16th January 1917

Private Shirley Palmer Coton from Copt Heath was killed in action in Mesopotamia on 16th January 1917, serving with the 9th Battalion Worcestershire Regiment.

Baptised at St Alphege Church, Solihull on Christmas Eve, 1893, he was the only son of parents James (a labourer) and Julia (née Smith) who had married at the church in 1892. He also had a younger sister, Winifred Mary (1896-1927) who was baptised at Knowle as Victoria Winifred Mary on 12th April 1896.

The family remained at Copt Heath until at least 1915. Shirley’s mother, Julie, died in 1904, aged 43, and is buried at St Alphege Church, Solihull. Her widowed husband, James, and the two children were still at Copt Heath in 1911, with James’s unmarried cousin, Emma Warner, acting as housekeeper. James, and his 17-year-old son, Shirley, were both listed as farm labourers.

Shirley married Agnes Brown (1887-1949) at St Alphege Church on 15th May 1913, giving his occupation as labourer and his abode as Copt Heath. His father, James, also remarried the same year, marrying Ellen R. Whitehead. It looks as if Shirley and Agnes had two children – Charles Ernest (1915-1988) and Beatrice Rose (1916-1989).

After the outbreak of war, Shirley enlisted in the Army at Birmingham on 22nd August 1914, giving his occupation as coal miner. He was posted to the 7th Battalion South Staffordshire Regiment but was discharged a few weeks later on 12th October 1914 as “unlikely to become an efficient soldier.”

He re-enlisted on Saturday 13th November 1915, joining the Worcestershire Regiment, and with his address listed as Ten House Row, Copt Heath, Knowle. His eldest child would have been eight months old and his wife would have been five months pregnant with their second child at the time he enlisted. He was one of hundreds of men who joined the Army in Birmingham on the same day:

Saturday was the heaviest week-end day the recruiting authorities have had in Birmingham for some months, and to-day there was greater activity than at any time since the boom which followed the outbreak of hostilities in August last year. At nine o’clock Curzon Hall was beseiged with hundreds of men anxious to enlist, and so great was the queue at eleven o’clock that the doors were temporarily closed, the doctors and staff of clerks being unable to cope with the work. There was similar pressure at James Watt Street, in connection with which station a branch office has been opened in Newton Street. The recruits were drawn from all phases of society, but it was noticeable that the proportion of single men belonging to the business and lower middle classes was much greater than usual.
The bulk of the enlistments, however, were made by married men under Lord Derby’s Scheme…
Birmingham Mail, 15th November 1915
He was killed in action on 16th January 1917 and is buried at Amara War Cemetery in Iraq. He is commemorated locally at Knowle Parish Church and at Downing Hall, Knowle.
His widow, Agnes, married Frederick C. Figgis in 1919 and it looks as if they had six children before Frederick died, aged 32, in 1930. Agnes continued to live in Solihull and, in 1939 was living at 2 Hillside Cottages, Warwick Road. She died, aged 62, in 1949.
Shirley’s father, James died in 1930, aged 63, having seen his first wife and both of their children pre-decease him.
If you have any further information, please let us know.
Heritage & Local Studies Librarian
tel.: 0121 704 6977
email: heritage@solihull.gov.uk

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