There are a number of casualties with the name William Coles in the Commonwealth War Graves records. The following 2, both from Avonvale Road, should have found their names listed on the St. George memorial.

William Coles

Service :                         Royal Navy

Rank:                             Able Seaman

Service No :                   J 9294

Ship :                             H.M.S. “Laurentic”

William was born in Bristol on 15th April 1893 he was the 4th child of William and Mary Coles. His father was a barge lighter man and the family were resident in Philip Street at the time of the 1901 census.

On 3rd August 1910 William joined the RN training establishment Ganges as a boy entrant.  Later in boy service he was based on HMS Bulwark & HMS Devonshire, reserve ships in home fleet. On William’s 18th birthday he signed on for 12 years’ service as an abled seaman. He was to serve on shore Depot ships Vivid, Leander, St George and on HMS Wallington, 6th Nov 1915 to 9th October 1916. Returning to the establishment of  Vivid I on the 16th October 1916 William was to be posted to the Harland & Wolfe built S.S. Laurentic.

Being in Montréal when the Great War began, Laurentic was immediately commissioned as a troop transport for the Canadian Expeditionary Force. After conversion to armed merchant cruiser service in 1915, she struck two mines off Lough Swilly in the north of Ireland on 25 January 1917 and sank within an hour. Only 121 of the 475 aboard survived.

In addition to her passengers and crew, the ship was carrying about 43 tons of gold ingots stowed in its second class baggage room. At the time the gold was valued at £5 million, approximately £250 million in 2007. Royal Navy divers made over 5,000 dives to the wreck between 1917 and 1924 and recovered all but about 1% of the ingots. Still to this day 22 bars of gold remain on the sea bed, perhaps under parts of the hull, the last of the gold recovered by the Royal Navy was some 10 metres (33.8 feet) under the sea bed, thus the remaining gold would be difficult to reach. Several advocacy groups have protested any efforts by salvage specialists to return to the liner under any conditions out of respect for those who lost their lives in 1917. The liner is considered an official war grave under international law

William Coles is remembered with Honour on the Plymouth Naval Memorial.

 Image by kind permission of CWGC

William was entitled to The 1914-14 Star, The British War Medal & The Victory Medal.


William John Coles

Service:                Army

Rank:                    Sergeant

Service No:           8861

Unit:                     2nd Bn. Gloucestershire Regiment


William was born in Bristol in 1890   His parents were John Henry & Jessie Ellen Coles. William must have chosen the army as a career as in 1911 he was a private soldier serving with the 2nd battalion Gloucestershire Regiment and was based at Verdala Barracks Malta.

In August 1914 the second battalion Gloucestershire Regiment were in Tientsin , China from where they returned to England, landing at Southampton on 8 November 1914.

On 8 November 1914 they came under command of 81st Brigade in 27th Division at Winchester.  Landed at Le Havre 18 December 1914 & moved to Salonika theatre in late November 1915.  On 3 November 1916 2nd. Bn. transferred to 82nd Brigade in same Division. During the period 17th November to 7th December 1916 The Battle of Tumbitza  Farm took place ; as William died on the 7th December it is likely due to injuries sustained here.

William John Coles is Remembered with Honour on the Doiran Memorial which is in Northern Greece close to the Macedonia border.

   Image by kind permission of CWGC

William was entitled to The 1914-14 Star, The British War Medal & The Victory Medal.



Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Public record Office , RN Service Files

1901 & 1911 UK household census