William Coltman

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William Harold Coltman
William Coltman.jpg
Born (1891-11-17)17 November 1891
Tatenhill Common, Burton upon Trent
Died 29 June 1974(1974-06-29) (aged 82)
Outwoods Hospital, Burton upon Trent
Buried at St Mark's Church, Winshill, Burton upon Trent
Allegiance United Kingdom
Service/branch British Army
Years of service 1915–1919
Rank Captain
Service number 3585 (later 241028)
Unit The North Staffordshire Regiment (The Prince of Wales's)
Battles/wars First World War
Second World War
Awards Victoria Cross
Distinguished Conduct Medal & Bar
Military Medal & Bar
Mentioned in Despatches

William Harold "Bill" Coltman, VC, DCM & Bar, MM & Bar (17 November 1891 – 29 June 1974) was an English recipient of the Victoria Cross (VC), the highest award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that could be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces. He was the most decorated other rank of the First World War. Deemed by some to be a conscientious objector, he held Christian beliefs precluding him from taking up arms, but as a stretcher bearer he won all his medals without firing a shot.[1]

Early life[edit]

Coltman was born at Rangemore, a village on the outskirts of Burton upon Trent, Staffordshire. He was a deeply religious and committed Christian, a member of the Plymouth Brethren Assemblies of the Burton and Derby area.[2] Since the beliefs of the Brethren were wholly opposed to war and the taking of life, it is by no means clear why in January 1915, during the First World War, he chose to volunteer for the British Army, The North Staffordshire Regiment (The Prince of Wales's), a combat regiment of the line, being placed in the 1/6th Battalion, beginning as rifleman and later accepting the rank of lance corporal.

It is said that the horrors of the battle of Gommecourt in July 1916 impelled him to ask to be a stretcher-bearer.[citation needed]

Victoria Cross[edit]

He was 26 years old when the following deed took place in France, for which he was awarded the VC.

For most conspicuous bravery, initiative and devotion to duty. During the operations at Mannequin Hill, north-east of Sequehart, on the 3rd and 4th of Oct. 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.[3]

Distinguished Conduct Medal[edit]

The first award of the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) was made for gallantry over a period of days in July 1917.[2] The London Gazette citation reads:

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.[4]

Bar to the Distinguished Conduct Medal

The second award of the DCM was made for conduct in September 1918, only a week before his actions that earned him the VC. The citation read:

On the 28th September, 1918, near the St. Quentin Canal, near Bellenglise, he 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.[5]

Military Medal[edit]

The Military Medal (MM) is gazetted[6] when awarded but no citation is given. Coltman was still a private at the time of this award. The award was made for rescuing a wounded officer from no mans land in February 1917.[2] 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.[7]

Bar to the Military Medal

The second award of the MM was gazetted in August 1917.[8] This award was for conduct behind the front lines in June 1917[2] and covered three separate instances of gallantry in a short period in June 1917. On 6 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.[7]

Other awards[edit]

Prior to any of his decorations Coltman was Mentioned in Despatches for his work.[2]

Later life[edit]

The Coltman Trench at the Staffordshire Regiment Museum

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.[1] During the Second World War he commanded the Burton on Trent Army Cadet Force with the rank of captain. He retired from his job in 1963 and died at Outwoods Hospital, Burton on Trent, in 1974 at the age of 82. He lies buried with his wife Eleanor in the churchyard of St Mark's parish church in Winshill.[1] His grave is maintained by the Victoria Cross Trust who also represent the family in all matters relating to W H Coltman VC. Coltman was a member of the Plymouth Brethren church, who would refuse to recognise such military awards, as they were resulting from conflict and not granted by God, but by man. The Plymouth Brethren church movement is considered to be the stricter side of the Christian Brethren church.


His medals, including his Victoria Cross, are on display at the Staffordshire Regiment Museum, at Whittington Barracks, Lichfield, Staffordshire. At the museum there is a replica World War I trench named in honour of Coltman.[9]

There is a road named in honour of Coltman in Tunstall, along with roads named after another VC recipient, John Harold Rhodes, and R. J. Mitchell the designer of the Spitfire, all from Staffordshire.


  1. ^ a b c "Corporal William Harold Coltman". Retrieved 24 April 2009. 
  2. ^ a b c d e "Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: William Coltman". Retrieved 24 April 2009. 
  3. ^ "(Supplement) no. 31108". The London Gazette. 3 January 1919. p. 308. Retrieved 23 April 2009. 
  4. ^ "(Supplement) no. 30251". The London Gazette. 24 August 1917. p. 8831. Retrieved 23 April 2009. 
  5. ^ "(Supplement) no. 31668". The London Gazette. 28 November 1919. p. 14812. Retrieved 23 April 2009. 
  6. ^ "(Supplement) no. 30001". The London Gazette. 23 March 1917. p. 2991. Retrieved 23 April 2009. 
  7. ^ a b Giddon, Gerald (2014). VCs of the First World War: The Final Days 1918. The History Press. p. 140. ISBN 978 0 7509 5732 8. 
  8. ^ "(Supplement) no. 30234". The London Gazette. 14 August 1917. p. 8417. Retrieved 23 April 2009. 
  9. ^ Staffordshire Regiment Museum page

External links[edit]