1918-2008: Ninety Years of Remembrance

Soldier Record

George T Coles

Contributed by: Ninety Years of Remembrance, on 2008-11-04

George T Coles
Rank
First Name George T
Surname Coles
Year of Birth Unknown
Year of Death Unknown
Regiment Royal Field Artillery, Royal Flying Corps
Place of Wartime Residence Ebbw Vale, Monmouthshire

George T's Story

In April 1916 George T Coles enlisted as a driver in the Royal Field Artillery and served with the Small Arms Ammunition Section in of the 38th Brigade RFA in Mesopotamia during the Battle for Kut-el-Amara and the capture of Baghdad (September 1916 to July 1917). In Cairo he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps. In France he was taken prisoner when he crash landed in enemy territory.

Spinning and rolling, out of control, we rushed earthwards

Memoir Extract

4 Sept 1918 [...] Whilst returning in perfect formation I spotted an odd Fokker at about 2000ft below us. I had escaped from the dog fight with our Bristols, which was proceeding a few miles to the S. I gave the tip to Sproule; we each fired a test burst of our guns. [...] As he crossed below our tail he put in a lucky and accurate burst - one tracer bullet lodged in my left ankle where it burnt out. Two bullets broke Sproule's left leg and another one cut the latch of my Lewis gun into two. [...] I waited until we passed the Hun and fired 100 rounds from my fixed tail gun. [...] By this time Sproule had fainted across his joy-stick and with full prop [...]. Every moment I expected we would either burst into flames or part company with our wings. In the meantime the Hun circled us firing spasmodically. [...] Finding my gun dead I whipped off the magazine and threw it overboard. I took another from the side sack and whilst jerking it on to the gun peg 3 bullets whipped through it - one cutting through my flying gloves en route. [...] The ensuing seconds stand out in my memory as though they were years - though the most lasting impression I have of the occasion is that my dear mother who died in 1913 was standing in the cock-pit with me comforting and sustaining me in what appeared to be my last moments on earth. [...] My mother was there - of this I am sure. Spinning and rolling, out of control, we rushed earthwards. Suddenly the realization of my useless gun flashed upon me - I whipped out my Very light signalling gun and fired a light at my circling opponent. Then - prompted by some strange physical urge - I hit my unconscious pilot across the head with the butt of my pistol. This proved our salvation - Sproule regained his senses and at about 4000ft he pulled back the joy-stick, arrested our dive and dragged the nose of the bus uppermost. He switched off his engine and steeply dived down to a field below. Just before we touched ground I got out my Shorts' Flare and pulled the fuse. The thing refused to act and it went overboard. I pushed a new cartridge in my Very pistol and fired into the tail of the machine. In the meantime Sproule, by a supreme effort of will and courage, had landed the bus. We bounced unevenly along the rough field coming to rest with one with touching the ground and one landing wheel forced up through it. Thus, despite every probability to the contrary, here we were, alive, in German territory, 'somewhere' between Douai and Cambrai. As our tail was now smoking it was time to get clear of the machine. I fell out rather than got out - standing on my one wounded leg, I dragged Sproule out of the bus and we both lay on the ground about 30 yards distant. Suddenly I spotted my Very pistol lying near and I crawled back to the bus intending to put a light into one of the several jets of petrol issuing from the petrol tanks through the bullet holes. Before I could get at the cartridges in my cockpit our German adversary had landed beside me and with revolver in hand put an end to my intentions.

George Coles spent the next four months as a POW first in a hospital near Paderborn in Germany, then from the October 4th in a prison-camp known as Friedrichfeste situated on a small island in the River Rhine. He eventually made it back to England on December 9th 1918, and to his home in South Wales at 10.15pm on December 10th.

Text published by the BBC with permission from the soldier's relatives and the Imperial War Museum.

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