Cambrai 100: Remembering Nicholas Robert Colman


Nicholas Robert Colman was born on the 30th September 1897, and baptised on the 18th January 1898 in Gunthorpe parish church, the son of Daniel and Catherine Colman.[1]

Figure 1: From the Baptisms Register, Gunthorpe, 1898

Whilst the British Army WW1 Service Records 1914-1920 do not appear to have survived for Nicholas Robert Colman, there are some extant records for Robert Nicholas Colman, from Gunthorpe, Norfolk (which I assume to be the same person), and he enlisted at Norwich.[2]  He was awarded the 1914-15 Star, British war Medal, and Victory Medal.

Figure 2: British Army WW1
Medal Roll Index Card
for Nicholas Robert Colman

The Record of Soldiers Effects lists Nicholas as a Corporal and records that £14 19s 10d was paid to his father, Daniel, in April 1918, with a War Gratuity of £12 10s being paid in November 1919.[3]

The Cambrai Memorial commemorates more than 7,000 servicemen of the United Kingdom and South Africa who died in the Battle of Cambrai in November and December 1917 whose graves are not known.  The method of assault for the Cambrai operations was new, using tanks to break through the German wire with the infantry following under the cover of smoke barrages; but no preliminary artillery bombardment.  The attack began early on the 20th November 1917 and initial advances were remarkable, but by 22nd November a halt was called for rest and reorganisation which allowed the Germans to reinforce.  From 23rd to 28th November, fighting was concentrated almost entirely around Bourlon Wood and by 29th November, it was clear that the Germans were ready for a major counter attack.  During the fierce fighting of the next five days, much of the ground gained in the initial days of the attack was lost.[4]

Nicholas was killed in action on the 30th November 1917.  He was 20 years old.  The War Diary for the 7th Battalion, the Norfolk Regiment[5] records that on that day, at

‘About 7am a very heavy Hun Barrage commenced, and at 7.40am he attacked, in mass in enormous numbers, from Gonnelieu, which he had just previously taken about 7.35am, and also from Banteaux.  The Bosh attacked the Battalion from the right flank and the front.  Our Lewis guns did splendid work, mowing down the enemy in large numbers, but by weight of numbers, he forced he Battalion to face back on to Battalion Headquarters in Bleak Trench and a strong point on our left front.  The Hun succeeded in surrounding many of our men, who were thereby forced to surrender.  We made a splendid fight and accounted for enormous numbers of the enemy.’

Casualties amongst the ‘Rank and File’ were: Killed 27, Wounded 89, Missing 204, Wounded and Missing 13.  The War Diary entry finishes with a note that:

‘During the Hun Counter Attack, the War Diary for November was unfortunately lost,* and the months’ Diary had to be complied from the only information available, which was very little indeed.   

* for “lost”, read “destroyed when the enemy attacked on Nov 30th”.’

Further research into Nicholas’ family reveals that his father,  Daniel Colman was baptised on the 29th December, 1867 in Briningham parish church, the son of Andrew and Celia Colman.[6] Daniel married Catherine Walkey Ledner on the 26th December 1886 in Briningham parish church.[7]  In the 1911 census for Swanton Novers, Daniel is recorded as aged 41, and a farm labourer; he died in 1950, aged 79, and is buried in Wood Norton.  Catherine was baptised on the 6th October 1859, in Morston parish church, the daughter of John and Mary Ledner.[8]  She died in 1935, aged 76, and is buried in Wood Norton.

The 1911 census reveals that the family were living in Spalding Lane, Swanton Novers, Melton Constable.  They had ten children, seven of whom were living at home when the census was taken:

Lilian Blanche Born: 1887, Briningham.[9]

In the 1911 census (Briston) Lilian is aged 24, and boarding with the Butters family.  Lilian married (i) Elgar Woods, 1912 (d. 1918);  and (ii) Frederick Fish, 1923.

Died: 1968 (Norwich), aged 81.

Henry George Born: 1888, Gunthorpe.[10]

In the 1911 census (Wood Norton), Henry is aged 23, and a waggoner on a farm.

Died: 31st October 1916, aged 28, the Somme.

Rosa Ellen Born: 1889, Gunthorpe; baptised 5th January 1890.[11]

In the 1911 census (Brinton) Rosa is aged 21, and a general servant (domestic) with the Westcott family.

Albert Richard Born: 10th February 1892, Gunthorpe.[12]

In the 1911 census (Wood Norton), Albert is aged 19, and a farm labourer.

John William Born: 10th February 1893, Gunthorpe.[13]

In the 1911 census (Wood Norton), John is aged 17, and a cattle tender on a farm.

Thomas Charles Born: 12th December 1894, Gunthorpe.[14]

In the 1911 census (Wood Norton), Thomas is aged 16, and a yard boy on a farm.

Thomas served with the Royal Artillery in WW1; he survived the conflict.

Agnes Nora Born: 14th April 1896, Gunthorpe.[15]
Nicholas Robert Born: 30th September 1897, Gunthorpe.

In the 1911 census (Wood Norton), Nicholas is aged 13 and doing odd jobs on a farm.

Died: 30 November 1917, aged 20.  Cambrai, France

Horace Reginald Born: 6th February 1900, Gunthorpe.[16]

In the 1911 census (Wood Norton), Horace is aged 11, and at school.

Celia Gladys Kathleen Born: 16th May 1902, Gunthorpe.[17]

In the 1911 census (Wood Norton), Celia is aged 8, and at school.


The surviving army service records show that two of Nicholas’ older brothers served in WW1:

  • Henry George, who died of wounds, aged 28, on the 31st October 1916. He is buried in the St Sever Cemetery Extension, Rouen. Henry was with the 17th Battalion, Sherwood Foresters (Notts and Derby Regiment); Private 27814.  Henry’s Record of Soldiers Effects show that £8 12s 6d was paid to Henry’s father, Daniel, in March 1917, with a War Gratuity of £5 paid in October 1919.[18]
  • Thomas Charles, who enlisted aged 21 on the 11th January 1916 in Newcastle upon Tyne. Thomas was a cowman, working on Jubilee Farm, Blyth, Rotherham.[19]  He was a Driver with the Royal Field Artillery (Regimental No. 141180).  He survived the conflict, and was awarded the Victory and British War medals.

It is possible that, given their age and unmarried status, that Albert Richard and John William also served in WW1 – Albert would have been 22 when the war broke out; John would have been 21 – but unfortunately, the Army Service records do not appear to have survived for Albert or John.  Whilst there are several Medal Roll Index cards for Albert and John, it is not easy to identify either of Nicholas’ brothers from these records.

We’re very grateful to the Wood Norton Heritage Project for this piece remembering a local man who fell 100 years ago to the day – and if anyone reading this has any more to add to the family’s story please do get in touch. 


[1] Baptism Register 1898, Gunthorpe (; FreeBMD Quarter to December 1897, Walsingham, Vol.4b, p.289 (;

[2] UK Soldiers Died in the Great War 1914-1919 (

[3] UK, Army Registers of Soldiers’ Effects, 1901-1929 (

[4] CWGC information for the Cambrai Memorial (

[5] UK, WW1 War Diaries (France, Belgium and Germany), 1914-1920 (

[6] Baptism Register, Briningham, 1867 (; FreeBMD Quarter to March 1868, Walsingham, Vol.4b, p.307 (

[7] Marriage Register, Briningham, 1886 (

[8] Baptism Register, Morston, 1859 (; FreeBMD Quarter to December 1859, Walsingham, Vol.4b, p.315

[9] FreeBMD Quarter to March 1887, Walsingham, Vol.4b, p.308 (

[10] FreeBMD Quarter to March 1888, Walsingham, Vol.4b, p.333 (

[11] FreeBMD Quarter to December 1889, Walsingham, Vol.4b, p.291 (

[12] Baptism Register, Gunthorpe, 1892 (; FreeBMD Quarter to June 1892, Walsingham, Vol.4b, p.299 (

[13] Baptism Register, Gunthorpe, 1893 (; FreeBMD Quarter to June 1893, Walsingham, Vol.4b, p.305 (

[14] Baptism Register, Gunthorpe, 1895 (; FreeBMD Quarter to March 1895, Walsingham, Vol.4b, p.311 (

[15] Baptism Register, Gunthorpe, 1896 (; FreeBMD Quarter to June 1896, Walsingham, Vol.4b, p.291 (

[16] Baptism Register, Gunthorpe, 1900 (; FreeBMD Quarter to March 1900, Walsingham, Vol.4b, p.303 (

[17] Baptism Register, Gunthorpe, 1902 (; FreeBMD Quarter to June 1902, Walsingham, Vol.4b, p.280 (

[18] CWGC Commonwealth War Graves Registration records (; UK Soldiers Died in the Great War, 1914-1919 (; UK, Army Registers of Soldiers’ Effects, 1901-1929 (

[19] British Army WW1 Service Records 1914-1920 (


One thought on “Cambrai 100: Remembering Nicholas Robert Colman

  1. Pingback: Remebering Nicholas Robert Colman – Your Ancestor Search

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