|Date of Birth||July 29, 1872|
|Place of Birth||Tunbridge Wells, Kent|
|Trade / Calling||Painter|
|Service Record||Link to Service Record|
|Battalion||1st Canadian Infantry Works Battalion|
|Force||Canadian Expeditionary Force|
|Enlisted / Conscripted||Enlisted|
|Address at Enlistment||Kenora, Ontario|
|Date of Enlistment||January 15, 1916|
|Age at Enlistment||43|
|Theatre of Service||Europe|
|Prisoner of War||No|
William Henry Coles was born on 29 July 1872 in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, England. His father Thomas Coles, a coachman, was from Littleton, Bristol while his mother Mary Ann Lilley was from Ledbury, Herefordshire. The couple married in 1868 in Tunbridge Wells. William had an older sister Amy who was born in late 1869 but died in 1872. It is not known if William had any other siblings. It appears that his father died in 1876 and by the 1881 census William was living with his mother’s sister Anne (Thomas) Sammons and family in Leamington Priors, Warwickshire. By the 1891 census he was working as a baker’s assistant for William Clements, living with the family in Hove, Sussex.
During the 4th quarter of 1894 in the registration district of Steyning in Sussex, William married Thirza Caroline Salter. Thirza, born on the Isle of Wight, was the daughter of William and Isabella Salter. In 1895 William and Thirza gave birth to their first child, son Albert Victor, followed by William Henry in 1901, and daughter Thirza Louise in 1907. For the 1901 census the family was living in Preston, Sussex where William was operating a coffee stall. By the 1911 census Thirza was working as a housekeeper for Canadian born lawyer Maurice Chevalier, her daughter Thirza also living in the household in Portslade, Brighton. According to the census she was married and had four children, the name of the other child unknown.
At some point William immigrated to Canada and was living in Kenora, Ontario when he signed his attestation papers on 15 January 1916. His occupation was given as painter, marital status as single, and his next of kin as A Oilette of the Central Hotel in Kenora after first stating he had none. Along with a number of other fellows, William left Kenora by train in mid May with the Kenora detachment of the 94th Battalion for training in Port Arthur and then Valcartier before leaving for overseas. A large crowd, with bands from Kenora and nearby Keewatin, saw the boys off at the train station. With recruitment in Port Arthur, Fort William, Kenora, Rainy River, Fort Frances, and Dryden, the 94th Battalion was mobilized at Port Arthur. With a strength of 36 officers and 1009 other ranks, the battalion embarked from Halifax aboard the Olympic on 29 June 1916. On board was Private William Henry Coles.
Once in England William was transferred to the 32nd Reserve Battalion and then in late November on to the 37th Battalion. In mid December he was transferred to the 1st Canadian Labour Battalion, proceeding overseas in early January of 1917. Labour Battalions had been organized that December and January, using men not fit for service in the trenches ( Category). Because of his age, William had been so classified. In January of 1918 William was awarded one Good Conduct Badge and granted a two week leave to the UK in February. In March of 1918 the 1st Labour Battalion was redesignated as the 1st Canadian Infantry Works Battalion, employed mainly in road and bridge construction, road maintenance, and grading on light and standard gauge railways. In mid January of 1919 William was granted another two week leave to the UK and was detained in England and posted to the General Depot at Witley. He was discharged from service on 23 August 1919. At some point William had reunited with his wife Thirza who had been living in Brighton in Sussex, adding her as his next of kin and assigning pay to her.
Upon discharge in England William took up residency with Thirza on Upper Lewis Road in Brighton but further details of his life after the war are unknown. It appears that Thirza died in 1943 and William in 1944, both in Brighton.
by Judy Stockham
photos of William and Thirza Coles: courtesy of Robbens-Brown family tree on ancestry.ca