Kenora Great War Project


Personal Details
Date of BirthMarch 21, 1900
Place of BirthLeicester, Leicestershire
Marital StatusSingle
Next of KinMary Ann Coley (mother), 740 Prince Rupert Avenue, Winnipeg, Manitoba
Trade / CallingMessenger
Service Details
Regimental Number291021
Service Record Link to Service Record
Battalion5th Battalion
ForceCanadian Expeditionary Force
BranchCanadian Infantry
Enlisted / ConscriptedEnlisted
Place of EnlistmentWinnipeg, Manitoba
Address at Enlistment740 Prince Rupert Avenue, Winnipeg, Manitoba
Date of EnlistmentDecember 14, 1915
Age at Enlistment15
Theatre of ServiceEurope
Prisoner of WarNo
Survived WarYes
Death Details
Date of DeathJuly 7, 1973
Age at Death73
Buried AtCremated (Vancouver Crematorium, Vancouver)

Coley, Edmund Irons

Private Edmund Irons Coley enlisted in December 1915 at age 15 and served for more than three years. After he turned 18 he was sent to France, where he was wounded near the Canal du Nord in the last weeks of the war.

Edmund was the oldest son of Thomas Irons Coley and Mary Ann Chorlton of East Kildonan, Manitoba. Thomas and Mary Ann were married in 1899 in Leicester, Leicestershire, England and Edmund was born there on 21 March 1900. He was followed by two daughters, Rose Amelia and Dorothy, and two more sons, Thomas and Lancelot Oliver. Another child died as an infant. Thomas Sr. was a carpenter and builder and he immigrated to Canada in 1910. Mary Ann and the children followed in 1911, arriving in Quebec on 29 July on the SS Megantic. They made their home in East Kildonan, a small community next to Winnipeg. Two more sons were born there, Ernest William in 1912 and Vincent Henry in 1915. The East Kildonan police force was organized in 1914 and Thomas served as their Chief Constable for almost thirty years, from 1917 to 1946.

Edmund was only 14 years old when the war started and he enlisted in Winnipeg the following year, on 14 December 1915, passing himself off as 16. He was 5’4″ and 110 lb. and working as a messenger boy at the time. He signed up with the 222nd Battalion which was organized in Winnipeg and recruited in nearby towns. His attestation noted that he was a bugler and he was ‘not to be sent overseas until 19 years of age.’ The battalion trained in Winnipeg over the winter then at Camp Hughes the next summer. The recruits headed overseas in the fall of 1916, embarking from Halifax on 15 November on the SS Olympic and arriving in England six days later. On 1 January 1917 the 222nd Battalion was merged with another unit to form the 19th Reserve Battalion. Edmund served with the 19th Battalion until October, when he was transferred to the Young Soldiers’ Battalion at Bramshott.

On 30 May 1918, just after his 18th birthday, Edmund was assigned to the 15th Reserve Battalion and in August he was sent to France. He was transferred to a front line unit, the 5th Infantry Battalion, and he joined them in the field in early September. The battalion had just returned from the operations at the Drocourt-Quéant line and Edmund arrived in a draft of 50 reinforcements. Plans were underway for the crossing of the Canal du Nord and the battalion moved into position late on 26 September. The assault began the next morning and they crossed the canal just before noon. The unit was relieved on 29 September, suffering 220 casualties over the two days. Edmund was one of the casualties on the second day, 28 September, when he sustained a gunshot wound to his thigh. He was taken to a casualty clearing station then evacuated to England on the HS Princess Elizabeth.

Edmund recovered at the 2nd Western General Hospital in Manchester from 30 September to 6 December. While he was there the Armistice was signed. From the 2nd Western he was moved to Princess Patricia’s Canadian Red Cross Hospital, where he spent two more weeks. Just before Christmas he was discharged to duty and transferred back to the 15th Reserve Battalion. He embarked for Canada on 29 January 1919 on the SS Baltic, arriving in Halifax on 5 February. He was discharged on demobilization on 17 March in Winnipeg. It was four days before his 19th birthday and he had grown 4″ and gained 20 lb. since enlisting.

When the 1921 census was taken Edmund was living with his parents again and all seven children were at home. He found work with the CPR and he had a long career with them as a timekeeper and clerk. He was married in Winnipeg on 27 February 1923 to Mary Ethel Milne. Ethel was born in 1903 in Gateshead, Durham, England, the only daughter of James and Mary Ethel Milne. She had one younger brother, Roy. The Milnes had immigrated to Canada in 1911 and settled in East Kildonan. Edmund and Ethel had one son, James Edmund, who was born around 1924. Edmund was very involved in the militia and he became a Lieutenant in the Winnipeg Light Infantry. The Second World War started in 1939 and in 1942 a new recruiting company was formed for District No. 10. The district included northwestern Ontario and Edmund was put in charge of the Kenora area. He and his wife had moved to Kenora around 1930 and he was a member of the local branch of the Canadian Legion as well as the Native Sons of Canada.

Edmund’s son James enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1942 and went overseas a year later. He served as an Air Bomber and completed dozens of successful missions. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in March 1945. After the war Edmund and his wife moved to Fort William, Ontario, where he continued to work for the CPR. He was also active in the community and belonged to the Masonic Lodge, the Shriners and the Lakehead Patrol. His wife died in Fort William in 1967, at age 64. Edmund was retired by then and the following year he moved to Vancouver. His second wife, Harriet Anne Archibald (née Howard) was a widow from Kenora. She was born in Hull, England in 1904 and came to Canada in 1916 to join her family. Two of her brothers, Clifford Howard and Fred Howard, served with the navy during the First World War.

Edmund passed away in Vancouver General Hospital on 7 July 1973, at age 73. Harriet died in Vancouver six years later, at age 74, and Edmund’s son James passed away in Thunder Bay in 1980.

By Becky Johnson

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