Private Henry William Coombs, 7243, 89th Coy, Machine Gun Corp (Infantry) who died on 4th July 1916

Private Walter Henry Coombs has proved very difficult to research and I have spent many hours over the last 5 years trying to put together a picture of this Great War soldier.

The name, Pte W Coombs, as it appears on the war memorial, gives us few clues, so I am grateful that the ROLL OF HONOUR in the Wesleyan Chapel was more revealing. There is listed: WALTER H. COOMBS, R.I.P. - 8th WILTS    and below is listed  R. HERBERT COOMBS, 12th HANTS - Were these two men related?

The Church ROLL of HONOUR shows these men with their full names of WALTER HENRY COOMBES and RICHARD HERBERT COOMBES with surnames spelt with an e before the s. The Chapel ROLL of HONOUR has the correct spelling as I have fond out.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission database lists only one soldier with the name of Walter Coombs and the accompanying information states he was born in Fulham and enlisted in London. I have researched this man thoroughly and have satisfied myself that he and his family had no connection with West Grimstead.

I did find that Henry Walter Coombs had joined the Dorset Regiment in September 1914 but was discharged November 1914 as being unlikely to make a good soldier. His father was named as Henry Coombs.

Checking the Commonwealth War Graves Commission database and other WW1 records I located a soldier by the name of Private Henry William Coombs 7243 of the Machine Gun Corps, 89th Company, formerly 22186 of the Wiltshire Regiment who was killed in action 4 July 1916. With no known grave this soldier is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial on Pier and Face 5C and 12C.

I then checked with The Wardrobe Museum, the Museum of the Royal Gloucestershire and Wiltshire Regiments, in  Salisbury Cathedral Close and was told that they have on their database, a Private HW Coombs, 22186, listed as being born in Dean, Hampshire. But no Walter H. Coombs.

So I then researched all the possible computations of the name Walter H Coombs,  also with the surname spelt Coombes,  in all the available records for the First World War and still I could not find a soldier that had any connection with West Grimstead.  Somebody knew him and knew him to have died during the war. There must have been some family connection to this village and I needed to find it.  

1901 Census Returns provided me with a family that looked promising. Living in Lockerley were Henry and Martha Coombs with their two sons Walter and Herbert. Walters place of birth was entered as 'Dean, Hants' I subsequently was able to find the birth certificates of these to boys. I then found that Martha Coombs died in March 1903. Her widower, Henry remarried later that year to a lady whose first name was Ann.

Could Electoral Registers help? Looking at West Grimstead and the surrounding villages in the Register of Electors for 1911 and 1915 they show no people by the name of Coombs as voters in West Grimstead.  But the 1918 register for the village has more positive results. It lists Henry Coombs and his wife Ann Coombs. Helpfully, the 1918 register also lists absent voters and listed was Herbert Richard Coombs, N/M (Naval/Military). Here was a definite connection.  I became certain that this was the family of Private Walter H Coombs and he was the Private Henry William Coombs, 7243, 89th Coy, Machine Gun Corp (Infantry) who died on 4th July 1916 as found on all the available databases showing the soldiers who were killed in action in WW1, but how could I prove this.  

Recently I have been able to access the UK ARMY REGISTERS OF SOLDIERS EFFECTS 1901 - 1929 and I finally found this 

UK Army Registers of Soldiers Effects

You can see his name as Coombs, Henry William alias Walter Henry. His fathers name is Henry and his stepmother Ann is also shown.   All the other information is shown makes the connection complete. His medal index card shows both his Wiltshire Regimental number of 22186 and his MGC number 7243

So, finally, I can say that our soldier was registered at birth as Walter Henry Coombs but possibly preferred to be known as Henry. At least twice, he wrote his name officially as Henry Walter Coombs, once on the 1911 census return and once in 1914 when he enlisted in the Dorset regiment.  He was discharged from the Dorset Regiment as unfit only two months after enlisting.    By 1918 his parents were living in West Grimstead and so is remembered on our village War Memorial with the two Rolls of Honour having a more complete identity.  Walter Henry Coombs joined the Wiltshire Regiment and was recorded as Henry William Coombs either as a clerical error or as a deliberate action on his part. He later went with the 89th Coy, Machine Gun Corp (Infantry) number 7243  and is listed as H.W. Coombs by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission as being  killed in action on the 4th July 1916 with no known grave but remembered on the Thiepval Memorial. His brother was R. Herbert Coombs (Roll of Honour) and he was the son of Henry William and Martha Coombs. Born in Dean, Hampshire in 1894, his early years were lived in Lockerley, Hampshire. By 1902/3 he and his family had all moved to Bowerchalke in  Wiltshire. By 1911 Walter Henry had moved to Worthing, Sussex and was working as an errand boy. In September 1914 he enlisted with the Dorset Regiment and put his address as Lockerley, Hampshire.  Two years later he was to join the Wiltshire Regiment giving his name as Henry William Coombs. 

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