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
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
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.
Commonwealth War Graves
Commission database and other WW1 records I have located a soldier by the name
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
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.