William Coles

Name William Coles
Corps Northamptonshire Regiment, 1st Battalion, formerly 2nd Battalion, Private 5981
Rank Sergeant
Service No. 3/11176
Date/Place of entry Liverpool
Date of death 15 May 1916 Killed in Action
Memorial/Grave St Patrick’s Cemetery, Loos,  III M4

William Coles was born early in 1881, the sixth child and fourth son of farm labourer Francis Coles and his wife Elisabeth nee Adkins. The family lived at Pinfold Dip on Corby Road for much of his childhood. William first joined the army in November 1899, becoming a private in the Northamptonshire Regiment. In this choice of occupation he may have followed in both his great grandfathers’ footsteps.

According to census entries, grandfather Thomas Coles was born in Dover about 1804 but was living in Cottingham when he married Susanna Claypole of Middleton in 1829. He and Susannah continued to live in Cottingham for the rest of their lives. So far I’ve not found the record of his birth/baptism and so don’t know who his parents were, but he is far from being the only person of his age in Northamptonshire to be born in Dover – twenty one people in the 1851 census for the county, including three living in Gretton, Rothwell and Braybrook, were born there, one in Dover Castle. Also living in Cottingham but born elsewhere according to the 1841 census was John Coles, most probably Thomas’s brother.

The most likely explanation for Thomas’s Dover baptism is that in1804 his father was either a regular soldier, serving with the militia, or employed there in military building work. A militia unit was not part of the regular standing army. Units were organised county by county and used specifically for home defence; they did not serve overseas. Traditionally Militia men were raised by compulsory ballot in each parish, but if a selected man was unwilling to serve he could often find a substitute willing to take it on, usually for payment. By the early 1800s however militia men were largely volunteers who did basic training for a few months at an army depot and then went back to their usual occupations until the next round of training. Militia men were paid, making it an attractive option for poor men such as farm workers and casual labourers.

In hard times, and the collapse of the home weaving industry in Kettering and surrounding villages in the late eighteenth century was certainly one of them, the regular army could also be an attractive option. From the 1790s when Napoleon came to power, the regular army grew very quickly, from around 40,000 to over 250,000 men by 1813. In 1803 -1805 when Thomas and John Coles were born, the British Government set about building new defences including Martello towers along the Kent and East Sussex coast should Napoleon try to invade. Barracks were extended and new ones built along the south coast.  At Dover a one hundred and forty foot triple staircase known as the Grand Shaft was constructed to enable troops to transfer swiftly from the Dover Barracks and Western Heights Fort down to the harbour in an emergency.   

What regimental service and pension records survive do not list any regular soldier from Cottingham named Coles, but that is not conclusive evidence that William’s great grandfather was or was not a regular soldier. The various records feature some highly imaginative spelling variants for people and places, and indexers have added more, varying from the fanciful to the absurd. So identifying individuals with a common name is not easy. There is also the perennial problem that the information contained is not necessarily accurate.  What is clear is that several men from Cottingham and Middleton the village did enlist around this time.

A damaged record does exist for ‘Will’ – no surname as the page is damaged - a labourer from Middleton who enlisted in the 2nd Battalion, 52nd Regiment of Foot, in October 1799. The 52nd was also home to William Atkins (aka Adkins) of Cottingham and Thomas ‘Bagby’ of Middleton. Another young Middleton man, John Cannon (should this be Cannam? Though Cannon is such an appropriate name for a soldier it seems a pity to harbour doubts) enlisted in the 82nd Foot in the same month as ‘Will’. Lastly, teenager John Bamford of Middleton enlisted in the 1st battalion, 14th Foot the following year.

The 52nd Regiment had returned from India in 1798 and promptly raised a 2nd Battalion. In 1801 the celebrated Sir John Moore became the regiment’s colonel, following which the 1st Battalion was re-designated the 52nd (Oxfordshire) Light Infantry Regiment of Foot. The 2nd Battalion became an independent corps, the 96th Regiment of Foot. In 1804 the 52nd raised a new 2nd Battalion. It is possible therefore but far from proven that some men from Cottingham and Middleton went off with the 52nd to fight in the Peninsular War.

The name Coles (also sometimes written as Coales / Coals / Collis) appears in the Cottingham parish registers from 1599 but they were never one of the village’s bigger family groups. Towards the nineteenth century John Collis was a blacksmith there, and according to the 1777 Militia list, lame. His only known son died in 1775.

Francis Coles, born around 1764 probably in Rothwell, was like John of the 1777 Militia list, a blacksmith (according to his widow’s census record). He and his wife Kezia settled in Cottingham around 1800. Francis died in 1837 but Kezia lived on in Cottingham, dying in1864 at ninety years of age. The only son of the marriage to appear in the Cottingham parish register was another Francis, baptised at Cottingham in 1814. It may be that Thomas of Dover was their child also, given he named his own first son Francis.

William Coles’ maternal grandfather was Thomas Adkins (also written as Atkins / Atkyns , but generally Adkins in the nineteenth century Cottingham records so I have kept to that spelling here). Thomas was born about 1810 in Aldwick Barracks just outside Bognor Regis. As with Thomas Coles, I have yet to find the relevant baptism but circumstantial evidence points to his being a son of William Adkins and his wife Jane nee Claypole of Bringhurst.

 The Adkins and Claypole families intermarried with one another several times over during the century. Jane was the subject of an article in the Leicester Chronicle in 1849 extolling the longevity of her and her five sisters whose combined age totalled 462 years. The writer attributed this achievement to a fondness for drinking tea. Jane died in 1857 aged 92.

Two Adkins men from Cottingham served during the Napoleonic Wars. William Adkins was in the 52nd regiment of Foot. His regimental record of August 1803 states he is aged twenty seven, 5'5', tall with a fresh complexion, round face, grey eyes, and light brown hair. Previous occupation was labourer and he had served for three and three quarter years.

Also listed in 1803, but as a substitute representing Leicestershire in the Army of Reserve, was Henry Adkins of Cottingham His unit was the 4th Battalion, Northamptonshire. Henry was a son of Henry Adkins, a weaver, who like many other weavers became a pauper in the 1790s. Another of his sons was baptised William Spriggs Adkins in 1776; this is probably the soldier of the 52nd. They were both preceded in the 52nd by yet another Adkins from Cottingham, Robert Adkins born around 1759.

A couple of years or so before William Coles’ grandfather Thomas Adkins was born at Aldwick Barracks, another William Adkins was born in Shoreham, Kent. Both men later lived in Wood Lane in Cottingham and are therefore likely to be brothers. There was a temporary army camp set up at Shoreham during the Napoleonic period which housed soldiers and their families.

There was at least one Adkins in Cottingham in 1809 but his given name is not known. A court reports the case of a pauper apprentice whose master, Adkins found it advisable to suddenly quit his home in Cottingham after his affairs became ‘seriously involved. He never returned, says the report, and his wife followed him shortly afterwards..
Returning to Cottingham, census data shows how the Coles name grew and then diminished in numbers in the seventy years leading up to World War 1. In 1841 there four families of that name headed by Thomas (born about 1804), John (born about 1806) as noted above, and also James (born about 1811) and Francis (born about 1814).

Thomas Coles and his wife Susannah nee Claypole had ten children baptised between 1832 and 1853. In 1855 he (or possibly his recently married nephew of the same name) appeared before magistrates at Kettering for threatening to murder his wife. He was bound over to keep the peace and they both lived into old age; Susannah died in 1873 and Thomas in 1887, when his grandson William was six years old.

Their eldest daughter Mary married William Jarman and had several children some of whom married into the Tilley, Crane and Beadsworth families. Fourth daughter Alice married James Tansley; their grandson William James Tansley was killed at Neuve Chapelle in 1915. Second son Charles married Elisabeth Jarvis and their children also married into the Crane and Tilley families.

Third son Thomas was unkindly described as a ‘slow youth’ during a court case in 1859 where he was called as a witness to a poaching incident by fellow youths William Crane and John Sculthorpe. Two years later a militia man named Thomas Coles of Cottingham was lodging in Northampton when his entire uniform was stolen by a fellow lodger. The miscreant was caught the following morning and ended up in court. There were two Thomas Coles of the right age in Cottingham to be in the Militia, this one seems the most likely. Thomas
married William Crane’s sister Caroline and the couple moved to Leicester where they raised twelve children before Caroline died in 1887. He then married a Maria West.

The fourth son Joseph appeared before magistrates charged with youths James Crane and Thomas Dolby with the heinous crime of stealing mistletoe in Deene Park just before Christmas. He was further accused of having been in court for drunkenness on an earlier occasion but protested that the magistrates were thinking of his cousin. Joseph also moved to Leicester.

Youngest son John became a railway porter, living with his married sister Eliza West in St Pancras in 1871 but settling later in Leicester where he married and had several children. His eldest son may have emigrated to Canada and fought with the Canadian forces.

So during his childhood William had only one Coles uncle and one aunt remaining in Cottingham, as his aunt Alice Tansley nee Coles died in 1875. However on the Coles side of the family he could still count a dozen or more Jarman cousins and second cousins, twenty + Tansley and Beesworth, as well as the eight children of his uncle Charles Coles all living in the village.

His father Francis Coles was the fifth child and eldest son of Thomas and Susanna. In 1863 he married Elisabeth Adkins and produced eight children of whom the sixth was William. The family lived at Barrack Yard (for a detailed study of Barrack Yard visit www.craxford-family.co.uk) near the premises of blacksmith John Claypole, and then a little further along Corby Road at Pinfold Dip. In 1861 Francis was lodging in Blind Lane with James and Alice Tansley nee Coles, his aunt.
Francis was a farm worker, aged twenty three when he married. His bride Elisabeth was the eldest daughter of the Thomas Adkins born in Aldwick Barracks, and his wife Elisabeth Panter whose first husband William Dalby (Dolby) had died in 1840. She had four children from this marriage so Elisabeth Adkins grew up with Dalby half-brother and sisters as well as her younger sister Harriet and a niece Caroline. One of these Dalby half-sisters married into the West family group, and another married John Vye; their grandson Frederick James Vye died in 1918.

Harriet Adkins married Frederick Jones, a carpenter on the East Carlton estate in March 1865 and died later that year, leaving a son also named Frederick. Her husband married Maria Oliver eight years later. He committed suicide by drowning himself in a water tub near his home next to the Royal George in 1886, while suffering from a depressive illness.

Caroline Adkins married Benjamin Tansley in 1866. Their children included five sons, cousins to William Coles, all of whom served in the army and / or militia at various times. Benjamin Tansley joined the Northamptonshire Regiment in 1887 and was followed by brother Alfred, who re-joined in September 1915 just short of his fortieth birthday. David Tansley joined the Leicestershire Regiment; he and his brother Lovel Tansley attested in 1904; John Henry Tansley attested in November 1901, exactly a year and fifty one weeks after William.

Grandparents Thomas and Elisabeth Adkins lived for many years in Wood Lane (the bridleway connecting the road running across the top of the Dale to the A427). Thomas was a farm worker. His brother William Adkins, born in Shoreham, was a woodman working for the Bury House estate and also living, appropriately, on Wood Lane. In April 1855 he took local man James Perkins to court for stealing a quantity of wood, value three pence, belonging to his employers, which seems a bit harsh though James was a regular at petty sessions hearings.

It would seem there was no love lost between the Perkins and Adkins families – his niece Elisabeth Adkins (William Coles’ mother) herself appeared in court as a sixteen year old accused of throwing a large stone at James Perkins’ wife in the doorway of their home and using foul language.

William Adkins had several children and his descendants include George Thomas Goode. His brother John, born in 1803, had only one son, Charles: descendants included Charles Harry Timson who died in 1917, William Timson who died in 1918, and Mary Adkins who married two men from the Claypole family, the second being William Claypole who died in 1917.

William was born in the winter of 1880 -1881. His grandfather Thomas Coles lived nearby, as did the Adkins family and their neighbours / adversaries James Perkins and wife. Thomas Coles lived on until 1887.

Within ten years William’s elder siblings would move out so that by 1891 Francis and Elisabeth had only four children still living with them.  Their eldest son Francis, some seventeen years older than William, also had a brief day in court in 1888. He was accused with his cousin Charles Jarman and soldier George West of stealing a ferret from village inn keeper Thomas Fisher. This too happened just before Christmas. The whereabouts of Francis Jnr cannot be traced after this but there’s some evidence he may have emigrated to Ontario, Canada.

Elder brother Walter went to Liverpool, marrying there in 1892. He became a railway brakesman, and had four children.

William’s two elder sisters could be found just two doors down, however. Eldest sister Harriet married John Inkle West and her sister Elisabeth lodged with the young couple. The Wests moved to Rockingham at the turn of the century; their sons John Thomas West, David West and Baden William West were born in the 1890s and all served in the War.

Elisabeth Coles married William Clow of Lyddington in 1894 and moved to Corby where she gave birth to two sons.

William’s father Francis died in May 1895 at the age of fifty seven, leaving Elisabeth to raise the younger children. Like nearly every other female in the village after it opened in1874 one time or another, she found work at Wallis and Linnell’s clothing factory.
Thomas Coles, about three years William’s senior, followed their brother Walter’s example and had moved to Liverpool by 1901. He worked as a porter and a shunter, married and had children there; a man of the right name and age died in Farnsworth, near Bolton in 1956.

William’s younger sister Annie most probably married William Spriggs in 1905; she was living then with her mother and brother Joseph in Water Lane and he was a son of one of their neighbours. They do not feature in the 1911 census but a British-born couple of the right age were listed in Ontario in 1911 and 1921.

William’s youngest brother Joseph was still living with his mother Elisabeth in 1911; his whereabouts after that are not yet known.

William, fourteen at the time of his father’s death, first signed up in Kettering for seven years’ active service in the Northamptonshire Regiment on 9th November 1899, just a month short of his nineteenth birthday. The attestation paper describes him as five foot and three quarter inches tall, chest thirty four to thirty six and a half (expanded measurement),fresh complexioned, with brown hair and hazel eyes. William also had two moles near his left collarbone and was blessed with irregular front teeth. He gave his denomination as Church of England despite having been an exceptionally regular attender at Cottingham Methodist Sunday school as a child.

From October 1900 to April 1902 he was stationed in South Africa with the 2nd Battalion during the 2nd Boer War. The battalion had sailed for South Africa in October 1899, and initially formed part of the 9th Brigade in Cape Colony. The following October the Brigade was partly dismantled, with the 2nd Northamptonshires joining a column under Major General Douglas in the south-west of the Transvaal. They then moved to Central Transvaal where they occupied posts on the line between Warm Baths and Pietersburg until the campaign ended. Immediately afterwards the Battalion returned to England for several years.

William however had transferred into the Regiment’s 1st Battalion, and was stationed at Jullundur, India for six years. He transferred back to the 2nd Battalion in November 1908 and then served in Malta from January 1911. He was listed as an army cook private at Floriana Barracks in Valletta, Malta.  

The British Government ruled Malta from 1802 until 1921 so army battalions were stationed there throughout. Floriana is now a suburb of Valletta but was initially the name accorded the fortified area around the harbour constructed by the Italian architect Floriani to protect the landward side of the city. The barracks overlooked the quarantine harbour. They had a reputation for being unhealthy with lots of soldiers suffering fever. As one of the battalion’s thirteen cooks, William would have been providing food for around a thousand soldiers. He completed his full twelve years of service on 8 November 1911 and was still ranked private on his discharge.

It seems likely he went to Liverpool, where two of his brothers lived, as he got married in spring 1914 in the West Derby (Liverpool) registration area where his brother Walter resided. William’s bride was most probably Mary Ann Baxendale. He re-enlisted at Liverpool though the exact date he did so is unknown. His new rank of sergeant presumably reflects his previous experience.  

In World War One an army battalion had just two industrial-sized vats to cook with which inevitably led to pretty much everything tasting the same. Hence the many wartime songs about the awfulness of army food – lumps of onion in your tea, horsemeat and nettle stew, bread made from ground turnips and so forth. This got worse in 1916 when German naval blockades really began to bite and rations were reduced.

Behind the lines, men would usually get a hot meal from the cookhouses. In the trenches there were no cooks as it was rarely feasible to get mobile field cookers right up to the front. The men had to prepare meals as best they could with the meagre food rations they got. Delivering rations to troops in the trenches was not without its hazards. In general food was brought up during the night and those delivering it, both soldiers and cooking staff, were often targeted by enemy snipers.

The soldiers of the1st Battalion, Northamptonshire Regiment were among the very first troops to arrive in France, landing at Le Havre on 13th August as part of the First Division, 2nd Brigade. The First Division was involved on the Western Front throughout the war and took part in most of the major actions. William must have seen action in some, maybe all, of these from the Battles of Mons and the Marne, the first Battle of Ypres, Aubers, and Loos.

In January 1916 the 1st Battalion left the trenches for four weeks’ training at in Lillers, returning to the front line south of Loos on 15 February. This was the month that saw the onset of the Battle of Verdun over in Lorraine between the German and French forces, the longest battle of the war with 700,000 casualties over nine months.
The 1st Battalion Northamptonshires stayed south of Loos until the middle of July, largely occupied with mining and bombing encounters and raids across No Man’s Land. William Coles was killed in action here on the 15th May. 

He is buried in St. Patrick's Cemetery, Loos. The cemetery was begun during the Battle of Loos and most of the men interred here belonged to units of the 16th (Irish) Division. There are now 583 Commonwealth burials of the 1914 -18 war commemorated here and 54 French. William lies next to soldiers from the 7th Leinsters and 8th Irish Fusiliers who died in the weeks following, and one man from the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, also part of the 2nd Brigade, who died the same day as he did.

William was survived by his wife who was then living in Old Trafford, Manchester. Whether they had children is unknown.

His mother Elisabeth died shortly afterwards in the autumn of 1916 and his brother Walter died in 1917 in Liverpool. His other brothers Thomas and Joseph were still alive after 1918. His three sisters survived him: Harriet West was buried at Rockingham in 1959 at the age of ninety; Elisabeth Clow died in 1953; the youngest, Annie Spriggs and her husband William were living in Prince Edward, Ontario in 1921.

There were very few people with the Coles surname left in Cottingham in 1911. William’s uncle Charles Coles, now a widowed labourer, was in Church Street with his widowed daughter Eliza Swingler and her children; his son John lived nearby in Chamberlain’s Yard with his wife Sarah nee Tilley and two children.

Another cousin of William’s, John Thomas Coles, had lived in Leicester with his Cottingham-born wife Clara Elisabeth nee Tansley for several years but returned to the village in the early 1900s. He took over from James Tilley as landlord of the Three Horseshoes on the High Street by 1906 but was listed as a slater in 1911. The pub had definitely closed by 1914 and part of the building became a shop / taxi service run by their son Vere and his wife which was still going in the1960s.