John Coleman

John was born in Seething and came from a large family. His mother had 12 children of whom two died. His parents were Thomas Coleman and Sarah Ann Coleman (nee Ellis). Thomas was a market gardener and before her marriage Sarah worked as a domestic cook. John was born in 1896/1897. There seems to be some confusion as to when it actually was.

His brothers and sisters were;

Margaret born 1882

Walter born 1883

Rosie born 1887

Harriet born 1888

Beatrice born 1890

Peter born 1892

Paul born 1895

Elizabeth born 1898 and others whose names are unknown.

In 1901 the family were living at Brooke Road, Seething, Norfolk but by 1911 they were living in Saxlingham Nethergate. Thomas was working as a market gardener, Walter was a farm labourer in Toft Monks, Rosie was a servant in Thorpe Hamlet, Harriet was a servant in Saxlingham, Beatrice, a laundress, was an inmate in a Female Prison in Aylsbury, Peter was a farm labourer, Paul was assisting his father, Elizabeth and John were both still at school. Margaret had married William Cushion and John was living with them in Saxlingham.

He joined the Suffolk Regiment on 19th July 1915 giving his age as 19 years and 6 months. He was a gardener and his next of kin was given as his mother Sarah Coleman. He was 5 feet tall and weighed 96 lbs.

The minimum height for joining the army was 5 feet 3 inches and at the start of the war short men were turned away. Some were very upset by this and this resulted in the creation of Bantam Units. Men between 5 feet and 5 feet 3 inches were enlisted into these units. John joined such a unit in Bury St. Edmunds. He later transferred to other units and served in both the Suffolk and the Norfolk regiments. His service number was 20893

He was posted to France on 20 July 1916 and took part in the Battles of the Somme.

He became ill in October and from 31 October 1916 till 4 January 1917 he was in hospital with trench fever.

Trench fever only became recognised during the First World War. Many soldiers presented with temperatures of unknown origin and to begin with the doctors did not know why. They presented with high temperatures, weakness, severe back and leg pains, dizziness and a rash. There were epidemics of the condition and soldiers would be unfit often for more than 60 days at a time. They would have a fever for several days and seem to be recovering from it for it to return again 6 days later. This pattern could be repeated many times.

The men were living in very unhygienic conditions and they were infested with lice. It was discovered that the disease was caused by bacterium Bartonella  Quintana and was louse borne. The infection was caused when a louse defecated and the person scratched their skin. The bacterium then entered the person’s system through the open wound. It had an incubation period of 14 to 30 days.

Many men were too ill to return to duty and some developed endocarditis.

John was badly affected by the illness. He was ill in hospital for 65 days but it is not known where. He was then sent to The Command Depot of Convalescing Soldiers in Tipperary, Ireland. The barracks there had been converted into a hospital in 1916 and could take 4,000 patients. He remained there for 245 days from 6 January 1917 till 15 September 1917.

Tipperary Barracks, Ireland

On arrival a soldier would be interviewed and examined. He would be examined monthly to check his progress. The Depot in Tipperary was for rehabilitation not for soldiers with psychological problems. The aim was to return soldiers to the Front or failing the possibility of that to help them plan for their long term future. Such soldiers were taught skills like French polishing and motor mechanics. . The men were expected to play football and such like to improve their physical condition.

John rejoined his regiment at the end of September 1917. It was reported that he had made good improvement with medicine and special exercises.

Having been returned to the regiment in England he was insolent to an officer on 21 November 1917 and was sentenced to 72 hours fatigues.

On 29 November he embarked from the United Kingdom and arrived in Alexandria on 31 December 1917. He was in Egypt and Palestine for just over a year.

On 28 June 1918 he was absent from parade whilst on active service and was confined to camp for a day.

He embarked from Port Said on 29 January 1919 on HT “Ormonde” with the intention of going to the Dispersal Station at Shorncliffe  or Wimbledon

It had been realised that it would be impossible at the end of the war to demobilise everyone at the same time. At Demobilisation scheme was devised with Dispersal Stations set up in different areas of the country. A grading system was created and men allocated to groups numbered 1 to 40. Those in group 1 being the first to leave. The men were placed in the groups according to their peacetime occupation. Those whose skills were needed on the home front were demobilised first, these included miners and agricultural workers. Some men waited months.

Stations were set up at Wimbledon and Shorncliffe and they could accommodate several thousands of men. Shorncliffe demobilised about 800 men a day and Wimbledon about 150 an hour.

It is not known to which or if to either of these stations John went.

 In April 1919 he was in Thetford as he was confined to barracks for 7 days for overstaying a pass by 1 day 20 hours and 15 minutes.

 Between 2 June and 21 June 1919 he was in hospital with scabies.

 He eventually was demobilised from Purfleet on 27 July 1919.

He returned to Saxlingham Nethergate and the Electoral rolls show that in 1920 he was living with his mother and Paul and Peter Coleman in Cargate Lane. In 1926 he was still living there with his mother.

In July 1934 he married Laura Brown. In 1939 he was living with his wife in Cycle Agent Road, Hapton, Norfolk and was working as a builder’s labourer.

He and his wife moved to live in North Walsham and he died there in December 1979. His wife died in 1991.


England & Wales, Birth, marriage, death index 1837-2005

UK Census Collection

British Army Medal Roll Index cards, 1914-1920

1939 Register-

Norfolk Electoral Rolls-Southern Division Saxlingham Nethergate and Thorpe,  (Absent Voters Lists 1918-1920)

Norfolk Electoral Rolls, 1920 & 1926

British Army Service Records

England & Wales, National Probate Calendar 1858-1990

Radio Ulster- WW1 at Home, Tipperary Convalescent Depot.

The Long, Long Trail web site  Trench Fever

The Lancet, June 30 2016. Professor Gregory Anstead. Trench Fever

Voices of First World War- Homecoming. Imperial War Museum- Dispersal  Stations.