Speaker Meeting 30th January 2017

William H Coltman VC - The Story of Two Crosses

The members of the Rotary Club of Church Wilne welcomed to is speaker meeting at the Royal Oak in Ockbrook on Monday 30th January, Tim and John Coltman, when Tim spoke about his Great Grandad William Coltman.

William Coltman was born on the 17th November 1891 in the little village of Rangemore near Burton-on-Trent and just over 100 years ago he prepared to go to war, but he refused to fight because of his Christian beliefs and became a stretcher bearer. Bill, as he was known to his friends, was a little guy of just 5 ft 4, had great strength and just went out to the front on his own and carried soldiers on his own back.

How William returned the wounded to the trenches for treatment

William is the highest decorated non commissioned officer of the British army, having been awarded not only the Victoria Cross but also the Military Medal and bar and the Distinguished Conduct Medal and bar. The most unusual aspect of these distinctions is the Bill never fired a shot and never used a gun.

Tim spoke about William's early days as a gardener and then the recruitment drive following the outbreak of the Great War, WW1 in 1914, when 28 countries were involved.

After William's medical training, his equipment was just a small first aid box similar to the average home/office first aid box of today.

The members heard about the dreadful conditions in the trenches when for weeks on end the soldiers endured constants problems such as frost bite, or unbearable temperatures, Trench Foot, lice, Cholera, rats, mud, dirty clothes and little food.

William H Coltman VC

The battle of the Somme took place on 15th July 1916 and a massively bad decision was made when at 7.30am a whistle was sounded and the young soldiers went over the top and on that day there were 57,000 casualties along with 19,000 killed. The battle lasted for 141 days and only 4 miles were advanced throughout the battle. 893 on average died every day in the fight for the freedom we enjoy today.

There was a saying around the top of the trenches which was "If the Germans get you – Don't worry Bill will get you back"

The members also heard about the battle of Lens in France when William, showed great gallantry, devotion to duty and disregard for personal danger on three occasions and was awarded the DCM. He was described by Lieutenant-Colonel Tomlinson as the bravest many he had ever met.

King George awarded William with the Victoria Cross and said "You are one of the few if not the only man in the whole British Army with so many distinctions"

Tim spoke about his return to Burton-on-Trent where a reception was planned to meet him at the station but William heard about this and got off the train a station before Burton and walked home.

William was present on the 20th November 1920 at the resting place of the tomb of the Unknown Soldier standing as the guard of honour with 100 other soldiers who had also been awarded the highest honour for any soldier the Victoria Cross. Around the sides of the tomb are inscriptions and one is "Unknown and yet well known".

William died at the age of 82 on 29th June 1974 and his coffin passed through the streets of Windall on the afternoon of Thursday 4th July and no less than twelve awards grace it. At the grave there was a 12 gun salute. He went to war and refused to kill, millions had died for freedom but one died for our soul.

John Coltman, Tim Coltman and John Hollingworth

The club's vote of thanks was given by John Hollingworth who said William was a modest man who didn't talk about it but we have all tonight appreciated his life and thanked Tim for his moving and informative talk.

For more information on Rotary, our speaker evenings, events and the main activities organised by our club please contact our Secretary, Mick White at: rccw1220@gmail.com

Ray Terry
For the Rotary Club of Church Wilne

23rd January 2017


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