b. 17/11/1891 Burton on Trent, Staffordshire. d. 29/06/1974 Burton on Trent, Staffordshire.
William Harold Coltman (1891-1974) was born on 17th November 1891 in Tatenhill Common, near Burton on Trent, Staffordshire. He was the youngest of nine children born to Charles and Anne Coltman. He had five brothers called Henry, Joseph, George, Samuel and Herbert Leonard. His three sisters were called Sarah Elizabeth, Annie and Frances. William was baptised at All Saints Church, Rangemore on 27th December 1891.
After local schooling, William became a market gardener. He became a member of the Plymouth Brethren and was deeply religious. He also taught Sunday School in the village of Winshill, near Burton on Trent. He volunteered for the British Army in January 1915, a few months after the start of the Great War. He served in the North Staffordshire Regiment (The Prince of Wales’s) in the 1/6th Battalion. Due to his deep religious beliefs which made William unwilling to kill another man, he was permitted to become a stretcher-bearer.
In February 1917, William was awarded the Military Medal for rescuing a wounded officer from no mans land. The officer had been commanding a wiring party during a misty night. The mist cleared and the party found themselves under fire, the officer was wounded in the thigh and Coltman immediately went out to bring the man in.
Less than six months later, in July 1917, he was awarded the DCM for “conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in evacuating wounded from the front line at great personal risk under shell fire. His gallant conduct undoubtedly saved many lives, and he continued throughout the night to search for wounded under shell and machine gun fire, and brought several in. His absolute indifference to danger had a most inspiring effect upon the rest of his men.”
Less than a month later, he was gazetted for a Bar to his Military Medal for his conduct behind enemy lines in June 1917. It also covered three separate incidents of gallantry. On 6th June an ammunition dump was hit by mortar fire causing several casualties, Coltman took responsibility for removing Verey lights from the dump. The following day he took a leading role in tending men injured when the company headquarters was mortared. A little over a week later, a trench tunnel collapsed trapping a number of men. Coltman organised a rescue party to dig the trapped men out.
Coltman continued to display incredible gallantry, all without firing a single shot. In the last couple of months of the war, he would add two more gallantry awards. In September 1918, he was to be awarded a Bar to his DCM for his actions near the St Quentin Canal, near Bellinglise on the 28th, when dressed and carried many wounded men under heavy artillery fire. During the advance on the following day he still remained at his work without rest or sleep, attending the wounded, taking no heed of either shell or machine-gun fire, and never resting until he was positive that our sector was clear of wounded. He set the highest example of fearlessness and devotion to duty to those with him.
He now had an extensive list of decorations but had not yet been awarded the VC which many believed that he deserved. Then, during the operations at Mannequin Hill, north-east of Sequehart, on the 3rd and 4th of October 1918, L.-Corp. Coltman, a stretcher bearer, hearing that wounded had been left behind during a retirement, went forward alone in the face of fierce enfilade fire, found the casualties, dressed them and on three successive occasions, carried comrades on his back to safety, thus saving their lives. This very gallant NCO tended the wounded unceasingly for 48 hours.
He was gazetted for VC on 3rd January 1919, and was invested with his Victoria Cross by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 22nd May 1919. After the war, Coltman returned to Burton on Trent and took a job as a gardener with the town’s Parks Department. During the Second World War he was commissioned in the Army Cadet Force in 1943 and commanded the Burton ACF; he resigned his commission in 1951.
He retired in 1963 and died at Outwoods Hospital, Burton, on 29th June 1974 at the age of 82. He lies buried with his wife Eleanor May (née Dolman) in the churchyard of St Mark’s Parish Church in Winshill. His grave was refurbished in 2010 by the Victoria Cross Trust, though sadly the grave has been the victim of vandalism on more than one occasion since.
His medals, including his Victoria Cross, DCM*, MM*, 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19 with Mentioned in Despatches oakleaf, Defence Medal 1939-45, King George VI Coronation Medal 1937, Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal 1953, Special Constabulary Long Service Medal and French Croix de Guerre are on display at the Staffordshire Regiment Museum, at Whittington Barracks, Lichfield, Staffordshire. At the museum there is a replica First World War trench named in honour of Coltman. Coltman House is the headquarters building of Defence Medical Services at Whittington Barracks. The Burton Army Cadet Force base and Army Reserve Centre is at Coltman House, Hawkins Lane, Burton. There is a monument to Coltman at the Memorial Gardens, Lichfield Street, Burton and there is also the Coltman VC Peace Wood at Mill Hill Lane, Winshill.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: STAFFORDSHIRE REGIMENT MUSEUM, LICHFIELD.
BURIAL PLACE: ST MARK’S CHURCHYARD, WINSHILL, BURTON ON TRENT.
Paul Lee www.memorialstovalour.co.uk – Images of Coltman VC Peace Wood, Burton on Trent.