Private Harry Coleman

20665 2nd Bn. Leicestershire Regiment who died on 9 March 1917

Family History

Harry Coleman was the son of Ezra and Emma (nee Measom) Coleman. He was born in Great Glen in 1878, the sixth and youngest surviving child in the family. Two of his brothers died in infancy. Ezra had worked as a framework knitter since the age of twelve, work which he continued to do after the family moved to Beaumont Street, Oadby, where they are recorded as living in 1891. By this time Harry and William Mawby a six year old boarder, were the only children still at school. Harry’s eldest sister Phebe (sic) was a dressmaker, his eldest brother William was a clerk while his sister Zilpah and his brother Eli worked in the shoe making trade.

Harry married Agnes Holt of Junction Road, Wigston in 1899 and in 1901 they lived at Cross Street, Oadby with two daughters, Ada, aged one and Edith aged five months. Harry worked as a boot and shoe riveter. At the same time, his parents had moved to Leicester Road, Oadby where Eli still lived with them. However, they had adopted William Mawby, who was by this time a carpenter’s apprentice, and Hannah Matts, who worked as a sock hand.

By 1911 Harry and Agnes and their family had moved to Leicester Road, Oadby. They had six children between the ages of eleven and one month living at home, Edith, Harry, Edna, Millicent, William and Emma. Agnes’ sister Annie also lived with the family and was a hosiery worker. Their eldest child Ada was with her grandparents Ezra and Emma at the time of the census. Harry was employed as a general labourer.

Cross Street, Oadby just prior to demolition in 1960s

Military Service

Harry’s service record is no longer available but it seems unlikely that he would have enlisted at the outbreak of war. As a thirty six year old married man with a large, young family it is likely that he would have been conscripted sometime after May 1916. After what was probably a relatively short basic training course, Harry was posted to the 2nd Battalion Leicestershire Regiment. A photograph showing Harry in tropical uniform was possibly taken in Alexandria during December 1916 when additional drafts were sent to Mesopotamia (present day Iraq). Certainly he was fighting in the 2nd Leicesters during the Spring of 1917.

Private Harry Coleman on the left in tropical uniform. Possibly taken in Alexandria in December 1916.

The 2nd Leicesters, along with three companies of the Indian Army had landed at Basra on 6 December 1915 to relieve British and Indian troops besieged at Kut al Amara on the River Tigris. All attempts to free the garrison failed and on 29 April 1916 13,000 troops and civilian support surrendered to Turkish troops. Following the surrender the relief forces and the Turks temporarily withdrew to reinforce their positions (although sniping continued).

During the summer of 1916 the temperature reached 43 to 48 degrees C and rations were reduced to a tin of bully beef and two dried biscuits per day. Floods, tainted water, flies and dysentery were a constant problem.

On 28 August General Maud assumed command and over the autumn effective British supply lines and medical facilities were established in preparation for the advance on Baghdad. Losses during the campaign were high and new drafts were regularly received from August 1916.

Map showing the location of positions during the Mesopotamia Campaign of 1916 and 1917.

The advance up the River Tigris was resumed on 14 December and the reoccupation of Kut was achieved on 24 February 1917. By 8 March the 2nd Leicesters had reached the confluence of the Diyala and Tigris Rivers on the outskirts of Baghdad. Ottoman troops resisted the first assault on 9 March and it was during this action that Harry Coleman was killed. Baghdad was taken on 11 March 1917.

British troops enter Baghdad in April 1917.

 

Memorials

Private Harry Coleman is Remembered with Honour on the Basra Memorial. The memorial originally stood at Amara but was moved by Saddam Hussein to a roadside outside Basra. His name also appears on the Oadby War Memorial.

Basra Memorial, Iraq.

Harry’s death was notified to the Oadby Urban District Council members (Oadby and Wigston Advertiser (21 April 1917)

Harry’s obituary appeared in the Leicester Mercury on 30 May 1916. Unfortunately the only available copy is water damaged but possibly taken from this, also damaged, original photograph.

Harry’s obituary (Leicester Mercury 30 May 1916)

Original but damaged photo of Pte Harry Coleman

 

Family Members

By 1919 Agnes Coleman and her children had moved to Queen Street. She died in 1940.

Ezra Coleman with his sons William, Eli and Harry