Whilst researching the names of our local soldiers listed on the war memorial in St Edburg’s Church I discovered a curious anomaly that it’s hard to believe wasn’t noticed at the time, or if it was then its hard to believe that nothing was done about it.
This is Charles Albert Coles, a Private in the Worcestershire Regiment who was reported missing in action in Turkey on 6th August 1915. He was 19 years old and well known in Bicester, having worked in Tubbs Bank until his enlistment on 9th March 1915. He had also been quite involved with the Church Lads Brigade.
He originally enlisted in the Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, but soon transferred to the Worcestershire Regiment and, after his training period, was sent out to Gallipoli, arriving in early July. Almost immediately he wrote home of his first experiences of fighting the Turks, and his letters always expressed cheerfulness and optimism.
He was one of four brothers who served in the army during the First World War, with another brother serving in the Navy and one working in a munitions factory. Two of his older brothers, George and William, also died in the war, and the confusing thing is that George and William are both listed on the war memorial but Charles is not.
It seems odd that his parents would choose to remember two of their sons and not all three. I can understand them not putting “In Memoriam” notices in the newspaper for him like they did for the others, because George and William were both “killed in action” rather than just “missing”, so with Charles there was always a hope that he may be a prisoner of war somewhere and would turn up alive and well one day. But the war memorial was erected in 1921, long enough after hostilities had ended for there to be no doubt of his loss.
But the story gets even more confusing at the war memorial’s dedication ceremony. You see, the stone in the church porch lists three Coles names: George, William, and Albert, who was unrelated to the others.
However, the order of service given out at the dedication ceremony included a list of the names on the back. This also lists three Coles names, but this time they are Charles, George and William.
So one list has Charles and the other has Albert. But they must have both come from the same master list, and it seems very unlikely that both the stone mason and the printer would each miss off a name (though the stone mason seems to have also missed W.J. King, and then added him in at the bottom of the list). It also seems very unlikely that no one ever noticed.
But, however it happened, Charles has definitely had the rough end of the deal and deserves to be properly recognised alongside his brothers.