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Search for relatives of first tanks’ crewman

16 September 2016


Early tank crewmen: Cyril Coles is fourth from left in the first row of men standing shoulder to should

Early tank crewmen: Cyril Coles is fourth from left in the first row of men standing shoulder to should

A MEMORIAL on a church wall has sparked a search for relatives of one of the first tank crews to be killed in action a century ago this week.

The death on the Somme of Cyril William Coles, aged 23, on 15 September 1916, in the first tank offensive in history, was recorded with a photograph and plaque at the United Reformed church in his home town of Poole, Dorset.

By chance, it was seen by Melissa Lambert, who told her sister, Sarah Lambert, the exhibitions manager at the Tank Museum, 15 miles away in Bovington. That started a search for more about his life to include in the museum’s display marking this week’s centenary of the first use of tanks in war at the Battle of Flers-Courcelette.

Born at Canford, Dorset, in 1893, Cyril Coles was the son of a corn miller, and worked with him at Creekmoor Mill, in Poole. The researchers identified his tank, D15, and found him in one of the first group photographs of the tank crew. His memory was kept alive by his brother, Donald Coles, who, in 1925, named his only son after Cyril; but Bovington has been unable to trace his family.

The museum curator, David Willey, said: “One hundred years on, it would be wonderful to make contact with them. We knew that a Cyril Coles was killed on the very first day that tanks ever went into battle, but finding such a personal story practically on our doorstep was a complete coincidence.

“Like so many names on First World War memorials we all pass by without a second thought, Cyril was, until recently, just another anonymous casualty of a war fought long ago. But now we know he was one of that small group of men who were pioneers of tank warfare.”

His tank was disabled by artillery, and he was killed by German machine-gunners as he climbed out. He is buried in a cemetery near Flers. “One hundred years later,” Mr Willey said, “we feel it is important to remember these brave men, and we’re pleased to have been able to bring Cyril Coles to people’s attention with our exhibition.”

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