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William Coe

William Coe 1914Private William Coe, 27722, Lancashire Fusiliers, 9th Battalion

William Coe was born in Ossett in winter 1888, the son of William Coe and his wife Margaret (formerly Tolson nee Bedford) who married in the winter of 1887. In 1881, William Coe, a plumber and glazier, was living at Little Town End, Ossett with a lodger, Margaret Tolson and her two children from an earlier marriage. Both William and Margaret described themselves as unmarried.

In 1891, William was two years old, the only son and youngest child of four children living with their 44 year-old widowed mother Margaret Coe, a rag sorter, living on South Street, Ossett. Three of Margaret’s children, Florence, Ada and Sarah, were from an earlier marriage to Charles Tolson, but in 1891 they all had taken the surname of their deceased stepfather, Coe.

William’s mother, Margaret had lost two husbands in a short period of time, although no obvious death record can be found for either of them. Things were to take a turn for the worse for her, when on the 19th August 1895, she was found guilty of cruelty to three children and sentenced to 2 months hard labour in His Majesty’s Prison, Wakefield. She was 45 years of age, 5’ 0½” tall, with brown hair and a Methodist. She had no previous convictions and was discharged on the 12th October 1895. William was aged 8 years old in 1895 and had lived in Ossett since his birth.

In 1901, William was 14 years old, and living as the adopted son of Cookridge farmer Frank Thompson and his wife Matilda. He may have moved to live with the Thompson family at the time of his mother’s imprisonment. In the same year, his youngest sister Sarah was 15 years old and living at the Certified Industrial School for Girls in Burmantofts, Leeds.

In 1907, William married Jane Ellis at Batley and, in 1911, Willie Coe, was living at 68, Bradford Road, Gomersal with his wife, Jane, and their only child, Edith, aged 1 year. He was working as a horseman on a farm.

Private William Coe's army service record has not survived, but it is known that he enlisted at Castleford and joined the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry with service number 23755. At some stage he was transferred to the 9th Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers with service number 27722. William was killed in action on the 16th August 1917 and was posthumously awarded the British and Victory medals and also the 1914/15 Star, which he qualified for when he embarked for Egypt on the 3rd December 1915.

In the 1914 picture (above) of Private William Coe in his Lancashire Fusiliers uniform, the second button on his tunic is coloured black. During WW1, it was permissable in the British army to wear a small square of black crepe wrapped around the second button of the tunic as a sign of personal mourning. Officers wore black crepe armbands. Photographs of the period sometimes illustrate this practise, and it inspired W.A Darlington's novel "Alf's Button". It was published in 1920, filmed the same year, a stage play in 1924, and re-filmed in 1930 as one of the first British 'talkies'. In 1938, the Crazy Gang made a follow up, "Alf's Button Afloat".

The 9th (Service) Battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers was formed in Bury, Lancashire on the 31st August 1914 as part of the First New Army (K1) and then moved to Belton Park, Grantham to join the 34th Brigade of the 11th (Northern) Division. In April 1915, they moved to Witley, then Godalming in Surrey. In July 1915, the battalion mobilised for war and embarked for Egypt from Devonport. On the 17th July 1915 they arrived in Alexandria and then moved to Imbros. On the 6th August 1915 they landed at Sulva Bay, Gallipoli and the Division engaged in various actions including the Battle of Scimitar Hill and attack on Hill 60. On the 18th December 1915 they evacuated to Mudros due to the severe casualties from combat, disease and harsh weather and in January 1916 moved to Egypt, arriving at Alexandria on the 31st January 1916 where the Division was involved in the defence of the Suez canal.

In July 1916, they moved to France, landing at Marseilles and the Division engaged in various actions on the Western Front including the capture of the Wundt-Werk (Wonder Work) in 1916, plus the Battle of Flers-Courcelette and the Battle of Thiepval during 1917.

William Coe is not remembered on any Ossett Memorial or Roll of Honour, which is likely to be because he left Ossett, aged 8, in 1895 and it seems probable that his parents left around the same time.

Private William Coe died aged 29 years on the 16th August 1917 during the Battle of the Langemarck part of the Third Battle of Ypres. The attack was from Steenbeck stream with objectives a line about half a mile NE of the Zonnebeke/Langemarck Road and a location known as White House.

Langemarck August 1917

Above: Light rail ammunition transport during the Battle of Langemarck in August 1917.

Private William Coe is remembered on Panels 54 to 60 and 163A of the Tyne Cot Memorial,1 Zonnebeke, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium. The Tyne Cot Memorial to the Missing forms the north-eastern boundary of Tyne Cot Cemetery, which is located 9 kilometres north east of Ieper town centre, on the Tynecotstraat, a road leading from the Zonnebeekseweg (N332). The names of those from United Kingdom units are inscribed on Panels arranged by Regiment under their respective Ranks.

The Tyne Cot Memorial is one of four memorials to the missing in Belgian Flanders which cover the area known as the Ypres Salient. Broadly speaking, the Salient stretched from Langemarck in the north to the northern edge in Ploegsteert Wood in the south, but it varied in area and shape throughout the war.

The Salient was formed during the First Battle of Ypres in October and November 1914, when a small British Expeditionary Force succeeded in securing the town before the onset of winter, pushing the German forces back to the Passchendaele Ridge. The Second Battle of Ypres began in April 1915 when the Germans released poison gas into the Allied lines north of Ypres. This was the first time gas had been used by either side and the violence of the attack forced an Allied withdrawal and a shortening of the line of defence.

There was little more significant activity on this front until 1917, when in the Third Battle of Ypres an offensive was mounted by Commonwealth forces to divert German attention from a weakened French front further south. The initial attempt in June to dislodge the Germans from the Messines Ridge was a complete success, but the main assault north-eastward, which began at the end of July, quickly became a dogged struggle against determined opposition and the rapidly deteriorating weather. The campaign finally came to a close in November with the capture of Passchendaele.

The German offensive of March 1918 met with some initial success, but was eventually checked and repulsed in a combined effort by the Allies in September. The battles of the Ypres Salient claimed many lives on both sides and it quickly became clear that the commemoration of members of the Commonwealth forces with no known grave would have to be divided between several different sites.

The site of the Menin Gate was chosen because of the hundreds of thousands of men who passed through it on their way to the battlefields. It commemorates those of all Commonwealth nations, except New Zealand, who died in the Salient, in the case of United Kingdom casualties before 16 August 1917 (with some exceptions). Those United Kingdom and New Zealand servicemen who died after that date are named on the memorial at Tyne Cot, a site which marks the furthest point reached by Commonwealth forces in Belgium until nearly the end of the war. Other New Zealand casualties are commemorated on memorials at Buttes New British Cemetery and Messines Ridge British Cemetery.

The Tyne Cot Memorial now bears the names of almost 35,000 officers and men whose graves are not known. The memorial, designed by Sir Herbert Baker with sculpture by Joseph Armitage and F.V. Blundstone, was unveiled by Sir Gilbert Dyett on 20 June 1927.


1. Commonwealth War Graves Commission web site