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Lance Corporal Bill Coltman
Lance Corporal Bill Coltman pictured with other members of the 16th Battalion North Staffords

Bravest of the brave remembered

Created in 1856 by Queen Victoria and reputed to be cast from bronze cannon captured in the Crimea, the Victoria Cross is Britain’s highest recognition for bravery in the face of the enemy.

During the Great War, Staffordshire men and those representing Staffordshire Regiments were in the thick of the fighting and their nation recognised their conspicuous courage. Here are some of their stories.

On July 27th, 1917, Private Thomas Barrett was part of a patrol near Ypres which was successfully targeting enemy snipers when it came under attack. Pte Barrett withstood heavy fire to cover his colleagues’ withdrawal and caused several enemy casualties, but as he reached the safety of his own lines, he was killed by a stray shell.

Less than two months later, on September 8th, Sergeant John Carmichael was with a group of men digging out a trench when a grenade was dislodged and activated. Unable to throw it out of the trench for fear of hurting colleagues working above, Sgt Carmichael shouted a warning, put his helmet over the bomb and stood on it – injuring himself but saving his friends.

With the end of war in sight in October 1918, stretcher-bearer Lance-Corporal William Coltman was serving as part of the Allied offensive on the Hindenburg Line when his unit came under attack. Three times the stretcher-bearer went out under fire into No-Man’s Land to give first aid and carry the wounded back to safety.

Awarded the VC for his actions that day LC Coltman became the military’s most decorated non-commissioned officer, also receiving the Military Medal twice and the Distinguished Conduct Medal. After the war he returned to his job at the Park Department in Burton.

Philip Atkins, Leader of Staffordshire County Council, said:

“These stories of quick-thinking, determination and extraordinary bravery are awe-inspiring, but the detail also serves to remind us of how brutal and dangerous conditions could be for everyone involved.

“Staffordshire has always had close links with the military: thousands of residents have connections to the Staffordshire Regiment, while the county is also a welcoming home to several other regiments, and of course is proud to host the National Memorial Arboretum at Alrewas.”