Monday, February 29, 2016

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William Coltman's Bravery

Mick Hall @ Organized Rage writes about:

William Coltman the most decorated soldier of WW1 for bravery in the field who refused to fire even a single shot.

Bill Coltman.
Few of us will have heard of William Coltman,  a conscientious objector, whose strong Christian beliefs prevented him from taking up arms during World War One.

William was born in 1891 into a working class family at Rangemore, a small village on the outskirts of Burton upon Trent. Like most of his class in those days he left school aged thirteen, and helped his mother to support the family after the early death of his father. On 8 January 1913 he married his lifelong partner at Burton upon Trent record office, Eleanor Dolman, who was then a domestic servant. He met her through working with her father Henry when both men worked together as jobbing gardeners; the couple had two children.

Religion was very important to him, throughout his adult life he was involved with the Plymouth Brethren, who met regularly in the meeting room in the village of Winshill, on the outskirts of Burton, where he taught in the Sunday school. He literally believed in the Ten commandments, and regarded one of them 'You shall not kill' as a moral imperative.

After WW1 began he pondered long and hard about whether to join up or become a conscientious objector. In January 1915 he reluctantly took the king's shilling as a rifleman in the 2nd company of the 6th battalion of the North Staffs, a regiment he would remain with throughout the war.

After basic training somehow he must have convinced a senior officer he held genuine beliefs when he said he wished to play no part in killing men just like him who just happened to be German.

Considered by the army as a square peg in a round hole, he was lucky someone senior in the regiment saw his potential and instead of placing on what would have been a capital charge, found a round hole for Bill Coltman which he fitted into perfectly when he became a stretcher-bearer. From that day on he refused to carry a weapon, even under heavy fire in no man's land.

If this was the end of Bill Coltman's story he would have just been one of the millions of working class squaddies on both sides, who took part in that bloody conflagration most of whom we have never heard of.

What makes him interesting is William Coltman, a common soldier who never fired a shot was a VC, DCM & Bar, MM & Bar and a recipient of the Victoria Cross (VC), the highest award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.

He was the most decorated 'other rank' of the First World War and in all probability the most decorated soldier of all ranks for courage in the field. Which makes it almost inexplicable he is not a household name. To understand why the clue is in the two word's 'other rank,' for under the wretched English class system, the ruling class believed acts of bravery in the field are for the officer class, in other words for them and theirs. As Geoff Meade wrote:
Bill Coltman's personal  modesty and the authorities’ problem with the contradiction of a hero who would not take up arms, means that today he is the bravest soldier most people have never heard of.

If you consider one of his first acts when David Cameron came into office in 2010 was to  announce four years of World War One commemorations. One would have thought two years on Bill Coltman would have become a household name. After all there cannot be many people who are awarded the Distinguished Service Medal twice, the Military Medal twice, and the Victoria Cross. The citation for winning the VC sums up his courage and dedication to his comrades whom he served:
Coltman was awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery over the course of two days, 3–4 October 1918, at Mannequin Hill, near Sequehart, during the allies' advance in the last stages of the war. As well as tending the wounded without a break, he made three separate trips into no man's land, on his own initiative, unaided, and under fierce enfilade fire, to dress the wounds of injured men, whom he then carried on his back to safety.
After the First World War ended Coltman returned to Burton on Trent and took a job as a groundskeeper with the town's Parks Department. He retired from his job in 1963 and died of bronchopneumonia and Parkinson's disease at Outwoods Hospital, Burton upon Trent, Staffordshire, on 29 June 1974, at the age of 82.

He lies buried with his wife Eleanor in the churchyard of St Mark's parish church in Winshill.

Bill Coltman a working class hero.