Percy Herbert Coward was born in the Wiltshire town of Westbury in the autumn of 1896. He was one of seven children – all boys – to Lily Coward and her weaver husband Charles. Not long after Percy was born, the family moved across the county border to Frome, Somerset, presumably for Charles’ work.
By the time of the 1911 census, the Coward family were living in a five-room end-of-terrace cottage on the outskirts of the town. Charles and Percy were both working as warpers – threading looms – in the cloth industry; two of his brothers were working for a printer in the town. Percy was proving himself an integral part of the community.
[Percy] was very highly esteemed by a large circle of acquaintances… He was a worker with the YMCA and Frome Brotherhood, a member of the band and in other directions showed himself a young man of much promise. He was employed successively at Messrs Houston’s [Woollen Mill] and at the Silk Factory.Somerset Standard: Friday 26th April 1918
An active member of the town’s territorial force, when the Great War broke out he was mobilised. Initially attached to the Royal Army Medical Corps, he subsequently served with the Royal Army Service Corps and the North Staffordshire Regiment, before obtaining his final transfer to the 42nd Company of the Machine Gun Corps.
During his time in the army, Private Coward would have seen action in some of the fiercest battles of the war – at the Somme, Arras and Ypres. In the spring of 1918, his battalion was involved in the Battles of St Quentin and the Avre, and it was during this last skirmish that he was wounded.
Percy’s injuries were severe enough for him to be medically evacuated back to England and, once there, he was admitted to the Royal Woolwich Hospital in South London. His wounds were to prove too much for him, however, and he passed away at the hospital on 12th April 1918. He was just 21 years of age.
Percy Herbert Coward was brought back to Somerset for burial. He was laid to rest in the Dissenters’ Cemetery, Vallis Road, within walking distance of his family home.