b. 05/02/1882 Folkestone, Kent. d. 14/03/1916 Lillers, France.
William Reginald Cotter (1882-1916) was born at 38 Sidney Street, Folkestone, Kent on 5th February 1882. His father was Richard Cotter, from Bantry Bay, Cork, Ireland. His father had served in the 24th Regiment of Foot in South Africa during the 1870s, and later became a general labourer and plasterer’s labourer in civilian life. William’s mother was Amy nee Richards, and she married Richard in 1880 in Elham, Kent. William was one of nine children, with six brothers and two sisters.
William was educated at Folkestone RC School and had a variety of jobs, including in the building trade, selling newspapers and as a steward on a Union Castle liner. William enlisted in the Militia on 23rd August 1901 and transferred to Regular service in the Buffs Regiment on 11th October 1901, giving his mother as his next of kin. On 23rd November, walking along Military Road, Canterbury with three companions, he was pushed violently by a civilian. William pushed back and a bottle was thrown at him, injuring his forearm. The injury was deemed not serious enough to harm his chances as a soldier.
William joined the 1st Battalion in India and served there from October 1902 to October 1903. He was appointed unpaid Lance Corporal, and served with the Battalion in Aden from 14th October. He extended his service to complete eight years on 9th April 1904, but reverted to Private for an irregularity while on canteen duty at Crater, Aden on 13th May. The Battalion returned to Britain in December and was based at Dover.
On the night of 28th October 1905, William was in the “Lion” public house in Dover with some of his comrades when he was accosted by some drunken civilians. He ignored them, but was knocked to the ground and as he got up a glass was thrown, striking him in the left eye. He was admitted to Dover Military Hospital and his eye was removed. He was promoted to unpaid Lance Corporal in May 1907 and extended his service to complete 12 years on 21st May 1908 and was promoted to Lance Corporal on 22nd August. He was provided with an artificial eye on 10th May 1911. He was to extend his service to 21 years on 10th December 1912. He transferred to the Reserve on 13th March 1914 from Fermoy and joined the Section D Reserve from 2nd April 1914.
William worked for Sandgate Council as a labourer until he was recalled to the 1st Battalion on 5th August 1914 and went to France on 7th September. He reported sick with myopia on 16th January 1915 and was treated at 16 Field Ambulance. He was transferred to No 2 Casualty Clearing Station at Bailleul, and the strain on his good eye saw him evacuated to England on 29th May for an operation, followed by garrison duties in Dover. He joined the 6th Battalion in France on 20th October and was promoted Lance Corporal on 14th November. He distinguished himself on several occasions as a bayonet fighter and in December was recommended for the DCM but did not receive it.
On 6th March 1916 near Hohenzollern Redoubt, France, Corporal Cotter's leg was blown off at the knee and he was also wounded in both arms. He nevertheless made his way unaided for 50 yards to a crater, steadied the men who were holding it, controlled their fire, issued orders and altered their dispositions to meet a fresh counter-attack. For two hours he held his position and only allowed his wounds to be roughly dressed when the attack had quietened down. He could not be moved back for 14 hours and during all this time he had a cheery word for everyone.
He was taken to a Casualty Clearing Station in Lillers, where he suffered a severe haemorrhage and was so dangerously ill that the doctors felt it unwise to administer an anaesthetic. His gangrenous leg was amputated through the knee while he was unconscious. He was visited by his Corps Commander, Hubert Gough, to be told he was recommended for the VC. William lapsed into unconsciousness and died at 8pm on 14th March 1916. He was buried in Lillers Communal Cemetery.
As William never married, the VC was presented to his parents by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 29th November 1916. In addition to his VC, he was awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20 and Victory Medal 1914-19. The VC was held for some time by the Buffs Museum. In July 2003, the Trustees of the Buffs Regimental Museum Trust donated the entire Buffs Museum Collection to the National Army Museum, Chelsea. Cotter’s medals are currently displayed in the National Army Museum.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: NATIONAL ARMY MUSEUM, CHELSEA.
BURIAL PLACE: LILLERS COMMUNAL CEMETERY, FRANCE.
Cemetery Plan courtesy of Kevin Brazier
PLOT IV, ROW E GRAVE 45
Tribute on the side of the Ship Inn, Sandgates, Folkestone (Picture - Neil Barritt)
War Illustrated, 22nd April 1916
War Illustrated, 22nd April 1916
Sandgate War Memorial, Kent (Memorials to Valour)
April 2017 - National Army Museum