WW1

A Gunners Life

You’ll probably all know by now that research is my huge passion. I love finding out information about who a person was, their family, where they lived & worked & of course details of their Great War journey

I spend many hours researching online records, newspaper articles, war diaries & maps. I want to put myself & the person whom I’m researching for in their ancestors boots so to speak

People are amazed when I say I do this for free. I usually just ask for a donation to a veterans charity or sometimes a wee tipple to keep me going. For me it’s not about money it’s about reuniting a family with their long lost Grandfather or Great Uncle, a Great Aunt or Cousin

I was approached a year ago by a work colleague and asked if I would be able to carry out some research for them. To be honest it was a good start as they had quite a bit of information already & he was one of the where his service record survived. The family have kindly given me permission to share the story of their Great Great Uncle with you and to ensure that more people know his story

Gunner Horace Coleman (Image Coleman Family)

Horace George Coleman was born in Islington, North London in February 1895 to parents Arthur Alexander & Emma Coleman, the youngest of 5 children. They lived at 27 Queens Cottages before moving to South Tottenham and by 1911 were living at 14 Gorleston Road. Now aged 16 Horace was a Clerk for a Corn Merchants in the local area having not decided to follow his father and 2 older brothers as surveying Instrument makers

On October 18th 1915 Horace enlisted in the local 153rd (Tottenham) Heavy Battery of the Royal Garrison Artillery. Unlike most he didn’t have to go too far for his training it was just a few miles away in the nearby Woolwich Arsenal. He began his military career as a Gunner but shortly afterwards on 30th October he was promoted to Unpaid Acting Bombardier equivalent to the rank of Lance Corporal then Paid from 2nd November

As Heavy Artillery Horace would be trained on the use of generally 60 pounder or 5 Inch guns but some batteries still had the older 5 inch Howitzers as well

See the source image
British 60 Pounder (Image ww1westernfrontweapons.weebly.com)

On 14th February 1916 Horace was admitted to hospital for 19 days with what is reported as disease of the knees and during his time there he was stripped of his Acting Bombardier rank. A few months later he would find himself readmitted to hospital this time with boils on his left calf but before this he would commit his first offence whilst serving. He was charged with that on 23rd April 1916 he was absent from the stables at Charlton Park between 4.30pm & 9.40pm. He appeared before a Major R D Crawford DSO RGA & after hearing the evidence of 3 witnesses Major Crawford sentenced Horace to 7 days confined to barracks & the loss of 7 days pay

After this incident Horace’s training continued and on 25th July 1916. Sent to a Base Depot where he remained until 12th August he was then posted to the 176th (West Riding) Heavy Battery of the RGA. This battery embarked at Southampton on 29th September 1916 landing the following day at Le Havre. A section of the 176th, including Horace, was transferred to the 145th (E.Cheshire) Heavy Brigade RGA and Horace arrived on the Western Front at Anzin-St-Aubin, North West of Arras, where he would remain until 14th March 1917. Day to day operations such as firing on German working parties & back areas, calibration of guns & even shooting at aeroplanes flying over them was to be the life of Horace. Preparations at this point were being made for the upcoming battle that would form part of the Battle of Arras and the 145th moved positions in front of the village of Marceuil a few days later. They moved to nearer Neuville St Vast to support the upcoming battle but sadly the War diary was lost for this period in shell fire. By 30th April they are shown in positions South West of Thelus (map 51b.A.18.b.4.6) where they will remain until August before moving to near Bois de Bonval South West of Vimy. Here they supported the 2nd & 4th Canadian Divisons both at Vimy & in an attack on Lens on 15th August 1917. On August 22nd and 23rd its recorded that Horace’s Battery was heavily shelled by the Germans and also attacked by an Aeroplane.

On the 24th August they are relieved and Horace and his fellow Gunners can head to a rest camp well behind the lines at Divion near Bruay and they remain until 12th September then moved to Hersin, West of Lens

During September the Battery was divided up and men sent as working parties to help in digging new forward positions. On 22nd September Horace is once again promoted to Acting Bombardier. At this point they had no guns, these were being re calibrated and maintained so on 18th October, when they took over from 2nd Canadian Heavy Battery, the brigade had to use 3 of the Canadians guns until they were relieved on 23rd October

They departed Hersin on 24th October 1917 at 9.30am & arrived at 4pm in Belgium at Abeelee where they were billeted for the night before moving up to Zillebeke east of Ypres. Horace was now to play his part in the Battle of Third Ypres more commonly known now as The Battle of Passchendaele

Horace’s battery like so many had a really hard time of it here losing many of their guns in counter battery fire in early November as well as several men when in positions at Zouave Wood. One sad story in the war diary is that on 9th November Acting Corporal D.F Gordon was found dead by the side of a road having been run over by a caterpillar engine. No witnesses could be found or any evidence as to why he was there. Freak accident or maybe he just had enough we shall never know. He now lays at The Huts cemetery Plot XIV. B. 20 at Dickebusch

On 21st November 1917 Horace moves back to France to positions at Metern east of Ballieul before moving well behind the lines at Wandonne for rest, training & cleaning of equipment.

Horace was granted leave to return to England on 8th December until he rejoined his battery on 22nd December 1917. However he’s admitted to hospital with Tonsillitis and his tonsils are removed before returning to his battery on 21st January 1918. Arriving in Essigny near Saint Quentin they receive new guns and were busy recalibrating and ranging them. New positions were then prepared for the rest of January

A huge restructure took place in all British forces in January/February 1918 & the 145th now became part of 35th Heavy Artillery Group

They remained in the St Quentin area until 21st March 1918, the day the Germans launched ‘Operation Michael’ or Kaiserschlact. The War diary (WO95/390/3) for 21st March records ‘A misty morning saw the brigade heavily bombarded with High Explosives (H.E) & Gas shells and very quickly the brigade was called into action. As more information became known the brigade was ordered to retire backwards over the next few days through HAM, MAROEUIL LAMOTTE,ROCQUENCOURT arriving at PAILLART on 31st March all the time continuing to engage enemy troops

Over the next few days & weeks they would move back further arriving at Betrancourt, North West of Albert on the Somme on 25th April. From mid May they would be shelled with gas on a nightly basis. On 19th May 1918 Horace is gassed in one of these nightly bombardments and he is treated initially by the 3rd New Zealand Field Ambulance then taken to Casualty Clearing Station No 3 at Gezaincurt near Doullens before being transferred to No 47 General Hospital at Le Treport on the French Coast on 20th May

After a few weeks he was admitted on 13th June to the No 3 Convalescent Depot at LE TREPORT where he remained until 10th July being then returned to the Base Depot at HARFLEUR near LE HAVRE. His mother Emma was informed by the War Office on 22nd June that Horace was in hospital

Whilst back at Depot on 22nd July Horace commits his second offence and is charged with the offence of ‘Whilst on active service, attempting to service leave to England by false pretences’. His punishment sees him again stripped of his Bombardier stripe and back as a Gunner which to be honest for the offence seems rather lucky, men were shot for less

He’s sent to Base before he rejoins his battery on 26th July 1918, who by this time were to the east of the old battlefields of the Somme engaged at Aveluy Wood, Hamel & Mesnil

August 1918 sees them continue to launch bombardments around Albert from their emplacements at Varennes before moving to Martinsaart to assist in an attack on Thiepval. The Germans retaliated with their own bombardment on 22nd August knocking out 3 guns in Horace’s Brigade. On this day Horace is also admitted again to a hospital of 65th Field Ambulance this time he’s suffering from Influenza

He’s back with his battery on 30th August near Longueval where they were assisting the 38th (Welsh) Division in their attacks on Morval before moving to Ginchy. The batteries fired all day & night and the Germans were now in retreat leaving many of their artillery guns to be captured such was their haste to move it’s reported

The brigade moves forward to areas around Canal du Nord, east of Cambrai carrying out further supporting bombardments to assist various different Infantry Divisions in their attacks and by October the brigade has moved to Fontaine assisting 57th Division in their attack on the southern defences of Cambrai. This attack however is unsuccessful due to heavy German machine gun fire

On 8th October they supported the attack by 63rd (Royal Naval) Division to outflank Cambrai which was a huge success the Division capturing over 700 German Prisoners

The 24th Division then took over this area on 9th and at 5.20am launched an attack to find that the Germans had retreated considerably to a line near Cagnolles. Over the next few days the brigade moved forward, as the Allied infantry progressed, arriving finally in Saint Aubert on 12th October

They carried out hostile fire on enemy positions and it was in a counter battery fire on 14th October that Horace Coleman was killed. His body was buried nearby and his mother Emma received a telegram on 29th October informing her of her son’s death

On 21st February 1919 Horace’s personal effects were returned to his mother which were recorded as ‘A metal watch, a wallet containing photos, letters & papers, a wallet with note paper, scissors, 2 handkerchiefs, a metal watch case, a bundle of fabric & a pencil

On 5th April 1919 the War Office informed Emma of the location of his grave and on June 2nd wrote to her to ask where to send Horace’s Memorial Scroll & Plaque & On 1st May 1919 his mother, being his next of kin, was awarded a weekly pension

In March 1920 Horace’s body was exhumed and reinterred in St Aubert British Cemetery. This was common as many smaller or isolated cemeteries and graves were concentrated into larger cemeteries , gradually being formed with the new permanent stone headstones and cross of sacrifice to replace the earlier wooden cross Grave markers, so that they could be easily maintained by the then Imperial War Graves Commission (Later Commonwealth War Graves). His mother Emma again received information of where Horace now lay

In one of those family twists that us researchers love to uncover, the War Office had forwarded Horace’s medals to his mother on 21st April 1922 but these were signed for by a Mr G Salisbury, who was married to one of Emma’s daughters who upon her mother’s death had inherited her house. Mr Salisbury stated that he had been instructed by Emma’s son, Mr Bertie Coleman, to handle any correspondence, stating that Mrs Emma Coleman had since died. The R.G.A records office wrote back to Mr Salisbury on 1st May 1922 requesting that he forward a copy of Emma’s will and to inform them who now had the medals

Mr Salisbury replied that no will had been left and that the medals were now in the possession of his wife. On the death of Mrs Coleman the surviving sons & daughters had appointed Mr Bertie Coleman as executor of his mother’s estate and therefore they would now forward the medals to him at No 9 Cranleigh Road, Leytonstone and let him decide into whose possession they should go

In a further twist in October 1922 a Mr A Coleman of 59 Grosvenor Road, Camberwell (Possibly Horace’s father?) wrote to the War Office asking where Horace’s medals were. The War Office replied with the details previously mentioned above

Gunner Horace George Coleman Aged 23 now lies in Plot II Row C Grave 2 in St Aubert British Cemetery, France. If you’re in the area please take time to visit & remember his life

Horace’s Grave (Image Coleman Family)
Wendy Coleman at her Great Uncle Horace’s Grave on the centenary of his death 14th October 2018 (Image Coleman Family)
St Aubin British Cemetery (CWGC)

I am extremely grateful to the Coleman family for sharing the knowledge they had of Horace and for letting me get to know him further with my research

Thank you again for joining me on another of my blogs. Comments and further information is always welcome. Just get in touch here or @terriermcd on twitter

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