Lance Corporal Harold Bertie Coleman 201115 1/4th Leicestershire Regiment
who died on 26 April 1918
Harold Bertie Coleman was born in 1897 in Oadby. He was the son of Charles and Sarah Jane Coleman (nee Marshall). The family lived at East Street, Oadby. Harold was one of nine children of whom it is recorded in 1911 that 5 survived. Harold’s siblings were Cecil (1897), Tom (1899) Annie (1901) and Gertrude Phoebe (1904). A further child John Arthur was born in 1915.
Charles Coleman, who was a riveter in the boot and shoe industry, died in 1916. The 1911 Census recorded that Harold aged 13 and his older brother Cecil (14) worked as a Golf Caddies. This was a ‘self-employed’ position whereby the boys would turn up at the golf course each morning and tout for work. They would have been paid in cash at the end of a round. The Leicestershire Golf Club was formed in 1890 at Oadby Hill House, the home of John Corah. The first games were played on the Oadby Racecourse land, adjacent to Mr Corah’s estate on London Road. In 1891 the club obtained land from the Powys-Keck estate on Stoughton Lane, Oadby. The plot was extended eastwards the following year and the current position established.
Young golf caddies in the early 1900s
Harold enlisted on 26 March 1915 as Private 4316 into the 4th Battalion Leicestershire Regiment. His service records states he was 19 years old but in fact he was only 17. This Territorial Battalion enlisted 17 year olds but Harold should not have been considered for active service abroad until his 19th birthday. Harold was posted to 3/4th (Reserve) Battalion at Belton Park, Grantham for basic training.
On the 11 December 1915 Harold disembarked in Rouen to join the 1/4th battalion in the field. This was shortly after the near destruction of the battalion at the Battle of Hohenzollern Redoubt on 13 October. The war diary for the day notes that ‘all the officers of the Bn were either killed or wounded.’ The 4th Battalion was slowly rebuilding its strength with replacement drafts and this might account for the fact that Harold was sent on overseas service before his time. Harold was one of 92 NCOs and men who joined the battalion at Le Sart near Merville on 22 December 1915. They were put straight into training, physical drill and route marching. Brigadier General GC Kemp inspected the new drafts on 28 December. On 6 January the 4th Leicesters received orders to entrain for Marseilles, destination Egypt. The battalion got as far as embarking on the HMT Andorra before they were ordered to return to the line on 22 January.
Harold first saw battle action during the spring of 1916 at Talus des Zouaves. The 4th Leicesters were in divisional reserve during the summer Battle of the Somme but Harold was appointed Lance Corporal on 23 August 1916. At Bienvilliers on 22 October 1916, during a withdrawal from the front line, Harold received a minor wound and was taken to a field ambulance for treatment. He returned to duty on 26 October 1916.
In June 1917 Harold’s service number was changed to 201115. On 8 June 1917 while the battalion held the front line at Lievin, between Arras and Bethune, Harold was wounded in a heavy bombardment and treated for NYD (Not Yet Diagnosed) Shell Shock at No.18 Casualty Clearing Station. He returned to duties in the field 10 days later.
Ruins of Lievin 15 July 1917 after a prolonged artillery bombardment.
Between 23 February and 9 March 1918 Harold was granted home leave. Shortly after his return to France the German Spring Offensive began in 21 March. On 26 April 1918 whilst serving with C Company 1/4th Battalion Leicestershire Regiment Harold was killed in action during an artillery bombardment. He was just 20 years old.
The battalion war diary for 26 April 1918 states, ‘A large number of 5.9” shells fell between FOUQUIERES and BETHUNE. One hit a tree in the camp and killed one man, wounding eleven others of this unit.’ Two of the wounded men died later that day.
Fouquieres church after the artillery bombardment in April 1918
Harold is buried with his comrades at Fouquieres Churchyard Extension. The majority of the graves at this cemetery are those of Territorial soldiers, 249 of them are from the 46th (North Midland) Division, which spent three years in the neighbourhood and based its transport at Fouquieres.
Harold’s headstone at Fouquieres Churchyard Extension Cemetery
Harold is also commemorated on the Oadby War Memorial and on the Senior School Memorial that hangs in Launde Primary School, Oadby.
Oadby Council Senior School Memorial
Harold’s death was noted in the council minutes but it appears that there may have been some confusion with his brother Private Cecil Coleman who was serving in C Company of 4th Leicesters at the same time. (Leicester Daily Mail 11 May 1918)