Gunner 161859 RFA and later 46490 The Leeds Pals

Cecil Arthur Coles, probably known as Arthur, and given by this name in the Leeds Pals (Milner, p.260), was born in September 1895 in Leicester according to the birth records (www.freebmd.org.uk 2015) but 18th July 1894 according to his attestation form (Find My Past, 2015). In my view this may be an example of adding to his age to make him appear older. The son of Alfred Henry Coles, boot and shoe factor in 1901, cycle fitter in 1911, and Eliza Ellen Billings. Only 3 of their 8 children were still living, Alfred, Cecil and Lawrence. They lived at 6 Arundel Street, Northampton in 1901, but by 1911 had moved to 31 Palin Street, Hyson Green, Nottingham (Find My Past, 2015). When he attested on 8th December 1915 he gave his address as 195 Warwick Road, Greet, Birmingham, though on a later form Greet had been replaced by Sparkhill, where Warwick Road actually is. He was unmarried and his next of kin was his mother, Eliza Ellen Coles, of the same address, who received his separation allowance. His height was 5ft. 8.5ins, making him about average. His occupation was given as ‘gun trade’, working for the Birmingham Small Arms Company. However, on another form his occupation was given as Cycle Fitter, as it was on the census, also a branch of BSA (Find My Past, 2015).

1915 8th December: Attested and placed on Army Reserve List.

1916 13th October: Rejoined Colours.

14th October: Posted to No.2 Depot RFA.

15th October: Posted to 7th Reserve Battalion RFA.

25th November: Transferred to No.3 Reserve Training Battalion.

9th December: AWOL for 2 days, fined 2 days’ pay.

1917 12th January: Transferred to 17th Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment and sent to France, landing at Etaples, remaining there until 27th March 1918.

January – August: During next 7 months punished several times for unspecified offences, receiving 5 or 7 days Field Punishment No.2

19th August: Again AWOL and sentenced to be tried by Field General Court Martial. Charged with deserting His Majesty’s Service, absenting himself from his battalion in the front line trenches and remaining absent until 1st September 1917, when he surrendered to Military Police in Boulogne. Found guilty and sentenced to 3 year’s penal servitude. Although the sentence was confirmed it was directed that he should not be committed to prison until further orders.

7th November: Sentence suspended.

1918 4th May: Sentence remitted. The GOC of the brigade dealing with the Court Martial was Brig.Gen. Stuart C Taylor.

9th February: Given good reference by Maj. Gibson, Acting CO of Leeds Pals, following request from HQ. Referred to as ‘Private W Coles’, but army number is correct. Mistake dates back to at least the previous December.

14th to 18th February: On leave.

27th March: Again missing, but the following day reported a POW, which seems very fast for capture to be confirmed.

28th March – 21st November: Prisoner in Germany, though I can find no POW record for him.  (Prisoners of the First World War-Red Cross)

3rd May: Lt.Col. WD Coles, CO of Leeds Pals, gave him good character reference in relation to his absence, but also referred to him again as ‘W Coles’, a mistake repeated by Brig.Gen. Taylor.

22nd November: Returned to England.

1919 24th March: Volunteered to be retained by the army.

20th April: Change of address recorded, to: c/o Mrs Tincy (name unclear), Twywell, Nr. Thrapston, Northants.

26th April: Promoted to Acting L/Corporal

20th September: Issued with Protection Certificate and address given as 195 Warwick Road, Birmingham. Listed as 169 Protection Company, 3rd Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment.

18th October: Transferred to Class Z Army Reserve on demobilisation. Awarded the Victory Medal and the British War Medal (Find My Past, 2015).

Researching Issues:  It is difficult to know what to make of this soldier:

  • Despite numerous punishments, including one for desertion, he was given good character references by two of his officers, and ultimately a promotion.
  • He volunteered to stay in the army, although his offer was not taken up.
  • He was obviously a sporting type, since his name was on the Cup awarded to No.4 Platoon in March 1918, for winning the inter-platoon competitions up to corps level at the Divisional Sports.
  • There are two very different birth dates given, and when a soldier falsified his age for enlistment purposes it was generally only the year that he changed. Also in this case it was hardly necessary, since either birth date would have given an age between 18 and 20 in 1914, and there is no suggestion of enlisting before 1915.
  • There appear to be 2 different names, or at least initials.
  • In the 1891 Census the family is living in Brentford, Middlesex, in 1901 in Northampton, then in 1911 in Nottingham, and the children were born in Leicester, so they obviously moved around a lot. On the attestation form Coles is living near Birmingham, but in 1919 there is a change of address to Northants, and then back to Birmingham on discharge.
  • He was in the RFA for about 3 months, mainly in the Reserve, before being posted to Leeds Pals, an Infantry battalion, before finishing in the 3rd Battalion, though this last was probably just the result of amalgamations.

It makes me wonder whether two soldiers have become confused in the records, unlikely though it may seem, but so far I have found no actual evidence to support such a theory.

Researcher: Peter Taylor

Please Note:

  • All opinions and inferences are the researcher’s own.
  • Please refer to our Glossary of Terms for further information on the terms and phrases used in this post.