Coley, George Edwin. Died 30th Jul 1915

George Edwin Coley died 30 July 1915


George Edwin Coley’s birth was registered in the fourth quarter of 1888 in Crewe, Cheshire. He was the third child and first son of Frederick Coley (b.1854) and Elizabeth Jane Smith, who were married in 1879 in Newport Pagnell.

In 1891 the family were living at 46 Sandbach Street, Crewe. George’s father was a Blacksmith’s Striker.

In both 1901 and 1911 they were living at 1004 Old Station, Rugby. Railway workers had to live within walking distance of work, and it was useful to the railway to be able to get hold of staff if something unexpected happened. By providing houses for their staff spread along the line, the railway solved all these problems and the London and Birmingham Railway built several hundred houses. The houses were each given a number and the earliest in Rugby were in the 700s. These were all near the new station, on the west side Newbold Road, both north and south of the railway.

In the 1901 census, George’s father, Frederick, was described as “deaf”, quite possibly caused by the nature of his work. The 1911 census described George as a boilermaker in the loco department of the LNWR railway.

By 1915 Mr and Mrs Coley were living at 89 Newbold Road, Rugby.

On 7 September 1914, George enlisted as a Private in the 8th Battalion of The King’s Royal Rifles Corps, and was later to be promoted to Lance Corporal; he served at the front in the stretcher-bearer section.

George was present at the action at Hooge, in which the Battalion had the misfortune to be the first to be attacked by the German flamethrower.
“On the night of 29th-30th July, 8th Rifle Brigade, 41 Brigade, took over this sector. They were new to the trenches. They had only been in France since May and the Germans opposite were aware of their lack of experience and that that they were total strangers to the positions they had just taken over. So they attacked at 3.15am using liquid fire for the first time, spewing it out from pipes that passed though their parapet. What it was like when these jets of flame and thick burning smoke hit the front line of trenches of 8th Rifle Brigade we will never know because no-one from the two companies who manned it survived. Those on the periphery spoke of the intense heat. The Germans then opened up with artillery and machine guns. German infantry followed and 8th Rifle Brigade was overwhelmed. Eventually they were forced to fall back with losses of nearly 500.”[1]

More details of the Battle of Hooge Crater on 30 July 1915, are given elsewhere on ‘Rugby Remembers’.

The Rugby Advertiser reported:

One of the most popular and highly respected men employed in recent years at the L & NWR Erecting Shop at Rugby was George Coley, a boiler-maker, son of Mr and Mrs Coley of 89 Newbold Road, Rugby. On September 7th 1914 he enlisted in the 8th Battalion of the King’s Royal Rifles and had been serving at the front in the stretcher-bearer section.   News reached Rugby at the end of last week that he had been killed during an action in which the regiment suffered very heavily, and the tidings caused much regret amongst all the shop mates, who were pained to think they would never see their old friend again.

The deceased came to Rugby from Crewe when a boy. He spent a year or so in the time office at the erecting shop and then was apprenticed to the boiler-making, subsequently serving as a journeyman. He was always sociable and affable with a cheery word for his fellow workmen by whom his death is regarded as a personal loss.   Mr Shaw the foreman in the erecting shop suggested that a flag-pole should be erected and the Union Jack flown at half-mast in memory of Rifleman Coley. This was done and erected near the entrance on Mill Road.

A letter sent to George’s mother by Sergeant Cowen said “Your son gave his life for his comrades. He was shot while looking after the wounded. In fact he was in the act of dressing a wounded man when he was killed….”

The Erecting Shop Insurance Society, of which George was a member, sent a letter of condolence to his parents.

The Commonwealth Grave Registration document noted

‘COLEY, Lce. Cpl. George Edwin, S/1275. 8th Bn. The rifle Brigade. 30th July, 1915. Age 25. Son of Frederick and Elizabeth Jane Coley, of 155, Newbold Rd., Rugby.’

George is remembered on the Ypres Menin Gate Memorial, Panels 46 – 48 and 50. and the Rugby Memorial Gates.

[1] In&f=James&s=jenkins&r=Rank&u=Unit&b=&d=Date Of Death#sthash.GA4fS2og.dpuf