George and Fanny Coombes originated from Middlewich but they had moved around in connection with George’s work as railway guard. They first lived in Salford where their first three children were born. They then moved to Helsby where Joseph was born in about 1890 and his sister, Rose, in about 1893. Another move brought them to Hyde around the turn of the century and, finally, they moved to the Stockport area living at 41 Didsbury Road, Heaton Norris.
When Joseph left school, he went into the retail trade and, by the time of the Great War, was manager of one of the shop branches of the Stockport Co-operative Society, His service number suggests he enlisted into the army towards the end of 1915 and was assigned to the newly formed 115th Battery.
The Batteries of the Royal Garrison Artillery fired the heaviest guns in the Army’s arsenal and were situated some way behind the front line trenches . Most were equipped with 5 inch calibre guns capable of firing a 60 pound shell over 11 kilometres. They were used to batter enemy defences and, also, to engage the enemy’s own artillery positions. At the beginning of October, Joseph and his comrades had just moved to new gun positions in a wooded area in the French sector, and began targeting the enemy on the Transloy Ridge, prior to another infantry attack.
Once in a new position, the artillery officers would need to “register” the guns onto their designated targets and the only way to check range and elevation was by firing practice shots at the targets. During 6 October, 47 such rounds were fired. The Battery was under fire from the enemy as its War Diary records that their telephone wire was repeatedly cut during the day. The Diary also records that, sometime during the day, Joseph was killed.
He will have been buried very close to where he died. After the Armistice, many of these very small front line burial areas were closed as the land was returned to civilian use. Joseph’s body was moved and reinterred at Combles, where his grave is now tended by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.