William COATES 1911 –1978

Family Details

William Coates was born 24 June 1911,[1] the son of James and Hannah Coates.  There were 4 children, all born at North Bitchburn, Mary bc.1906, Doris bc.1908, William born 1911 and Ralph born 1913. [2]  In 1911, 26 years old James worked as a coal miner [hewer] and the family lived at Constantine Road, North Bitchburn near Howden-le-Wear, Crook.[3] 

31 May 1918:  William Coates father, 34 years old James Coates, was killed in action during the Great War.  Serving as 197785 Sapper James Coates, 255th Tunnelling Company, Royal Engineers is buried at Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery, Belgium and is commemorated on the Howden-le-Wear War Memorial.  William was 6 years old.  At this time, the family lived at 8 Low Row, North Bitchburn. [4]

1935: William Coates married Lydia Allison.[5]  There were at least 4 children: [6]

  • Linda born 23 June 1935
  • Mary born 18 November 1936
  • James W. born 25 September 1938
  • Susanne 20 August 1946

1939: William and Lydia Coates lived at 10 Low Row, North Bitchburn. William was recorded as “Lance Corporal in HM Army service no.4452370”.[7]

Service Details

The service records of Sergeant William Coates have not been researched.  The following details are believed to be the case: 

  • 1 April 1937:  It is believed that he served with the Territorial Force and enlisted into his local battalion, the 6th Battalion, the Durham Light Infantry, [6/DLI] being allocated the regimental number 4452370.  He served with the DLI until 16 August 1943 when he transferred to the Royal Engineers.[8]
  • 17 August 1943 – 1 February 1946: Royal Engineers, possibly was discharged and immediately joined the Reserve 13 October 1945.[9]

6/DLI came under the orders of 151st Infantry Brigade together with 8/DLI and 9/DLI, which was part of the 50th [Northumbrian] Division. 6/DLI Commanding Officer was Lt-Col. A.E. Green, Second in Command, Major G.L. Wood MC and Adjutant Captain R.S. Loveridge MC.  Whilst, Lance Corporal W. Coates served with 6/DLI, the 50th Division fought with the British Expeditionary Force [BEF] in France which led to the evacuation at Dunkirk then in many North African campaigns and in Sicily. [10] 

DLI Badge
Lance Corporal William COATES

1940: France

January 1940:  The 151st Brigade moved to France and was initially responsible for the southern sector of the line between Seclin and Wavrin near Loos-les-Lille. [11]

10 May 1940:   The German invasion of France started at 5.35am.  The 50th Division were involved in “a bewildering series of marches” but finally, by the 21 May, all battalions were assembled around Vimy.  The 151st Brigade was ordered to undertake a, “limited operation to relieve the pressure on Arras”.  The 6/DLI with the 4th Royal Tank Regiment was to move to Thelus by Les Tilleuls, Ecurie, Anzin-Saint-Aubin, Wagnonlieu, Dainville, Achicourt, Beaurains and Henin-sur-Cojeul.  By about 2.30 when approaching Wagnonlieu, the leading company of 6/DLI came under shell fire and pressed forward to Beaurains.  The Luftwaffe began dive-bombing around the villages of Achicourt, Beaurains and Agny.  At 8, the enemy began to shell the column and at about 10.15, tank, mortar and machine gun fire forced the column to withdraw to Achicourt.  There, 2 companies were subject to a heavy attack inflicting many casualties causing a further withdrawal to Ecurie.  Others lost their way, some ending up at Boulogne the next day where, having taken part in the defence of the port were evacuated to England on the 23 May. [12] The main body withdrew to Vimy Ridge occupying the Givenchy-en-Gohelle to Farbus sector on the 23rd May and by the 27th, the 151st Brigade including 6/DLI moved north to plug the gap between Comines and Ypres.  There was considerable enemy action along the front which increased at about 4 in the afternoon.  At midnight orders were received to form a line Poperinghe to Bikschote which was held until the 29th.  By 12.30am on the 30th May, the Division was across the Yser River and the bridge was blown.  Withdrawal to Dunkirk for evacuation on the 31st was the objective.  6/DLI was positioned on the Canal de Berues a Funes opposite Wulveringem.  At 9am on the 31st, the Germans broke through the 1/King’s Own Scottish Borderers which resulted in 6/DLI and 9/DLI mounting a counter-attack to restore the line. A severe enemy attack at 2pm forced a further withdrawal over the Canal du Ringloot.  A lull then ensued with little more than harassing fire as the Brigade withdrew to the beaches. 

1 June, at 2.30 in the afternoon, the battalion started to move down to the beaches for embarkation.  The 50th Division was the last to leave France.[13]

Between 10 May and 1 June 1940, 6/DLI lost 19 men killed in action or died of wounds and a further 14 men during the month of June.[14]  It is assumed that these men died of wounds either at home or as POWs.  The military cross [MC] was awarded to 3 officers and 6 military medals [MM] were awarded to NCOs and other ranks.[15]

1942-43: North Africa

January 1942:  The 50th Division arrived in North Africa.[16] The great German offensive commenced in May and June when Torbruk was captured and the British field army was thrown back to the Alamein Line.  The British offensive commenced in October, starting with the Battle of Alamein, which drove the Germans back into Tunisia, forcing it to surrender near Tunis in May 1943.[17]  This campaign cost 6/DLI 151 men, killed or died of wounds between 6 April 1942 and 15 April 1943 [18] including Evenwood men Corporal Thomas Snowdon [15 June 1942] and Private John Stephenson [28 June 1942].[19]  6/DLI was awarded 6 MCs, 1 bar to the MC, 2 Distinguished Conduct Medals and 11 MMs.[20]    

1943: The Sicilian Campaign

10 July, the battalions of the 151st Brigade, 50th Division led the invasion.  The landing craft holding “A” and “B” Companies, 6/DLI may have touched shore late and off-course due to navigation errors but by midday 6/DLI occupied pre-arranged positions in the foothills north of Noto.[21]

13 July, 6/DLI was in action near Solarino and with the help of a troop of tanks, took 320 prisoners and  much equipment including 16 R35 tanks, 13 field and anti-yank guns.[22]       

13 – 18 July, The Primosole Bridge:  A British airborne operation carried out by the 1st Parachute Brigade captured the bridge spanning the River Simeto. During this action, an Evenwood man, 20 years old Private Maurice Collinson, 2 Battalion, the Parachute Regiment was killed in action, 14 July.[23]   The bloodiest fighting of the campaign centred on the bridge saw 6/DLI heavily involved on the night of 16/17th when:

“The 6th…succeeded with praiseworthy determination in establishing themselves…on the objective and repelled the inevitable counter attacks in fierce close range fighting…The scene of the fighting was hideous.  The German battalions, who had fought to the death, left 300 of their dead on the ground.  The Durham battalions between them lost 500 killed, wounded and missing.” [24]

4 August: 151 Brigade entered Catania and reached Taormina on the 14 August.  

17 August: the campaign in Sicily came to an end.  6/DLI losses from 10 July to 14 August were 59 men killed in action or died of wounds.  Another 2 men died in September which may have been as a result of wounds received.[25] 4 officers received the MC, 1 was awarded the MBE, in the ranks 1 received the DCM, 6 received the MM and 2 were Mentioned in Despatches.[26]   The Division including 6/DLI enjoyed a welcome respite of 2 months before receiving orders to return home.[27] At this time, 17 August 1943, William Coates was transferred to the Royal Engineers.[28]

23 October: A convoy of British troops sailed for the UK and via Algiers, entered the River Clyde and anchored off Gouroch.[29]   

General Montgomery selected the 50th Division for the dangerous honour of being one of the two British infantry divisions to lead the invasion of Europe by landing on D Day in Normandy, France 6 June 1944.[30]

By this time, Sergeant William Coates was with the Royal Engineers and did not take part in Operation “Overlord”.  The family do not have the France & Germany Star therefore, to the best of our knowledge, he did not serve in NW Europe after D Day, 6 June 1944.  Details of his service with the Royal Engineers have not been researched and the family has no information. It is presumed that he was posted at a home base.  Possibly, he may have returned to North Africa or Italy.

Sergeant William Coates was awarded the 1939-45 Star, the Africa Star, the Italy Star, the Defence Medal and the War Medal 1939-45.  He was also presented with the commemorative medal of Dunkirk by the Dunkirk Veterans Association and a certificate from the Mayor of La Ville de Dunkerque in commemoration of events May and June 1940.

Medals awarded to Sergeant W. COATES
The Dunkirk Commemorative Medal

Post War

28 September 1978: William Coates died aged 67.  He then lived at Harrison Crescent, Woodhouse Close Estate, Bishop Auckland. [31]


[1] Certificate of Baptism, 1939 England & Wales Register and England & Wales Birth Index 1837-1915 Vol.10 p.423 Auckland 1911 Q3

[2] “Remembering Our Fallen” Howden-le-Wear History Society 205 p.105

[3] 1911 census

[4] Commonwealth War Graves Commission

[5] England & Wales Marriage Index 1916-2005 Vol.10a p.350 Auckland 1935 Q1

[6] 1939 England & Wales Register and family details

[7] 1939 England & Wales Register

[8] Royal Engineers Old Comrades’ Association Application Form dated 24 October 1945

[9] Royal Engineers Old Comrades’ Association Application Form dated 24 October 1945

[10] “Monty’s Northern Legions: 50th Northumbrian and 15th Scottish Divisions at War 1939-1945” Patrick Delaforce 2004 p.104

[11] “Faithful: The Story of the Durham Light Infantry” 1962 S.G.P. Ward p.469

[12] Ward p.475-476

[13] Ward p.480-481

[14] “The Faithful Sixth: A History of the Sixth Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry” 1995 Harry Moses p.349 Note: For anyone with an interest in 6/DLI, Harry’s book is the authoritative version.

[15] Moses P.346

[16] Ward p.481

[17] Ward p.482

[18] Moses p.349-351

[19] “Evenwood Remembers Once Again” 2011 Kevin Richardson p.248

[20] Moses p.346-348

[21] Ward p.503

[22] Ward p.504

[23] Richardson p.101

[24] Ward p.504-506 Note: The area was defended by the Hermann Goering Division, fanatical Nazis and a first class regiment of parachutists from the 7th Air Division. 6, 8 & 9 Battalions, DLI were involved in actions in Sicily.

[25] Moses 351-352

[26] Moses p.347

[27] Ward 506

[28] His rank cannot be confirmed.  Eventually he was promoted to Sergeant.

[29] Moses p.268

[30] Delaforce p.9

[31] England & Wales Death Index 1916-2007 Vol.1 p.1437 Durham Western 1978 Q3 and England & Wales National Probate Calendar [Index of Wills and Administrations] 1858-1995