WHEN the shooting stopped, the quiet of the battlefield allowed a time for a brief period of reflection and contemplation for those who survived the horror.
Surrounded by poppies and holding a copy of the Bible in his hand, a new memorial at the Victoria Cross Museum in Balby, Doncaster, depicts Lance Corporal William Coltman, one of the most decorated soldiers of the First World War.
It has been unveiled as the world pauses to remember the start of the Battle of the Somme, which, for 141 days from July 1, 2016, saw some of the bloodiest fighting ever seen in British military history.
But William Coltman’s story is one you might not expect from a recipient of the Victoria Cross, the Military Medal, and twice the Distinguished Conduct Medal. A conscientious objector, his staunch religious beliefs prevented him from taking up arms, so after signing up in January 1915 he served as a stretcher bearer with the North Staffordshire Regiment – and won all his medals without firing a shot.
He was awarded the Victoria Cross for “most conspicuous bravery, initiative and devotion to duty”.
Mr Coltman returned from the battlefields of the First World War, and is buried in his home town of Burton-upon-Trent, after dying at the age of 82 in 1974, forever remembered as one of the greatest heroes of the war.
Victoria Cross Trust chairman Gary Stapleton said the monument was a fitting tribute to those who lost their lives at the Somme.
He said: “We felt that the one VC who personified everyone was Willy Coltman, the most decorated soldier from the ranks in World War One.
“He went into the Battle of the Somme as an ordinary rifleman.
“He was trapped in a crater for much of the time and could hear the sound of the wounded and dying on the battlefield. It led him to become a stretcher bearer. He would go out in the greatest danger to help people wounded on the battlefield.”
The memorial, created by sculptor Johanna Marshall, was given the working title After the Battle’s Over. Her work depicts Mr Coltman after the battle, with his Bible in his hand, reflecting on what had happened. “We thought he represented everything about the Somme – those who died, those who survived, and those who had their own issues to deal with on their return,” said Mr Stapleton.
Today villages, towns and cities across Yorkshire, the UK and Europe will pause to remember those lost in the Battle of the Somme.
A single bell will toll from each of the Cathedrals of Bradford, Ripon and Wakefield, along with 50 other churches in the Diocese of Leeds at 7.30am, the exact time 100 years ago the first troops went over the top at the Somme.
Among other commemorations across Yorkshire are special events in Sheffield, at Colsterdale near Ripon, Bradford, York, Barnsley, Doncaster and Leeds.
Writing in The Yorkshire Post today, Barnsley Central’s Labour MP, a former Army major who served in the Parachute Regiment from 1997 to 2011, paid his own tributes to the Yorkshire soldiers He wrote: “A hundred summers on from the Battle of the Somme, we should remember that sacrifice and reflect on how it changed our society then and shaped Britain today.”