Hometown honour for Smethwick Victoria Cross hero 100 years on
One hundred years on from his death a war hero has been honoured in his hometown for the actions that earned him a Victoria Cross.
Sergeant Harold Colley was awarded the highest possible honour for his brave actions during the First World War and distant family members and the people of Smethwick gathered on Saturday to honour his memory.
The 23 year old died 100 years to the day back in 1918 after leading the 10th Lancashire Fusiliers into battle to recover Martinpuich in France.
Facing a stern German counter-attack, Colley’s company was overrun, but he managed to mobilise his defence, rally his men and successfully stop the German attack. He was fatally wounded in the process and died later that day of his injuries.
WATCH: Smethwick service honours Victoria Cross hero
Born in Birmingham to John Colley and Elizabeth Hadley, and one of five children, he grew up in Smethwick.
After joining the army at 19 years old, he represented the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry regiment and the Army Cyclist Corps where he was also awarded with the Meritorious Service Medal and Mentioned in Dispatches for a number of heroic acts.
He transferred to the 10th Lancashire Fusiliers after returning to England for medical treatment where he went on to climb up the ranks before becoming sergeant.
At a memorial service at the cenotaph next to Smethwick Heritage Centre, three members of Sergeant Colley’s family – his nephew Dr Ivor Hadley and great nephew’s Richard Hadley and Ian West, were joined by service men and women from local regiments, members of the public and representatives of the heritage centre to unveil a commemorative memorial stone.
The service was held by Reverend David Gould from the Holy Trinity Church in Smethwick and the stone was unveiled by the Mayor of Sandwell, Councillor Joy Edis.
A parade also went past the Colley family home on Cheshire Road that is a stone’s throw from the cenotaph.
Ian West, 63, from Solihull, said: “It’s vital you remember the people who have died for this country. Harold excelled himself in dealing with situations he was put in and has been recognised with various medals – what a wonderful story to have in a family tree.
“It’s unbelievable to have someone in your family with a VC. I’ve never had to fight in a war or make those decisions so to have that in your family is wonderful.”
Dr Ivor Hadley, 87, was born in Smethwick and spent ten years working in Birmingham as a GP before moving to Devon, he said: “It’s important for Harold’s sake first of all to have a ceremony like this, he was such a brave man who served so well.
“We must remember all of those who sacrificed so much 100 years ago. He was an extremely brave man and it’s a great honour to be here and a very memorable occasion.
"The knowledge of his story is inspiring and I think this service has been very well presented and does him the honour that he deserves.”
Dr Hadley’s son, Richard, 50, said: “We’re terribly proud to have a man like this in our family and it’s great for me personally and the family. It’s amazingly touching for these people to come out and remember him. I wasn’t expecting such a large crowd to remember him 100 years on.
“I have two teenage children and I’ve certainly told them about Harold and they’re keen to hear about it – it’s all about keeping his memory going.”
Robert ‘Knobby’ Clarke, 71, from Smethwick, served in various army contingents, such as the Royal Corps of Signals and as an army recruiter in the Black Country, for 44 years. He gave a speech at the service along with local schoolgirl Amara Ahmed.
Sgt Colley is buried in Mailly Wood Cemetery in Mailly-Maillet on the outskirts of Amiens, France.