Serjeant Harold John Colley VC MM, 10th Battalion, the Lancashire Fusiliers
Remembering the Fallen: on this day in 1918, Serjeant Harold John Colley VC MM, 10th Battalion, the Lancashire Fusiliers, died from wounds received earlier in the day during the fighting at Martinpuich in France.
The son of a pattern maker, he left school to work for a silversmith jeweller. He played for his church’s cricket team, and was also noted for his gymnastic skills. On the 1st of September, 1914, he enlisted with the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry, starting out with the Army Cyclist Corps. The cyclists were used as advance cavalry and armed with Lewis guns – a few months into the war this role was discontinued due to trench warfare and Serjeant Colley, then a private, became a despatch rider.
In early 1915 he was promoted to Lance Corporal, and in 1917 received a certificate of Meritorious Conduct for his actions on the 30th of March that year. While under heavy trench mortar and machine gun fire, and wounded, he dug out two soldiers who had been buried by a mortar bomb blast – the award came about due to his being mentioned in despatches by Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig for his “gallant and distinguished services in the field”. His injuries were severe enough to warrant him being sent home to recover, and on his return he was transferred to the Lancashire Fusiliers.
In June of 1918 Serjeant Colley was awarded the Military Medal and promoted to Acting Serjeant for his actions at Beaumont Hamel. He had bombed a German trench as part of an attack on the enemy who were breaking into the Lancashires’ front lines.
For his actions on the day of his death he was awarded the Victoria Cross; the citation tells the story: “For most conspicuous bravery and initiative when in command of a platoon in support of forward platoons which had been ordered to hold on at all costs. When the enemy counter-attacked in force, he rushed forward on his own initiative to help the forward line, rallying and controlling the men holding it. The enemy by this time were advancing quickly, and had already obtained a footing in the trench. Serjeant Colley then formed a defensive flank and held it. Out of the two platoons only three men remained unwounded, and he himself was dangerously wounded. It was entirely due to Serjeant Colley’s action that the enemy were prevented from breaking through, and were eventually driven off. His courage and tenacity saved a very critical situation.”
His Victoria Cross was given into the care of his brother, Albert, who had been invalided out of the army after suffering permanent injuries from a shell burst and from having been gassed at Messines in June of 1917. Serjeant Colley is buried in the Mailly Wood Cemetery on the Somme, his headstone having been inscribed: “He gave his life in honour, fighting for home and country. Rest in peace.”
Harold, from Smethwick in Staffordshire, was 24 years old.