Coleshill Remembers the First Local Casualty of the Great War

Private William Gallagher (Service No. 10837)

A detachment from the local VAD Hospital, Coleshill marching along the high street. Original photo courtesy of Coleshill & District Civic Society.
Image courtesy of Coleshill Remembers WW1

On the 11th October 2014, Coleshill Remembers held its first vigil to commemorate the first local casualty of the Great War 100 years previously.  An old boy of the St Paul’s Homes for Boys, William Gallagher was one of the “Old Contemptibles” going to Europe as part of the British Expeditionary Force at the beginning of the war. Below is what was read out at his vigil:

Private William Gallagher (Service No. 10837)

King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry

Private Gallagher is commemorated on the Memorial in the Catholic Church of Sacred Heart and St Teresa.

William Gallagher was born in Bradford, Yorkshire on an unknown date and grew up in St Paul’s Home for Boys in Coleshill. In 1905 he moved to the St Vincent’s Home for Boys on Moseley Road, Birmingham. He enlisted as a soldier well before the outbreak of the War and following his place of birth, joined the 2nd Battalion King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. His battalion was stationed in Dublin when the war broke out.

When war was declared, his battalion was immediately mobilised as part of the British Expeditionary Force and shipped to France, landing in Le Havre on 16th August 1914. He would have travelled almost immediately to Mons, and on 23rd/24th August 1914 been involved in the first major battle the British Army had been involved in on continental Europe since the Crimea.

On the 24th August the following was reported:

At Wasmes, elements of the 5th Division faced a big attack, German artillery began bombarding the village at daybreak, and at 10:00 am, infantry of the German III Corps attacked. Advancing in columns, the Germans were immediately met with massed rifle and machine-gun fire and were “mown down like grass.”  For a further two hours, soldiers of the 1st West Kents, 2nd Battalion, King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, 2nd Battalion, Duke of Wellington’s Regiment, and 1st Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment, held off German attacks on the village despite many casualties and then retreated in good order to St. Vaast.

They were in action in the subsequent retreat, The Battle of Le Cateau (26th August), The Battle of the Marne (5th-12th Sept), The First Battle of the Aisne (13th-28th September), The Battles of La Bassee in October 1914 having retreated and fought a distance of more than 70 miles in six weeks. 

It is believed Private Gallagher fell in the region of Richebourg, to the North East of La Bassee, during this battle.

He is remembered on the Le Touret Memorial in France and has no known grave.

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