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  • Courtesy of Lynne Weston
Person Details
25 Nov 1882
Mansfield Nottinghamshire
Harry was born at Mansfield in 1883 to parents John and Sarah Colley. John Colley was a general labourer, a native of Mansfield, who married Sarah Thurman at St John's church, Mansfield, in January 1865. On the 1901 census Harry (18), a bricklayer, was living with his parents and brother George (21) and sister Nellie (24) at 67 Wood Street, Mansfield. His parents were still living at the same address when Harry was killed in 1917. Harry married Alice Edwards (b. 21 December 1888) in 1907 (A/M/J Mansfield). A report of Harry's death published in January 1918, recorded that he left 'five little children' and these were Gladys, Maggie, Barbara, James and Alice. Three of their children were born before the 1911 Census: Gladys Colley Edwards b. Sutton in Ashfield 2 October 1905 (O/N/D Mansfield), Maggie b. Skegby 14 October 1907 (O/N/D Mansfield) and Barbara b. Mansfield 6 January 1910 (J/F/M Mansfield). The birth of their fourth daughter, Evelyn, was registered in 1912 (J/F/M Mansfield) - she died in September 1915 (J/A/S Mansfield) - James was born on 18 May 1914 (A/M/J Mansfield) and Alice on 9 October 1917 (O/N/D Mansfield). In 1911 Harry (28), a bricklayer, and Alice (23) were living at 51 Brownlow Road,Mansfield, with their three daughters, Gladys (5), Maggie (3) and Barbara (1). Their daughter, Evelyn, who was born the following year, died in hospital in September 1915 after suffering burns when her clothing caught fire. (See 'Extra information'). The newspaper report of the inquest gave the family's address as 6 Union Street (probably Sutton in Ashfield). According to a newspaper report published in January 1918, Harry's widow was living at Lawn Road, Sutton in Ashfield, and this is the address given on the Pension Ledgers record. Harry's mother Sarah died on 11 April 1912 aged 68 years and his father John on 11 January 1923 aged 78 years. Harry's sister, Ellen (Slater), died on 29 June 1928 at the age of 46.
He was a bricklayer.
25 Nov 1917
35
436374 - CWGC Website
139154
He enlistedin Sutton in Ashfield.
Sergeant
  • DCM DCM Distinguished Conduct Medal
253rd Tunnelling Coy Royal Engineers
Formerly 12982 Leicestershire Regiment Sergeant Harry Colley enlisted in Sutton-in-Ashfield as a private soldier in the Leicestershire Regiment in the early weeks of the war. He was posted to the 7th Battalion, one that included many men from the local area. He landed in France on 30th July 1915 before transferring to the Royal Engineers, when he joined the 253rd Tunnelling Company. The unit was formed in January 1916 and served at Sailly Labourse and the front line areas of the old Loos battlefield, north of the Vermelles-Hulluch road. According to a letter received by his widow from one of her husband's officers, Harry was killed by a bursting shell while walking along the trenches. (See 'Extra information'.) Harry died on his 35th birthday. He is buried in the Bleuet Farm Cemetery, Ieper, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium (grave ref. II.B.20.) He was awarded the DCM (gazetted 11 December 1916) for conspicious gallantry in action. (See 'Extra information').
Inscription on family grave, Mansfield Cemetery: 'In ever loving memory of Sarah, the beloved wife of John Colley who departed this life April 11th 1912 aged 68 years. Beloved in life, lamented in death. Also John, the beloved husband of the above who died Jan 11th 1923 aged 78 years. O rest in the Lord. Also Sergt. H Colley DCM RE, dearly loved son of J & S Colley, killed in Belgium Nov. 25th 1917 aged 35 years. The supreme sacrifice. Also Ellen Slater, daughter of the above, who died June 29th 1928 aged 46 years. Peace after pain.' As can be seen from both photographs of the headstone, much of the lead lettering on the gravestone is missing. Mansfield Reporter, 10 September 1915 (extract): ‘Scorched Flanelette Bursts Into Flames. The second case of burning [referring to another report in the same edition of a child death] was more remarkable still, inasmuch as, according to the evidence adduced, a flannelette night-dress scorched and then burn into flames. The victim was Evelyn Colley, the three-year-old daughter of Alice and Harry Colley, 6 Union-street. The mother said her husband was now a soldier, but formerly a bricklayer … I saw my child again at the hospital during visiting hours, but later I received information that her condition had become worse, and she died yesterday (Friday) in my presence … Verdict of ‘Accidental death’.’ (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk) Supplement to the London Gazette, 11th December 1916: '139154, L/Cpl (Actg. Cpl.) H. Colley, R. E. For conspicuous gallantry in action. He worked at rescue operations under heavy fire in full view of the enemy, thereby saving the lives of three men who were buried.' Mansfield Reporter, 5 January 1917 (with photograph): ‘How A DCM Was Won. Stirring Story of Mansfield Man’s Bravery.' 'Quite a graphic little story is told by Sergt. H Colley (Royal Engineers), son of Mr J Colley of 67, Wood-street, Mansfield, of an adventure in No Man’s Land at the front, when under heavy shell fire, he saved the lives of comrades, and for his gallantry has been awarded the DCM. 'In a letter to his friends Sgt Colley has graphically described the circumstances under which he gained the award. "There were ten men at a listening post. I had been listening in the night and when I was going on during the morning I met one of our men, who told me that ten men had been buried in the listening gallery. When I got to the spot I began to move some of the debris, and I heard one of them inside mumble. I got help from my section, and we had not long been digging them out when Fritz, who must have seen the moving of the chalk, began to shell us. However, we kept working and taking cover and then, so heavy was the shelling that the infantry had to leave the position. 'But I and three others stuck it out in No Man’s Land. Every time we got near the men however, a shell would come and make things worse. Then one of our officers crept up to us, and just after he came one of the working party was blown up into the air. He was not wounded, but was bad from concussion and the big shock. The officer got him to creep away with him, and them the officer came back to us again, and we were nicely getting the better of our job when a big shell landed nor far from us, and the officer was wounded in the eye. He stayed with us for a long while, but the pain became so bad that he had to go back, although he did not go to see the doctor until he knew we had returned. 'Well, after he had gone, one of the other chaps was wounded in four places, and we had to get him over to the trenches, and that only left two of us to get on with the work. We stuck it until 2.30 the next morning, and then three more men came to help us in the last two hours, and by this time things had quietened down a bit. We got three of the buried men out alive, but the other seven were dead. The living men were badly shaken and cut about the head, and we had to carry them on our backs across the open. When we got back they told us they next expected to see us again, but I felt that I could not leave the men where they were. The wounded officer has received the Military Cross, the other wounded man and he who got the shock each have the Military Medal, and I and the other man who got through it all have the D.C.M. Thousands of shells seemed to come over us whilst we were out there, and I shall not forget it in a hurry. 'Sergeant Colley was originally with the Leicesters, and enlisted soon after the outbreak of war. He has been in many tight corners.' Mansfield Reporter 4 January 1918 (extract): ‘Killed on his birthday. How a Mansfield DCM died’ ‘Walking along the trenches on his 35th birthday, Sergeant H Colley (Royal Engineers), son of Mr J Colley, of 67 Wood-street, Mansfield, whose wife lives at Lawn-road, Sutton, was killed by a bursting shell. Some time since the Sergeant won the DCM for his gallantry in saving the lives of comrades when under heavy shell fire. Mrs Colley has received the following letters from Lieut. A Davis. ‘It is with deepest regret that I have to inform you of the death of your husband. He was proceeding along the trenches in company with Lieut. Collingham, when a bursting shell killed him instantly, and severely wounded the officer. His death was quite painless, poor chap. He is to be buried in a quiet burying ground well behind the firing line where his grave will be well marked out, and a cross erected by the company to his memory. Your husband was the most able and willing of our non-commissioned officers, and his place will be extremely difficult to fill. By his many acts of bravery and devotion to duty, he had endeared himself to the officers, NCOs and men, who feel his loss keenly, and join with me in heartfelt sympathy for you and yours in this your hour of trial. May God grant you strength. If you desire any further information, I will be only too pleased to oblige.’ The Sergeant leaves a wife and five little children, and much sympathy is extended to her.’ The article continued with a transcript of Harry's letter which was published in the Mansfield Reporter on 5 January 1917. (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk) WW1 Pension Ledgers: the record names his widow, Alice, and children Gladys, Maggie, Barbara and James. Registers of Soldiers' Effects: his widow, Alice, was his legatee.
Remembered on

Photos

  • Courtesy of Lynne Weston
    Harry Colley - Courtesy of Lynne Weston
  • Harry standing LHS with unknown friends.
Courtesy Lynne Weston
    Harry Colley - Harry standing LHS with unknown friends. Courtesy Lynne Weston
  • Family headstone, Mansfield (Nottingham Road) Cemetery. Photograph Rachel Farrand (July 2016).
    Harry Colley - Family headstone, Mansfield (Nottingham Road) Cemetery. Photograph Rachel Farrand (July 2016).
  • Inscription on family headstone, Mansfield (Nottingham Road) Cemetery. Photograph Rachel Farrand (July 2016).
    Harry Colley - Inscription on family headstone, Mansfield (Nottingham Road) Cemetery. Photograph Rachel Farrand (July 2016).
  • Headstone marking his grave in Bleuet Farm Cemetery, Belgium.
    Harry Colley - Headstone marking his grave in Bleuet Farm Cemetery, Belgium.