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William Coltman VC – The Story of Two Crosses

President Kartar with Tim Coltman, giving a talk on his Great Grandfather, William Coltman VC.
President Kartar with Tim Coltman, giving a talk on his Great Grandfather, William Coltman VC.

Tim Coltman, great grandson of William Coltman VC, was welcomed by members of Leicester Novus to present a talk based on “The Story of the Two Crosses”. William Coltman, born in 1891, November 17th in a small village of Rangemore, near Burton-on-Trent and just over 100 years ago he prepared himself like many others to go the First World War. But he refused to fight because of his strong Christian beliefs. He was just 5ft 4, only one inch taller than the required height to join the army, but had great strength as he went out to the front line and carried soldiers himself on his back, refusing to go with stretcher-bearers as that would put their lives at risk. 

Lance Corporal Coltman became the most highly decorated non-commissioned officer of the British Army. Among the medals awarded to him were: Military Medal and Bar/Distinguished Conduct Medal and Bar and the highest award of all the Victoria Cross, each being awarded as a result of: outstanding bravery, a disregard for personal safety and an unquestioned devotion of duty

The most unusual aspect of these distinctions is the William never fired a shot and never used weapons. Tim spoke about William’s days as a gardener and then the recruitment drive following the outbreak of the Great War, WWI in 1914, when 28 countries were involved.

After William’s medical training in the Army, his equipment was just a small first aid box similar to the average home/office first aid box we use now.

We were reminded that whilst the war continued, there was dreadful conditions in the trenches when for weeks on end the soldiers endured constants problems including unbearable temperatures, Trench Foot, lice, Cholera, rats, mud, dirty clothes and little food.

In 1916, July 15th, the battle of the Somme began, when the whistle at 07.30 was sounded and the many young soldiers went over the top, there were a staggering 57,000 casualties along with 19,000 deaths. The battle lasted for 141 days and only 4 miles were advanced throughout the battle. On average, 893 men and boys died every day of the battle.

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

Tim mentions that when William was about to return he got off one station before Burton and walked the rest of the journey back home because a reception was planned to meet and greet him at the station. 

In the last 5 to 6 years, Tim also learnt that his great grandfather was present at the resting place of the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, standing as a guard of honour in 1920, November 11th, with 100 other soldiers who had also been awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest honour for any soldier. The sides of this tomb are inscribed with “Unknown and yet well known”.

William died at the age of 82 in 1974, June 29th and received a military funeral, and beside 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.

Tim, who was only a few months old when his great grandfather passed away, orchestrated the story so well as if he was there all along recording all the events throughout his journey. He, like many other brave soldiers didn’t share their stories, but thankfully with the help of a local historian and author, Anthony Tideswell, has captured the story of a humble brave man who we wouldn’t have known otherwise.

Unlike many Rotary Clubs, Novus does not dine at every weekly meeting. But for the visit of Tim Coltman, Immediate Past President Sarita Shah generously brought samosas and pizzas. Next week the club will meet at The Rothley Court Hotel for their celebratory Christmas dinner.

If you would like to know more about the club and its future programme, please explore this website and click on the Contact Us button at the top of any of the pages.

Last edited: 11:00 on Friday, 10/12/2021