Wetherby War Memorial - The Great War 1914 - 1918

Private Willie Coles

Gunter, R B N
Durrant, C M
Weston, C G
Kelly, K G
Armitage, G J
Durrant, H M L
Hargreaves, J P
March, G
Dukes, W
Fowler, R
Westerman, H
Kirk, J C
Wiggins, T A
Telford, G
Harper, J W
Alexander, H W
Mason, T F
Wilkinson, W
Brown, C
Adkin, J
Barton, F
Hobman, A
Webster, A E
March, E A
Miller, G
Hannan, E
Utley, G
Walker, F
Bygrave, E W
Chapman, E
Varley, N W
Bowen, F J
Byrom, F
Backhouse, S
Dalby, M
Crossland, A
Crossley, J S
Dean, R
Frost, A E
Hodgson, F H
Holt, J
Hood, W H
Hill, W
Kitchen, T
Linfoot, E
Metcalfe, J C
Marsden, J
Pawson, W
Precious, G
Scutt, T G
Wiggins, J
Walker, E
Wood, A
Young, T
Pratt, W
Taylor, H
Dawson, G W
Lister, J
Binge, T
Atack, G
Durham, E F
Precious, G R
Wheelhouse Smith, W
Backhouse, H
Swann, J W
Burnsides, G A
Coles, W
Kelly, H W
Miles, J G
Tapsell, K

34th Field Ambulance, Royal Army Medical Corps
Died 8th October 1917, age 34

Cemetery :- Bard Cottage Cemetery, Ieper, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium
Grave Reference or Panel Number :- III.I.38

Son of James and Hannah Coles; husband of Beatrice Maude Coles, of 10, Brook Street, Selby, North Yorkshire.
Willie Coles was born at Fosdyke, Lincolnshire, his birth being registered at Boston in 1883. The 1891 Census records the family residing at Ridlington in the Uppingham district of Rutland, his father's occupation being recorded as that of a Coachman/Groom (Domestic). One of eight children, the majority of the residents of the village worked on the land in this rural idyll however by the recording of the 1901 Census, Willie and his family now comprising of his parents and three siblings had relocated to Hatfield near Doncaster. Residing in premises located in Doncaster Road, James Coles now described his occupation of that of a Fish Dealer (Employer), Willie and his younger brother Charles Frederick assisting in this family run business as a Fish Dealers Assistant and a Yard Boy respectively.
No doubt transporting fish from one of the east coast ports such as Goole or Hull, the journey necessitated the crossing of the River Ouse. Although there was a ferry in existence for foot passengers, transport had to cross the wooden Toll Bridge located at Barlby Bank on the east side of the river and it was here that there resided, in the Bridge Office, one Harry Asprey, the Toll Collector. Harry and Elizabeth Asprey had one daughter, Beatrice Maude, born in Battersea, London, and recorded in the 1901 Census as aged 17 years. One can only speculate that on his many journeys acoss the bridge, romance blossomed between both Willie and Beatrice and in 1909 they entered a union of marriage at Selby.
In the year of 1910, the couple are recorded as residing in St. James Street, Wetherby, Willie in the 1911 Census now describing his occupation of that of an Automobile Association Patrol Man. The marriage had also been blessed with the birth of a child, a daughter, Dorothy May born at Selby on the 25th of April 1910 and baptised at the latter place in the following month. In 1912, the Electoral Register for Barkston Ash records that the family were now residing in premises located in Barleyfields Walk, this apparently being their permanent address before the outbreak of the war. I can only speculate as to why Willie changed his vocation but it is of interest to note that in 1911, Harry Asprey now residing at Gowthorpe Street, Selby, describes his occupation of that of a Motor Engineer, possibly a skill passed from father-in-law to son-in-law.
It was in July 1913 that Willie was elected to the Wetherby Insurance Committee. As a member of the West Riding Insurance Committee and a representative of the Hearts of Oak Benefit Society, the other members elected included Kenneth George Kelly who would later serve with the Machine Gun Corps, and, one Mr. Thomas Corcoran (Independent Order of Oddfellows M.U.) who incidentally was the Author's wife's great grandfather, father to Joseph Corcoran who would serve with the R.F.C./R.A.F. 
Enlistment & Early Service
An analysis of the serial number issued to Willie, 33213, indicates enlistment into the British Army at York on or about the 10th of September 1914. Despite there being a lack of surviving service documents, his service obligation was that of Short Service (Three years with the Colours). Posted to the 34th Field Ambulance that was formed in September 1914, this ambulance was contained in the 11th (Northern) Division. Early service with this flegling unit is somewhat ambiguous but after being processed at York, Willie along with other recruits spent a number of weeks at Aldershot and then Sheffield. Recruits were drawn from numerous parts of the country and one lad, Jos. Ryan, a native of Wigan, wrote a letter to the Wigan Observer And District Advertiser recounting his early weeks with the Field Ambulance. Dated the 13th of October, the article provides a fascinating insight into the publics perception of how New Army recruits were dealt with upon their enlistment.
"Sir,- Will you kindly allow me through the medium of your paper to inform my many friends and readers of the way the recruits of Kitchener's new army are faring. I think it is most ridiculous for people to set out such tales of cruelty and incivility with negligence towards raw recruits.
It's a little rough and ready there's no doubt, but its a fine, healthy life, and the making of a man.
Before I enlisted three weeks ago I heard rumours of all kinds concerning the army, which I now find are entirely without foundation. I was first drafted to our large training centre, Aldershot, where I was informed by our sergeant-major there were 180,000 men to be looked after. I went to the guard room to report myself, and was met by a very nice and polite officer, who told me there were no beds, all were full up, but I could sleep in a good warm room - the lecture room - where I was supplied with a good warm blanket. There were about 50 other fellows in the room from all over the country, and it was like a pantomime until lights out at 10 p.m. Then I got a good sleep until 5.30 a.m.
There was plenty of good food but, of course, it was served out very rough, which I could only expect, all that number of men having to be looked after. Well, I was there four days, and then 150 of us were selected to come here".
The article continues:-
"We have all good beds here (Authors note:- Hillsborough Barracks, Sheffield) a jolly lot of well educated gentlemen in our company; plenty of good food, that is bacon or fish for breakfast, a good cooked dinner every day, jame, marmalade, cheese, cake for tea, and better still, we all get a nice plum pudding on Sunday with dinner. There's a fine canteen, plenty of games, and every enjoyment one could wish for. I can now strongly advise my many friends and readers not to hesitate one moment in recruiting, if its not being looked after they are afraid of. Hoping to meet a lot of you in Berlin in the near future".
One section of Hillsborough Barracks was, at this juncture, occupied by recruits for the Royal Army Medical Corps, Sheffield being assigned the roll of 'Depot' for the Northern Command. As well as training 'raw' recruits to become soldiers, the men were also instructed as per the requirements of this branch of the service, in stretcher and ambulance drills and general first aid techniques. Once it was deemed that they could progress yet further in their training, the men were dispatched for more 'practical' training to hospitals located in the City, amongst their number being the Base Hospital located in Collegiate Crescent.
Remaining at Sheffield, a move to Frensham, Surrey, took place in April whereupon the 34th Field Ambulance went into camp on Frensham Common. The district would soon be occupied by over 30,000 men, under canvas, as the 11th (Northern) Division established itself in the area after the move south from Grantham. Of camp life, there were the inevitable instances of drunkeness and theft, both by soldiers and civilian contractors, and unfortunate accidents. Gunner Thomas Hardacre, 26620, 11th Division Ammunition Column and a native of Bradford, was thrown from a mule at Witley Camp and sustained a fractured skull and a broken collar-bone. Removed to the Connaught Hospital, Aldershot, Thomas unfortunately succumbed to his injuries on the 24th of April aged just 26 years.
On the 31st of May 1915 that the 11th (Northern) Division were inspected by the King who was accompanied by the Queen and Princess Mary. Motoring to Elstead, he then mounted his black 'charger' and rode to Hankley Common, west of Witley, where the troops were drawn up in review order facing south. Received by a general salute, the King and his Staff then rode down the lines of the assembled troops before proceeding to a saluting base where for a period of one hour he watched a march past of the infantry and artillery before returning to his car and Aldershot.      


The King Reviewing Artillery
The Queen, Dated The 12th June 1915

The Army and Navy Gazette dated the 5th of June 1915 quoted an amusing letter that was published in the May edition of the Green Howards Gazette Volume 23. The training the division was undertaking appeared to some as if they were to be forged into some 'super human being,' immune to death itself and trained to survive on virtually no food.

"Philosophers in olden days spent much time trying to discover the secret of perpetual motion. You can do it in no time if you join the 11th Division. We are continuing divisional training, probably with a special object in view. That must be one of two things. Either it is intended to get us so hard that the German bullets will bounce off us, thus greatly reducing casualties: or it is intended to make us so tired of life that we shall not a bit mind being killed...The battalion looks better than ever, if possible. There is a rumour that the last stage of our training will accustum us to live on one biscuit a week. But I do not believe it. It is obvious that this war will be finished by amateur soldiers. My only fear is that we shall win a great victory immediately we enter the fray, and then be disqualified as professionals. Anyhow, after we get there the war will surely end".

The 11th (Northern) Division were about to get their chance but it would not be Germans that they would be fighting, but forces of the Ottoman Empire. The King it would appear, was impressed by this New Army Division, the following Divisional Order also being published in the Gazette.

"His Majesty the King has desired the G.O.C. to convey to the troops his appreciation of the splendid appearance and steadiness of the men on parade yesterday. His Majesty also remarked on the good condition of the horses. Finally His Majesty said to the G.O.C. "It has been a great pleasure to me to see such a splendid body of men, and I desire you to so inform the troops".

Departing For The Dardanelles:- H.T. "Haverford"

On the 30th of June 1915 mobilisation orders were received. Upon completion, orders were then issued for a detachment of the 34th Field Ambulance to proceed to Devonport on the 1st of July. Embarking on the H.T. "Haverford," a former American transatlantic liner requisitioned as a troop transport ship, this party numbered three officers, one attached Clergyman plus 192 N.C.O's and Other Ranks. It is of interest to note that on the embarkation return, the annotation "waggons shut out" is recorded, however, we will return to this statement in due course. The officers numbered Major Hugh Herbert James Fawcett, Officer Commanding, Lieutenant George Vincent Stockdale M.B. (Captain, 1st April 1915, London Gazette dated the 26th of July 1915), Lieutenant Arthur Leonard Shearwood M.B. (Captain, 1st April 1915, London Gazette dated the 26th of July 1915) and the Reverend Edward Thomas Clarke. This first detachment departed the Devonport Dock at 7 p.m.on the evening of the 2nd of July. Along with the 34th F.A., detachments on board the "Haverford" included the 59th Brigade, R.F.A., Sections of the Army Service Corps and Infantry Details in addition to about 700 Pack Ponies. With all personnel placed under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel William John Kerr Rettie, 59th R.F.A., the ship waited at the breakwater until the escort arrived and duly got underway at 12 p.m. Passing through the Straits of Gibraltar on the 7th of July, Malta and the Grand Harbour at Valletta was reached at 1 p.m. on the 10th of July however no personnel were allowed off ship. At 4.30 p.m. that same afternoon, Malta was departed as the ship now headed for Alexandria which was reached at 1 p.m. on the 13th of July but as the ship docked alongside the wooden pier, the latter was covered in manure which resulted in the ship becoming infested with a plague of flies. On the following day, the 59th R.F.A. disembarked, bound for Sidi Bishr Camp, details of men, horses and vehicles of the 33rd Infantry Brigade also accompanying the artillery, along with a number of the 6th (Service) Battalion, East Yorkshire Regiment, who were not proceeding to the Peninsula. (Authors note:- Various details of the 32nd, 33rd and 34th Infantry Brigades it would appear also disembarked in addition to a detail of the 34th Field Ambulance. All these would accompany the 59th R.F.A. and embark on the S.S. "Minneapolis," departing Alexandria on the 1st of August and arriving at Mudros Harbour on the 4th of August respectively).

As the "Haverford" was about to journey towards the Dardanelles, it was at Alexandria at 10 a.m. on the morning of the 16th of July that both the 67th and the 68th Companies of the Royal Engineers of the 11th (Northern) Division embarked. Both units had landed at Alexandria on the 12th of July and had been awaiting orders. These were subsequently issued on the 15th for embarkation on the "Haverford" and with space on board at a premium, some stores of the 68th Company were even loaded 'loose,' all their wheeled vehicles being left at Base. With the 68th Company under the command of Major Frank Augustin Kinder White, it was Major Francis Wilfred Brunner, O.C. 67th Company, who now assumed command of all troops on board.

The voyage to the Dardanelles was uneventful and it was early on the evening of the 19th of July that Lemnos was reached, the "Haverford" sailing into Mudros Harbour. All personnel however were ordered to remain on the ship as details reported their arrival to their respective commands. It was on the evening of the 21st of July that an M.L.O. (Military Landing Officer) reported on ship with orders for the men to prepare for transfer to H.M.S. "Fauvette" which would then disembark the troops at Kephalos Bay, Imbros. Arriving early in the evening of the 22nd of July, the detachments of both the 33rd and the 34th Field Ambulances may have been transported on another ship as their arrival at Imbros is recorded as being on the 28th of July.                      


SS "Haverford" Pre War
Source:-Wikipedia (Public Domain)

A second party, numbering six officers, headed northwards to Liverpool. Departing from Milford Station and arriving at Alexandra Docks, they immediately embarked on the H.T. "Aquitania," a palatial ocean liner requisitioned as a troop transport ship from the Cunard Line. The officers of this party numbered Lieutenant Hugh Palliser Costobadie, F.R.C.S. (Edin.), Temporary Lieutenant Trevor Richard Snelling, Temporary Lieutenant Ernest Tawse M.B., Lieutenant George de Rastricke Carr, Lieutenant James Calvert Spence M.B. (Special Reserve) and Lieutenant Archibald Wilson M.B. (Special Reserve), (Captain, 1st of April 1915, London Gazette dated the 26th of July 1915). (Authors note:- Both the Embarkation Roll and the 32nd Brigade War Diary record that there were in fact seven officers on board. The name of this 'missing' officer is unfortunately not known at present).
Commemoration Under Construction