b. 10/09/1877 West Hatch, Somerset. d. 03/09/1951 Merthyr, Wales
John Collins (1880-1951), known as Jack, was born in West Hatch, Bickenhall, in an area south west of Taunton, Somerset on 10th September 1877. He was the son of Thomas Collins, a collier, and Mary Ann. John attended the village school in West Hatch and later the family moved a short distance to Wood Marsh, Windmill Hill, Ashill. When he was about 10 to 13 years old in the late 1880s his family moved to Merthyr, where they lived at 54 High Street, Penydarrren, Glamorgan. After he finished his schooling, John was probably involved in the local mining industry. At the age of 18 he enlisted with the Royal Horse Artillery as a driver on 18th November 1895.
Collins took part in the Boer War and was one of the first troops into Ladysmith. Later he served in India, before leaving the Army, possibly in 1907, after 12 years’ service. Three of his brothers also served in the Boer War and their parents received congratulations from Queen Victoria. From then on the family was known as the “fighting family of Penydarren”. John then worked as a tip labourer in Bedlinog Colliery, Penydarren.
When the Great War began, Collins was in his mid to late 30s and enlisted in the Welsh Horse Yeomanry with the service number 340, being the second man from Penydarren to do so. In early 1915, the Welsh Horse Yeomanry were part of the North Midland Brigade of the 1st Mounted Division, training in the Diss area of Norfolk. They were soon transferred to the 1/1st Eastern Mounted Brigade and continued training in the Woodbridge area of Suffolk. On 25th September, the brigade sailed for Mudros from Liverpool on board the Olympic.
On 10th October, they landed at ANZAC Cove and their brigade was attached to the 54th (East Anglican) Division in the role of dismounted cavalry. Their duty was to hold the extreme left of the ANZAC Front. He took part in the Gallipoli campaign until December 1915, and later served in Egypt as a member of the Suez Canal Force, where his regiment was part of 3rd Dismounted Brigade. He had been promoted to Sergeant on 31st October. On 4th March 1917 the 1/1st Welsh Horse Yeomanry joined the Montgomeryshire Yeomanry and formed the 25th Royal Welsh Fusiliers, 231st Brigade. Collins later saw action in Palestine in the Second Battle of Gaza in April 1917, and he was awarded the DCM for his gallantry in the action at Foka on 30th November.
On 31st October 1917 at Wadi Saba, Beersheba, Palestine, Corporal Collins repeatedly went out when his battalion was forced to lie out in the open under heavy shell and machine-gun fire, and brought back many wounded. In subsequent operations he rallied his men and led the final assault with great skill in spite of heavy fire at close range and uncut wire. He bayonetted 15 of the enemy and with a Lewis gun section covered the reorganization and consolidation most effectively although isolated and under fire from snipers and guns.
During a Battalion parade at Ramallah, Collins was presented with the VC and DCM ribbons by General Allenby. In May 1918, the 231st Brigade left for France and Collins was presented with his VC by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 1st June. He was later wounded in France on 8th October and promoted to Acting Quarter Master Sergeant. He was discharged from the Army in February 1919.
Prior to the war, Collins had married Mary Ellen O’Brien at St Illryd’s RC Church, Dowlais on 17th March 1910. They had a large family of six sons and two daughters. After his discharge, he became a security guard at Dowlais Steelworks. In June 1920 he attended the VC Garden Party and the service at the Cenotaph on 11th November. In November 1929 he also attended the VC Dinner at the House of Lords. During the Second World War, Collins served as a Sergeant Major in the Home Guard at Dowlais from August 1940 to September 1942. He then attended the VE Parade in June 1946 and the VC Dinner at the Dorchester Hotel.
John died on 3rd September 1951 in St Tydfil’s Hospital, Merthyr, and was buried in the RC Section of Pant Cemetery, Merthyr. The funeral was a military one and attended by many local dignitaries, members of the British Legion and Royal Welsh Fusiliers. The grave lay unmarked for six years as his wife couldn’t afford a headstone. However, news leaked out of her plight, and the town and British Legion raised the funds and a headstone was placed in 1957. She was later buried with him in 1968.
In addition to the VC and DCM, Collins was awarded the Queen’s South Africa Medal with five clasps, King’s South Africa Medal with two clasps, 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19 and King George VI Coronation Medal 1937. His medals are held by the Royal Welsh Fusiliers Museum, Caernarfon Castle.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: ROYAL WELSH FUSILIERS MUSEUM, CAERNARFON, WALES.
BURIAL PLACE: PANT CEMETERY, MERTHYR TYDFIL, WALES. PLOT XE, GRAVE 44.
Thomas Stewart – Medal Group at Royal Welsh Fusiliers Museum, Caernarvon Castle.
Steve Lee www.memorialstovalour.co.uk – VC Stone at West Hatch, Somerset.