(L to R) Military Cross; 1914-15 Star; British War Medal; Allied Victory Medal; 1939-45 Defence Medal
Coutts was born on the 11th April 1890 in Streatham, south London. He was named after his father Coutts Alexander and his mother was Sarah Annie. We don't know whether he had any brothers or sisters. Coutts senior was a perfumer and the family lived at 15 Tankerville Road in Streatham.
At some point the family moved to the north of England. Coutts senior died between April and June 1897 in Disbury, West Yorkshire, and in 1901 his son was a boarder at the Manchester Warehouse and Clerk's Orphan School in Cheadle Hulme (in 2012 known as Cheadle Hulme School). He also attended Sale High School and Manchester Technical School, where he qualified as a mechanical engineer and draughtsman. He worked as a machine tool draughtsman in 1911.
Sarah remarried between July and September 1903 to Edward Palmer Hetherington. He was also a mechanical engineer, and in 1911 the 3 lived with Edward's daughter Maud Gertrude and their domestic servant Ada Elizabeth Dunning at 'Fox How' on Regent Road in Altrincham, Cheshire.
After the First World War broke out in August 1914 Coutts joined the 6th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment. We don't know when. His background and profession must have marked him out, because he was soon selected to train as an officer. He joined the 7th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment as a Second Lieutenant on the 27th March 1915.
The 7th Battalion had been sent to Egypt in September 1914, and then took part in the invasion of Gallipoli in May 1915. They took heavy casualties over the next 2 months and needed reinforcements. Coutts was sent out to join them on the 1st August, arriving on the 18th.
He led his men in the trenches during the rest of the campaign. This was difficult work in dangerous and unsanitary conditions, but the heaviest fighting was over. Coutts and other officers made constant efforts to keep their men healthy and entertained.
Coutts and the 7th Battalion left Gallipoli on the 21st January 1916 and moved to Egypt. They moved into the Sinai and began preparing defences to protect the Suez Canal against a Turkish attack. He returned to the UK on leave between the 26th April and the 7th June. In early August Coutts took part in the Battle of Romani that ended the Turkish threat to the Canal and Egypt and allowed the British to begin an advance towards Palestine. He served in B Company during this battle.
On the 8th November Coutts was promoted to Lieutenant. Five days later he was hospitalised suffering from synovitis in his knee. This was a painful condition that will only have been made worse by the long marches the 7th Battalion had been engaged in during 1916. He returned to them on the 25th.
Coutts' time in Egypt ended on the 3rd March 1917. Along with the rest of the 7th Battalion he sailed to Marseilles in France and was then transported north to Liercourt, where they trained to fight on the Western Front. They served in the trenches at Havrincourt before Coutts left them for 10 days leave on the 18th July.
Soon after his return the 7th Battalion were sent north to take part in the Passchendaele Offensive in Belgium. They did not take part in any major attacks, but they were shelled heavily as they held the front line. In November they returned to France and by the end of the year they were stationed near Givenchy.
We don't know much about the jobs Coutts had during this period. As in Egypt he will have worked hard to keep up his men's morale, and ensure that they were kept fed and equipped.
Coutts was able to go on leave again on the 3rd March 1918. When he returned 2 weeks later the situation on the Western Front was very different. On the 21st March 1918 the German Army had launched a huge offensive against the British and French Armies. They hoped to win the war before too many American troops could arrive to fight them.
At first the attack was extremely successful, and the Allies were forced to retreat. During late March and early April the 7th Battalion took part in fighting aimed at slowing the German advance. By May they had been pulled out of the line to rest. Coutts could now go to hospital to be treated for Measles. After 2 weeks he returned to the battalion on the 8th June.
In late July Coutts was in command of D Company and held the Temporary rank of Captain. He led them in an attack near La Signy farm on the 20th. This was successful, and the 7th Battalion held off German counterattacks on their new position throughout the rest of the month. Sergeant James Horsfield also took part in this attack and was awarded the Military Medal, which is now in the Museum of the Manchester Regiment collection.
The Allies began their advance on the 8th August. It was to become known as the Hundred Day's Offensive. On the 21st the 7th Battalion was ordered to attack along the Serre Ridge near Beaumont Hamel. Coutts was in command of A Company. His conduct during this attack was considered worthy of the award of the Military Cross. His citation was published in the London Gazette on the 11th January 1919:
Shortly after the commencement of an attack all the officers of his company became casualties, and two of his platoon sergeants were killed. Alone he led his company to its objective in a thick mist, established it there, and on his own initiative pushed forward two platoons and occupied a position of great tactical importance in front of his objective. He set a splendid example of cool courage to all ranks with him.
This citation is slightly different from that originally submitted. The original text tells us the date and location of the attack, as well as mentioning that Coutts led his Company in defeating a German counterattack 'the next morning'.
After this battle Coutts left the 7th Battalion on leave. He was away for a month, returning on the 23rd September, and then led A Company for the rest of the war, which ended for them on the 11th November at Mauberge near the Belgian border. Coutts gave up command of A Company on the 2nd November. He took one more period of leave, between the 7th and 16th December, and then returned to the UK to be demobilised on the 18th January 1919.
Coutts married Clara Jackson on the 31st July in Bury, Lancashire. They had 2 daughters, although we don't know their names or when they were born. He returned to engineering and joined the Salford based firm of Shuttleworth and Co., which he helped to revitalise. He was also involved in the 7th Battalion Old Comrade's Association, and often contributed to their fund for assisting members in difficulties.
During the Second World War Coutts served in the Army again, and reached the rank of Captain. We don't know what he did, but we believe it involved intelligence. His medals suggest that he never served overseas.
By the end of his life Coutts had 7 grandchildren and lived at Engledene Nursing Home on Belmont Road in Bolton. He died there on the 2nd November 1978, aged 88.
Coutts' medals were donated to the Museum of the Manchester Regiment in October 2002.