Friday, August 24, 2007

Horace Coley - try, try again


Horace Henry Coley is another of Chailey’s men who does not appear on Reverend Jellicoe’s monthly roll call of men connected to the parish. The omission is understandable as Horace appears to have left Chailey parish some while before the start of the First World War and was settled in Walsall, near Birmingham, when he enlisted.

He was born in Chailey around September 1872 and appears on the 1881 census living with his family in Chailey village. The household comprised 46 year old John Coley, a market gardener born in Newick, his wife Hannah aged 44 (born in Hove) and five children: Margaret Coley (aged 20), Frederick Coley (aged 13), Emily Coley (aged 10), Horace (aged seven) and Edith Coley (aged four). All of the children had been born in Chailey; Margaret is also noted on the census as being deaf.

By the time the 1891 census was taken, the family had moved to the village of Barnham in the district of Westhampnett in Sussex. The address is noted as Fruit Farms and as before, John is noted as a market gardener although also noted as “neither employer nor employed”. Mary is recorded as domestic servant (although her deafness is not recorded) while Frederick and Horace are both noted as market gardeners. Emily is recorded as a laundress and Edith, a 14 year old scholar. There is also another sibling: Ernest F Coley, aged nine, also born in Chailey.

Ten years further on and the household has shrunk dramatically. The 1901 census sees the family living at Lingfield in Surrey. Hannah is now a widow and with her are Horace, noted as a married, 27 year old soldier, and Edith, a domestic servant. Horace’s profession reads “Part H W Service (Soldier)” and I am at a loss to make sense of the initials. I am guessing that the W could stand for War as the Boer War would have been current at the time. Nevertheless, he was certainly newly married and in uniform. He had married Alice Elizabeth Hall on 26th December 1900 at Lingfield although she does not appear on the same census return as her husband.

By the time the First World War started, Horace was 42 years old. Nevertheless, on 1st September 1914 he enlisted with the Black Watch at Walsall. His attestation papers state that he was a time expired soldier with the Black Watch; also that he was a miner by trade and that he was five feet nine and a half inches tall, weighed 154 lbs, had a fresh complexion, grey eyes and light brown hair. His next of kin is given as Alice Elizabeth Coley (wife) of 4 Brownhills Road, Walsall Wood, Staffordshire.

Horace was posted to the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion on 2nd September and given the number 3432. His service though, was short-lived. On 24th October 1914 he was discharged “in consequence of having been found not likely to become an efficient soldier.” Although physically fit, Horace had an eye condition – nystagmus – which was the reason for his rejection. Undeterred, he tried again. On March 17th 1915 he travelled to Lichfield and enlisted with the North Staffordshire Regiment. This set of attestation papers gives a little more detail. It notes that he has previously served 16 years with the Black Watch and that his home address is King Street, Walsall Wood. A daughter is also recorded on his papers: Florence Georgia Wood born on 13th June 1902 in Atherstone, Warwickshire. Horace was quite heavily tattooed; something the authorities had neglected to record on his 1914 papers. The details though, are all there on the March 1915 papers: “two dancing girls on breast, both arms covered and a woman’s head underneath back knee.” Horace was posted to the regimental depot and given the number 17156. Again though, his service would be short-lived and he was discharged on 23rd June the same year. This time the medical notes report, “a very large enlargement of thyroid gland causing [unclear] and consequent inability to march.”

It’s a shame that Horace’s service record during his 16 years with the Black Watch does not appear to have survived. The fact that 16 years’ service is indicated in 1915 and also that he was vaccinated in 1898, suggests that he enlisted in this year. He was obviously a committed soldier and it must have been a very great disappointment to him that he was unable to serve his country again during the First World War. It certainly wasn’t for the want of trying.

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