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The ‘remarkable’ story of how a husband and wife’s grandfathers were Great War comrades

By Burton Mail  |  Posted: March 23, 2014

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IT has taken almost 35 years of marriage for Jackie Coltman and her husband David to realise how their families’ history in the Great War were remarkably intertwined.

By some twist of fate, Jackie’s grandfather Thomas Mayne served alongside David’s grandfather, Victoria Cross recipient and Burton war hero William Coltman.

Both men served in a company of no more than 100 men in the 1/6 North Staffordshire Regiment, a unit known as the ‘Burton Boys’ due to its strong links with the town.

The amazing coincidence only came to light after Jackie recruited the help of researcher Malcolm Goode to discover the role her ancestors played in the conflict.

Mr Goode, who specialises in Great War family history, told the Mail: “I’m a great believer in ironic coincidences, and the fact is Jackie married William Coltman’s grandson.

“If they were in the same battalion they would have been on nodding terms but they were in the same company so they were maybe friends.”

Malcolm’s research revealed that Thomas, and his younger brother Alfred, walked into the drill hall, in Horninglow Street, to volunteer for the Territorial Army on September 3, 1914, when the Great War was barely a month old.

Both would have received basic training at Harpenden, Luton and Saffron Waldon before they embarked for France and the Western Front on March 5, 1915.

Malcolm said Thomas’ baptism of fire came during an ill-fated assault on the Hohenzollern Redoubt, during the Battle of Loos, on October 13, 1915; an attack in which 68 Burton Boys were killed and 150 injured.

Fortunately, Thomas survived the attack while Alfred had been admitted to hospital and granted home leave two weeks beforehand.

He only rejoined the battle-scared battalion on November 7, around the same time William Coltman would have joined Thomas in A Company as a draft to replace casualties.

Malcolm said: “Thomas Mayne and William Coltman would have served alongside each other and known each other very well.

“In future years in peace Burton, Thomas’ granddaughter Jackie Mayne would meet and marry William’s grandson David.”

After the failure at Hohenzollern, the North Staffords were sent to guard the Suez Canal against incursions from the Ottoman Empire.

But their sojourn to Egypt lasted just three weeks, as the British High Command recalled the unit in preparation to attack German positions astride the River Somme; Thomas, Alfred, William and the rest of the Burton Boys were heading back to the Western Front.

The North Staffords first took up positions newly vacated by the French near Vimy Ridge, before taking over the front line at Fonquevillers, opposite the German-held village of Gommecourt.

Here, on July 1, 1916, 70 Burton Boys died and another 200 were injured after they advanced into a hail of German shrapnel and rifle fire in a disastrous attack on the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

Malcolm said William and Thomas were fortunate to survive uninjured, while by some ‘unexplained’ quirk of fate Alfred had been returned home before the attack. He was then transferred to the Machine Gun Corps and remained with the unit for the rest of the war.

The failure of the attack at Gommecourt had been so complete that a court of inquiry found the Burton Boys, and the rest of the 46th North Midland Division, to ‘lack offensive spirit’ – it was an accusation akin to cowardice.

As a result, Thomas, William and the Burton Boys were put on ‘trench duties’ opposite the French mining city of Lens for the majority of 1917.

Such was the unit’s poor reputation, it was deemed of insufficient fighting quality to take part in any the major British offensives that year.

But the Burton Boys were still expected to engage the enemy in small scale actions whenever they could.

Malcolm said: “It was during one such engagement with the enemy on June 28, 1917, that Thomas, now a Lance Corporal, was gassed.

“According to family anecdotes, he was brought back to ‘Blighty’ to recover in hospital in Leeds.”

Malcolm said it is unclear when Thomas eventually re-joined the Burton Boys, but it was in time to take part in the 46th North Midland Division’s successful assault on the Hindenburg Line on September 29, 1918.

He said: “Here the battalion and the whole division redeemed themselves, as on that morning they achieved what the whole British Army had been attempting to achieve for over four years, they broke through the German front line.”

Thomas and Alfred both survived the war, though Thomas would need medical treatment as a result of the gas attack for years afterward.

So too did two other Mayne brothers, George Mayne, a sergeant in the Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders, and William Mayne, who served in the Sherwood Foresters.

But a different fate befell two cousins of the Mayne brothers. Walter Mayne died of wounds after the attack at the Hohenzollern Redoubt in 1915, while John Mayne was reported missing, believed killed, between November 18 and 19, 1916.

Despite her family’s extraordinary Great War story, Jackie said it was something her family rarely discussed while she was growing up.

But the 58-year-old supermarket worker was full of praise for Malcolm’s research.

“I think it’s amazing what he has done,” she said.

“I would never have given my granddad a thought having never known him.

“It has taken nearly 40 year to find out mine and David’s grandfathers fought alongside each other.

“I feel I know them a lot more now and know about what they went through as well as the conditions they were in.”

Jackie and her 65-year-old husband David, of Halcyon Way, will celebrate their 35th wedding anniversary later this year.

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