Ralph Coltman

Stop number YELLOW 8: Continue walking along this row of graves and you will shortly come to the stone cross of the Coltman family. Look at the base for the memorial to the two Coltman boys.
Coltman family plot
Coltman family plot
Read the story below and when you are ready to move on click on the dot/circle for F Lance.

Coltman family grave and memorial Desborough
Coltman family grave and memorial Desborough Road (SWOP MHW24802)

Ralph Coltman 1890-1916

I was born in 1890 in High Wycombe. Although my father was originally in the furniture trade, when I was young he took over running the Rose and Crown pub in Desborough Road. The pubís still there at the back of the Eden Centre. After I left school I went to work for Alderman W.E. Ellis in West End Road, just a short walk from the pub. It was not just a firm but a little self-contained community, we produced our own gas from anthracite, pumped water from our own well and generated our own electricity.

I signed up in 1914, after I heard about the retreat to Mons and the heroic display from our soldiers. Although many others signed up into the Ox and Bucks, I met a recruiting officer from the Gloucestershire Regiment and along with a few others from High Wycombe joined the Glorious Glosters.

My younger brother, Frank, signed up at Christmas 1914. He joined the 16th Kings Royal Rifles as it was set up just for members of the Church Ladsí Brigade; he had been a member for many years.

After training in Salisbury Plain we moved to France in August 1915. We saw our first action in the Battle of Loos and in October 1915 I was involved in the Battle of La Basse when we were trying to stop the Germans reaching the sea ports. It was hard work and we lost many men. On October 13th 1915 we attacked the German front line. All morning our artillery fired shells onto the German trenches and then at 2pm we were ordered to attack. Unfortunately the shelling hadnít worked and we faced a lot of machine gun fire. I was injured, one of the 150 casualties we had that day. The next few months were spent at home recovering from my wounds.

In January, when I was still at home, we heard the news that Frank had been killed. A shell had exploded in their trench and killed him instantly. The letter said that ďGod had been very good to us, in this our hour of sad and reverent glory.Ē He was 22 years old and was buried near where he fell near Arras in Northern France.

In March I had completely recovered and received news that I was to return to my battalion. It was the right thing to do but saying goodbye to my parents was very difficult.

We spent the next few months preparing for the big push and were sent to the Somme in June. At first we were held in reserve and occasionally used to hold front line trenches, but we couldnít fail to hear stories about the battle and see some of the aftermath. In September we joined a lot of Scottish soldiers called the Black Watch and prepared to attack an area that had been held by the Germans since the start of the war. We were to advance on High Wood, an area that had been fought over for months; the trees were all destroyed with just the occasional stump left. On September 2nd we moved into the front line. On the 3rd of September, a small offensive was planned to improve positions before a major attack which was to follow later in the month. There was no preliminary bombardment because our trenches were so close to the Germans, but the attack commenced with the blowing of the mine beneath one of the Germanís machine-gun posts. I was still in the trench preparing to attack, when I was hit by a bullet from a German sniper. The bullet passed through my head and I died instantly. You can visit my grave at Caterpillar Valley Cemetery in the Somme and from the cemetery you can see High Wood. The trees have now been replanted but the shell holes are still there. It is estimated that the remains of around 8000 soldiers, British and German, still lie today in High Wood. My parents, with two sons buried overseas, arranged for our names to be added to this, the family grave.

Ralph Coltman researched and performed by Max Phippen
Ralph Coltman researched and performed by Max Phippen
To see the performance on YouTube click here.

Back to map