PRIVATE W.COOMBS has proved very difficult to research and I have spent many hours over the last 2 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 also shows these men with their full names of WALTER HENRY COOMBES and RICHARD HERBERT COOMBES with the surnames spelt with an e before the s. From other documentary evidence it would appear the Chapel Roll of Honour has the correct spelling.

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.

 Checking the Commonwealth War Graves Commission database and other WW1 records I have 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.

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

I have 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 cannot find a soldier that fits. But why is Pte W Coombs recorded on the War Memorial of West Grimstead? and again on the Roll of Honour as Walter H. Coombs.  Somebody knew him and knew him to have died during the war. There must have been some family connection to this village.

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 lists Herbert Richard Coombs, N/M (Naval/Military). Here was a definite connection.

I decided to concentrate my research on tracing Herbert Richard Coombs and his family to see if this could provide more relevant information and hopefully a connection to our missing Walter H.Coombs.

Following more detailed research (Click here to see more detailed research of this COOMBS family) I now believe that the Pte W Coombs, on the West Grimstead War Memorial was Walter Henry Coombs, the brother of R. Herbert Coombs (Roll of Honour) and the son of Henry William and Martha Coombs. He was born in Dean, Hampshire in 1894 and his early years were lived in Lockerley, Hampshire but by 1902/3 he and his family had all moved to Bowerchalke in  Wiltshire. 

At birth he was registered as Walter Henry Coombs but possibly preferred to be known as Henry as, at least twice, he wrote his name officially as Henry Walter Coombs, once on a 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.  It is my belief that 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 and therefore 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.  It is sad that it seems absolute written proof of these facts is beyond research.  Many WW1 records did not survive the bombing of WW2.

So if there is anyone out there who knows more about this soldier I shall be very happy to hear from you.