Armistice Day: Remembering the Edinburgh brother and sister killed by war just a year apart

They were a brother and sister raised in relative comfort in an Edinburgh townhouse. In just over a year, both had been killed at war and their parents left without a child.

The poignant story of Daisy and Lionel Coles has emerged this Armistice Day and tells of a sibling bond, of loyalty and of loss – and a family broken beyond repair by the horrors of the First World War.

The siblings, whose father was a civil servant with the Scottish Office, grew up in Bruntsfield Place before later moving to St Ninian’s Terrace.

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Both attended George Watson’s College with Lionel, later commissioned to the 16th Royal Scots, killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme in July 1916 as he led his company over the parapet near Contalmaison. He was 27.

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Within months of his death, Daisy, a voluntary aid detachment nurse at Craigleith Military Hospital in the capital, followed her older brother’s lead and went to France, despite the protests of her parents. “You would have me refuse my duty?” she apparently said.

Within three months of her arrival at the 58th General Hospital at St Omer, she too was dead. Killed in an airstrike as the makeshift hospital came under attack, the “bright and cheery” nurse died while tending to wounded servicemen.

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"A tremendous lot of damage had been done – several marquees being blown to atoms,” an account of the attack on September 30, 1917, said.

Pupils from George Watson’s College recently made a trip to the Longuenesse Souvenir Cemetery at St Omer where Daisy, and several other former pupils, lie in war graves.

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Brother and sister Daisy and Lionel Coles, of Edinburgh, who were both killed in World War One just over a year apart. PIC: George Watson's College.

Brian Cloughley, 83, a Watsonian and former serviceman now of Burgundy, was among those who attended a remembrance ceremony for Daisy and other past pupils killed during the First World War.

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Mr Cloughley, who served for 36 years with both the British and Australian armies, said he believed Daisy, despite the loss of her brother, signed up to serve out of patriotism and perhaps loyalty to Lionel.

He said: “It is very difficult for us to fully understand that feeling of patriotism in Britain in that period. I have got no documentary evidence, but my personal feeling is, yes, that is what drove her to go out there. It was perhaps also loyalty to her family, her brother."

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Following the death of their children, Walter and Edith Coles left Edinburgh for Peebles and later moved to a house overlooking the sea at North Berwick. Later, they returned to the south of England, from where they originally came.

In Edinburgh, the names of their children can be found at the War Memorial in Christ Church Morningside, as well as at the School War Memorial at George Watson’s College.

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Mr Cloughley said the recent service in France, where he met several current pupils of the school, left him with a real “heart surge”.

He said: “We tend to get a little cynical about young people, particularly old people like me, and it is extremely good for us to recognise that young people are not careless about what goes on in the world. They do care and it was obvious that these young people from the school were themselves touched and most sensitive about the past and what had happened.”

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