On this sunny but cold Saturday morning (27th March 2021), I walked from my home up to Winshill to have a look around the Coltman VC Peace Wood, just off Mill Hill Lane. I have been up Mill Hill Lane many times whilst out walking, but never ventured into the Peace Wood until now.
William Harold Coltman, VC, DCM & Bar, MM & Bar was born in the village of Rangemore near Burton on Trent in November 1891. A Christian, he worked as a market gardener in Burton and taught at the Sunday School in Winshill. In January 1915, he joined up to serve in the British Army in the First World War. Coltman served in The North Staffordshire Regiment as a stretcher bearer, refusing to bear arms because of his Christian faith.
In October 1918, he had heard that wounded soldiers near Sequehart in France had been left behind while their comrades were retreating under heavy enemy fire. Coltman went forward, while under fire, and found three soldiers, dressed them and carried them on his back to safety, while risking his own life. For this act of gallantry, he was awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest award for gallantry. Not only that, but he had also previously been awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal and the Military Medal for risking his own life to rescue wounded soldiers.
William Coltman was the most-decorated rank and file soldier of the First World War. Following the First World War, he returned to his job as a gardener with the Burton Parks Department. He served in the Second World War (1939-1945) as a Commander of the Burton Army Cadet Force from 1943 until 1951. He retired from his gardening job in 1963 and continued to live in Winshill until his death in 1974 aged 82. He was given a full military funeral and was buried at nearby St Mark’s Church.
The Coltman VC Peace Wood was created just off Mill Hill Lane in Winshill in 2014, to mark the centenary of the start of the Great War. Winshill Parish Council planted more than 200 trees, 94 of which were silver birch trees, one for each of the men from Winshill who were killed in the First World War. Crosses bearing their names and date of death are arranged around the wood.
The information boards in the picture have information on every year of the First World War, with poems written about the conflict. I don’t know if it was the cold weather or the emotion of the place, but my eyes were watering a little bit as I walked around and read the boards.
A little further on from the information boards is a stone memorial dedicated to the men and women of Winshill who died in the First World War.
A more recent addition to the memorial wood is a copper beech tree planted to remember victims of the coronavirus pandemic.
The rest of the park is open space, with a path leading round to a residential street. Within the park is also a small play area for young children. I will leave the last word to William Coltman, who said on the occasion of the unveiling of his portrait at the Town Hall in 1963:
It is my sincere hope that future generations of this town will know nothing of war except what they have read in history books.William Coltman