Saffron Walden, Essex, England 5. We can assume she returned to Saffron Walden after Arthur returned to the Army.
Elsie Muller Disappears
SS Derbyshire 1922 returns from India and Palestine
And this is where we lose Elsie May Cox. So far we have not found any records of her whereabouts. We do however have a curious record of Arthur attempting to contact the Cox family after his return to England, from India and Palestine in 1922.
Stamped ’15 Nov 1922′ in Taunton, Somerset, the postcard has no message but is a picture of the SS Derbyshire, the ship Arthur sailed back on 7. The recipient address is clearly in Croydon, Surrey but the individual’s name has been scratched out. My mother, however, remembers as a child seeing the card before the name was scratched out. She remembers it as being ‘Doris Cox’, which stuck in her head because her name is also Doris.
We have searched for ‘Doris’ in Croydon census sheets but have found nothing conclusive. Arthur went on to meet Matilda May Glue and had eight children and a large Muller family, although Arthur and May (as she was commonly known) never married. The reason for Elsie’s disappearance remains a mystery we would dearly love to discover.
So this narrative is both a mystery and a love story:
The mystery of what happened to Elsie May Cox. Was it too much for Elsie that after a ten-month courtship, followed by a short time together after marrying, that Arthur left on a three-year tour of duty? Was it some kind of marriage of convenience? Did something happen to Elsie?
And the love story of how Arthur and May partnered to build a loving family over many decades, having a strong enough relationship through happy times and hard times that none of their ever-expanding family had the slightest idea about Elsie May Cox.
Other than my grandparents (Arthur and May) no one in the family knew about Elsie May Cox until the early 1990s. We all assumed that they were married. It was only as my grandmother became more dependent in her old age, and needed help running her finances, that it was noticed she was not receiving a full widow’s state pension. When this was queried the pensions office clarified that May was not entitled to a full pension but could not directly state why due to privacy rules. Whilst a surprise to my mother, it did not take long for her to tie together the reduced pension, the postcard with the Cox name on it and an occasional but persistent comment May made now and then about a ‘worry’ that she could never tell anyone about. Mum started researching and started to uncover the Elsie May Cox story, although there are clearly a number of questions still to be answered.
1. Ancestry.com, 1901 England Census (Provo, UT, USA, Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2005), Ancestry.com, Class: RG13; Piece: 1735; Folio: 86; Page: 48. Record for Susan Annie Cox. http://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?db=uki1901&h=9961861&indiv=try.
2. UK National Reords Office, 1919 Marriage Cert – A Muller and E Cox (UK National Reords Office).
3. Ancestry.com, England & Wales, Marriage Index, 1916-2005 (Provo, UT, USA, Ancestry.com Operations, Inc, 2010), Ancestry.com.
4. FreeBMD, England & Wales, FreeBMD Birth Index, 1837-1915 (Provo, UT, USA, Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2006), Ancestry.com.
5. UK Government, UK Enlistment Papers (UK Government, 1919), Stewart-Ricketts Digital Archives, Scanned image of Arthur Muller re-enlistments. Snapshot shows Elsie Cox (wife) address after staying with Arthur in Sheet where they were married. The address is back with her parents in Saffron Walden.
6. Church of England, UK Marriage Bans, Image copy of Sheet Church records showing bans read between Arthur Muller and Elsie Cox.
7. Arthur Muller (Taunton, Somerset, England, UK) to “[Doris Cox] relative of wife Elsie”, letter, 15 Nov 1922; privately held by Doris Ricketts.
8. Ancestry.com, England & Wales, Marriage Index, 1916-2005 (Provo, UT, USA, Ancestry.com Operations, Inc, 2010), Ancestry.com.
9. Ancestry.com, England & Wales, Marriage Index, 1916-2005 (Provo, UT, USA, Ancestry.com Operations, Inc, 2010), Ancestry.com.