The Coulsdon family who lost three of their four sons to war

As we approach the centenary of the Armistice that finally ended World War I, real-life stories of the sacrifices of local people continue to emerge.

This year’s Remembrance Sunday is on November 11.

The memorial in St John’s churchyard in Coulsdon to the three Coldwell sons killed in World War I

The latest edition of the Old Coulsdon Residents’ Association’s magazine tells the story of one family grave where three sons from one family have a memorial after they each died on the Western Front.

The memorial stone in the churchyard of St John’s the Evangelist tells the story of what might almost claim to be Coulsdon’s version of Saving Private Ryan, the Stephen Spielberg epic in which an American officer is despatched in the later stages of World War II to locate and bring home safely the fourth son of a family which had already sacrificed three brothers.

Might there have been an earlier version? A Saving Private Coldwells? Probably not: this was total war, not Hollywood.

In the account for OCRA by resident Brian Hudson, the Coldwells family from Croydon had four sons fighting for King and country during World War I.

Three of them were killed in action.

Leonard George Coldwells was 21 and a private in the London Regiment when he died on October 31, 1914, at Messines in Flanders.

Lieutentant Charles Albert Coldwell of the Royal Field Artillery died on September 28, 1915, at Loos. He was 20 years old.

Lieutentant Francis Baker Coldwell, of the Devonshire Regiment, died on July 1, 1916, at Ovillers on the Somme, aged 24.

St John’s, Coulsdon, where the churchyard includes the memorial to the Coldwell sons

As Hudson’s photograph shows, the inscription says, “Their name liveth for evermore.”

According to the 1891 census, the Coldwells – father Joseph and mother Elizabeth, née Baker – lived on Whytecliffe Road, Coulsdon. After Elizabeth died in 1897 (to be buried at St John’s, where the memorial to her sons is to be found), Joseph married Isabel, and they moved to West Croydon, where two sisters were born before the outbreak of war.

“One can only imagine the agony the family went through and how it affected them,” Hudson writes.

“Sadly this would have been one among countless such stories.”

The fourth Coldwells brother, Edward, did survive the war, though without the intervention of a 1918 equivalent of Tom Hanks coming to his rescue. Hudson’s research of local records found that in 1918, Edward Coldwells married Isla Hannam.

Coulsdon’s residents’ associations are staging a number of events from November 3 to mark Armistice Week, 100 years since the guns finally fell silent at 11am on November 11. For more details of what is being staged, click here.

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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