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‘Bunny’ Coles obituary – a life lived to the full

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Bernard George Coles, always known as ‘Bunny’ was born on December, 20th, 1933 in Langton Matravers, Swanage, Dorset, one of three siblings, Sylvia the oldest and Kenneth the youngest.

His mother, Amy Gertrude, was a waitress in Swanage and his father, Gomer George, worked the quarries at ‘Worth Matravers’ village on the high hills out of Swanage.

Bunny had a step grandfather, John Brown, who, in 1938 purchased the rights to the ‘Nailsworth Quarry Company’ so by the age of four the family had uprooted and moved to Nailsworth where they started life living above a shop on Market Street, the undertakers Fred Stevens. He recalls having to pass through the coffin shop to get from the basement kitchen up to the living area and bedrooms.

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His father, already being a quarryman on the Isle of Purbeck, joined with his step grandfather to quarry the limestone mainly from the quarries on the side of the Nailsworth ‘W’.

This was in 1938 so Bunny was only just starting at Nailsworth Infants School on Church Street and then as a junior at the British School for Boys on Spring Hill, now a private residence. He passed the 11+ exams in 1945 and was educated at the Stroud Boys Technical School on Beards Lane in Stroud.

Bunny claimed “I did my best” however his father told him at Christmas time he would not be returning to school as he’d found Bunny a job at R.A Listers in Dursley. Bunny enjoyed woodwork in his last year at school and now found himself working with metal at the biggest employer around.

He said, in those days, you did what you were told.

As the second world war started, he remembered the blackouts and having to hurry down to a neighbours basement for shelter. He said at the time if the Germans had used gas bombs at that time, he wouldn’t have been around as the kid’s gas masks back then were so scary that he refused to wear one. 

During the war years he often returned to Swanage to see relatives and one day in particular he led on the bank of the bay watching the Spitfires all go over and although he didn’t know it, that day became known as the Battle of Britain.

He remembered the V.E Day celebrations in Nailsworth, the streets were decorated with colourful flags, there was singing and dancing in the street and an evening torchlight procession, a great day.

When Bunny was ten years old, he joined the Boys Brigade whose headquarters was at Nailsworth Christchurch in the adjacent Chapel Rooms. In charge was Captain Hyde and Sergeant Brinkworth. 

Around this time many of the young boys broke away and became founder members of Nailsworth Boys Club and the early meetings were held at the ‘Wool Loft’ on Chestnut Hill. The Boy’s Club was then managed by his father Gomer, Fred Cook and John & Richard Innes who owned the sweet shop and tobacconist on the Cross.

Upon reaching his 18th Birthday in December 1951, Bunny was called upon to do National Service, so he committed to three years with the R.E.M.E. (Royal Electrical & mechanical Engineers). He became a motor mechanic serving in Blandford, Taunton, Dorchester, Plymouth, and Tavistock. It was whilst he was at Plasterdown Camp on Dartmoor that he received orders to return immediately to Dorchester, where he would be sent to Korea.

After a quick kit out, he found himself with 1500 others in Liverpool boarding the troopship ‘Empire Halladale’ bound for the Far East and the unknown.

Six weeks later via: Malta, Suez, Aden, Colombo, Singapore, Hong Kong and finally Pusan, he finally stepped foot on South Korea.

After a brief spell of two days, he boarded a train and headed North. The train had hard wooden seats and no windows to look out so after 48hours travelling we were very pleased to get off at Seoul. From here he was sent further North to the 16th Infantry workshops and then even further North to the HQ L.A.D (Light Aid Detachment) to the Commonwealth Brigade HQ.

By now he was very close to the ‘38th Parallel’ which divided Korea into North & South. This would become his home for the next 20 months.

During his national service he was very lucky to see the ceasefire come into operation, as if they had opened fire, he was well within their range.

There were only two that served in Korea from Nailsworth, Bunny and a chap called Bob Tanner who he did meet with whilst in Korea. His 21st birthday was celebrated at a night club in Kure, South Japan with just Bunny and his mate on short leave.

In February 1955, he embarked the ‘SS Captain Hobson’ and set sail from the Far East towards home, but had shore leave in Malta for two weeks whilst a repair on the ships engines was carried out.

It wouldn’t be until 2017, some 62 years later that he returned on a nostalgic holiday trip to Malta with his wife Sandra and son Mark. Mark did once suggest a trip to South Korea, but Bunny said after what he had experienced the North Koreans do to the South Korean women and children, he never wanted to return, not even in peacetime.

Bunny eventually landed on English soil at Liverpool and was immediately demobbed to return home to Nailsworth where his family and friends made such a fuss of him, he wrote “I felt embarrassed when they claimed me to be a hero” my son will proudly be wearing my Korea Veteran medals at the funeral.

As he settled back into civvy street, he signed on for Shortwood Football Club along with a few mates and his younger brother Ken. Back then, he said, “we played for the fun of it, unlike today, we had to pay to play football, pay for transport and wash our own kit, the strip back then being ‘all white’ shirts”

Bunny had a one season stint at Forest Green Rovers in 1957 and although he later became a longtime supporter, his football playing days would see him return to Shortwood. Bunny played for other teams including the fire service and Stroud Corinthians which took him well into his forties.

In 1955 he started playing skittles for the Conservative Club, now the Nailsworth Social Club in the Nailsworth Skittles League before moving to the Stroud League and again back to the Nailsworth league playing with the ‘Runaways’ right up until early this year 2023.

In 1956 Bunny met with Ann Venn and their first date would be at the Nailsworth Cinema known as ‘Tickers Palace’ where Ann was an usherette and they watched a film called Beau Brummell.

In 1960, Bunny and Ann were married at St Georges church in Nailsworth followed by the births of Mark and Debra in 1962 and 1966.

Bunny had several jobs after returning from Korea including: Hilliers, Pressboard, Newman Henders and driving the mobile shop for Co-op, but he eventually took up the role of a Fireman at Nailsworth Fire Station before moving on to Stroud Fire Station and making his way up to Sub-Officer until retirement in 1988.

Mark remembers the family home on Church Street in Nailsworth having a big fire bell just inside the front door linked to the fire station, it didn’t half make a noise. And Bunny bombing off to the station on his bicycle, sometimes coming off in the process and being injured before even getting into the fire engine. Talking of which he once overturned a fire engine on Standish Corner.

A tale to tell: Bunny and his fire crew attended a cat stuck up a tree, like they used to back then, on a local farm with the farmer’s wife gifting them a bottle of whisky for rescuing the family pet only to then run over it with the fire engine on the way back out, funny now probably but not at the time.

Bunny was good at most ball sports, playing volleyball for the fire service, football for Shortwood and Forest Green, Skittles, Golf and various Bowls Clubs proudly obtaining his century of county bowls matches representing Gloucestershire in 2022.

Once whilst playing skittles for the West of England league at the old Eastville Stadium Social Club in Bristol, it came around to Bunny’s turn to bowl and he was nowhere to be found only for one of the opposition to say he was next door ballroom dancing with some woman he’d found, always the charmer was Bunny.

The family had some great times and holidays, usually Swanage or Butlins in a caravan or chalet and Bunny would always be the adventurous type, Debra recalls us all up at Hazel Wood and ‘Dad’ finding a vine creeper to swing on but before us kids could have a go, he tried it out and had got to about 20 feet in the air as the vine snapped, he plummeted down the bank and lay still. ‘We thought he was dead’ but he brushed himself down and gingerly made it back home.

Mark said that ‘Dad’ had always fully supported him in his quest to be an electrician. From an early age Mark was given use of a large workshop at the top of the garden and ‘we both carried out weird electrical experiments’ only for mother to often shout out that the electric had blown back in the house.

The marriage with Ann broke down after 26 years and Bunny found someone else he would marry but this only lasted a short while. It would be Sandra that he met, and married in Las Vegas and spend the last 30 years of his life with.

Bunny & Sandra holidayed all over the world and also enjoyed cruise liners.

Bunny and Sandra lived at Far Oakridge near Bisley and Sandra very quickly became a favourite of Mark & Debra. Bunny had two grand daughters by Debra and her husband Frazer, Jennifer and Phoebe Wilson upon whom he doted.

There was good reason for this, he wrote: “Due to the facts of life or fate as it may be, I never got to know either of my grandfathers, one lived in Dorset and the other in Cardiff. There was my step-grandfather on my dad’s side, but I’m not sure he knew who I was, as he died when I was only 12.

“I always felt I had lost out on the ‘Grampys’ and sadly, because my dad died when he was only 56, my children, Mark & Debra only really had one ‘Grampy’ Through the course of history I’m very grateful that I have lived long enough to enjoy my children’s lives and for my grandchildren, Jennifer & Phoebe to have had a Grampy they can remember.”

Bunny died July 28th, 2023 at Cirencester Hospital, he was 89-years old, just five months short of his 90th.

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