SERJEANT CECIL FREDERICK GOTTLIEB COLES COLES
LONDON REGIMENT (QUEEN VICTORIA'S RIFLES)
26TH APRIL 1918 AGE 29
BURIED: CROUY BRITISH CEMETERY, CROUY-SUR-SOMME, FRANCE
Cecil Coles was a musical genius and not just according to his wife Phoebe, who chose his inscription. Coles, whose father, Frederick, was Assistant Keeper at the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland in Edinburgh, had composed his first orchestral work whilst still at school. He read music at Edinburgh University, won a scholarship to the London College of Music and then the following year, 1908, the Theophile Bucher Scholarship at Stuttgart University. He remained in Germany for the next five years, returning in 1913 to resume a teaching post at Morley College where Gustav Holst was his friend and mentor. During this time he continued to write several well-received pieces of music.
Despite, or perhaps because of, the years he had spent in Germany, Coles was a very early volunteer, enlisting on 2 September 1914. He served as a bandsman with the 9th Battalion Royal Fusiliers, becoming the bandmaster, which came with the rank of serjeant.
Although at one time bandsmen always served as stretcher bearers, by 1916 they were two separate occupations. Stretcher bearers were selected for their physique and stamina, bandsmen, obviously, for their ability to play an instrument. As such they were too valuable to loose. They played at concerts, church services and funerals, medal presentations, sports days and entertainments. Their work was good for morale.
But, when times were desperate they still could be needed for stretcher bearing and times were desperate when Coles volunteered to help bring in the wounded following a heavy bombardment near Hangard Wood. However, stretcher bearers were unarmed and vulnerable; Coles was shot by a sniper as he helped to recover the casualties. This is why his wife described him as a hero. 'Of the first water' is a measure of the quality of diamonds, those of the greatest purity and translucence are described as being of the first water - a hero of the greatest purity and perfection.
Coles' reputation disappeared after his death and it wasn't until his daughter, Catherine Coles, who never met her father, rediscovered his manuscripts in 1993 that his reputation was reestablished.