Sunday, August 20, 2006

Nursed at Hickwells, killed in France

R/1480 Rifleman Stan Collins was a patient at Hickwells in 1915. His entry in Nurse Oliver’s album is a drawing of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps cap badge and the following text:

Rfln S Collins
1480, 12th K.R.R.
Wounded at Laventie Sept 25th. 1915

Next to this entry, in a different hand (presumably Nurse Oliver’s), has been written: Killed August 18th 1916. Rifleman Collins shares this page with an entry from 1583 Sergeant William Calvert of the 7th KOSB.

Stan Collins was born in the small Surrey village of Ockham around 1894. The 1901 census shows him living at Ockham Mill Lane with his sister Daisy (aged 13), brothers Harvey (18) and Hubert (20) and his mother and father, William and Elizabeth Collins. At seven years old, Stan was the youngest member of the family. William and Harvey Collins were employed as flour mill workers while Hubert was a shoemaker’s apprentice.

Stan was a Kitchener recruit, enlisting in Woking. He arrived in France as R/1480 Rifleman Stan Collins with the 12th King’s Royal Rifle Corps on 23rd July 1915. The battalion was a K2 unit, formed at Winchester on 21st September 1914 and by the time it reached France, comprised part of the 60th Brigade in the 20th (Light) Division.

As he records in Nurse Oliver’s album, Stan Collins was wounded on 25th September 1915 at Laventie in what was a diversionary attack to draw German attention away from the main Loos battle further south.

On 30th September 1915, the war diary entry for the 12th Battn KRRC (WO95/2120) lists casualties since 16th September as two NCOs and 49 Riflemen wounded plus one Rifleman gassed. The following extract is adapted from part 11 of The Hospital Way.

The 20th Division would take part in the subsidiary attack, supporting the Meerut Division of the Indian Corps on its right at Mauquissait and the 8th Division, attacking the German line at La Boutillerie and Le Bridoux on its left. The attack, designed to distract the enemy’s attention away from the main battle front further south, would take place half an hour to two hours before the main attack near Loos. The 20th Division would play its part in the offensive by making a smoke screen along the whole front, cutting wire and providing covering fire. They were also to be prepared to assault the enemy’s line on the right or left and, depending on the progress made by the divisions on either side, to press forward in the centre.

At 4.30am on the morning of the 25th, crouched in his trench, Rifleman Collins cannot have failed to be aware that the sudden cessation of the four day bombardment of the enemy’s lines over to his left meant that the attack by the BEF was being pressed home. This fell to men of the 8th Division and within half an hour they were in the German trenches. Half an hour later, in support of the Bareilly Brigade of the Meerut Division to their right, it was the turn of the 60th Brigade. Two battalions, (The 12th Rifle Brigade and the 6th King’s Shropshire Light Infantry), attacked the enemy trenches whilst Collins and the 12th KRRC held the front line.

Whilst it was always the intention to increase the extent of the British breakthrough south of the La Bassee canal should the subsidiary attacks around Laventie prove to be successful, lack of artillery power and sufficient manpower reserves meant that they would never be decisive thrusts if the principal activity around Loos were to founder. In the event, both attacks by the 8th and Meerut Divisions ended with the assaulting troops being forced back to their starting divisions by dogged German defending. Rifleman Collins had not even left the front line trench but this did not prevent him from becoming a casualty. “During the day,” states the Divisional history, “the enemy shelled the front trenches heavily, and caused a considerable number of casualties among some of the battalions that were not actively engaged. Of these, the 12th KRRC suffered the most.”

On 5th October 1915 Stan Collins’ name appeared in a list of soldiers reported by the Sussex Daily Times to be recuperating at the 2nd Eastern General Hospital, Brighton and on 1st December, he appeared in an “entertainment” held at Chailey. The Sussex Daily News reported on the event:

Friday December 3rd 1915 - Page 8
The soldiers at Hickwells Relief Hospital at Chailey were ‘at home’ to their friends on Wednesday afternoon and by way of amusing them gave two excellent entertainments - one at 2:30 and the other at 4:30. The bugle called the performers together and when the screens were withdrawn a nice little group of waxworks was disclosed, Bombardier Ryan shewing off their ‘beauties’ in his usual amusing way. Corporal Nash (as St George) and Private Allen sang the ‘Tin Gee Gee’, Private Wise and Sergeant Calvert making two fascinating ‘Little Dolly Girls’. Rifleman Collins, still on crutches, made a splendid broken doll. Lance-Corporal Smith was a Japanese Lady, and, later on, although only having the use of one arm, cleverly ‘vamped’ some accompaniments. While dresses were being changed, Private Hume and Private MacBride sang and danced, and then to the tune of ‘Here We Are Again’, Hickwells’ Pierrot troupe appeared and gave a spirited entertainment. Driver Bradley and Private Allen made excellent ‘Corner Men’ and Bombardier Ryan was capital as the ‘Master of Ceremonies’. The troupe included, besides those already mentioned, Sergeant Calvert, Sergeant Sheppard, Corporal Nash, Lance-Corporal Smith, Privates Wise and Holleran, Driver Cleary and Corporal Dicks, many of whom sang and recited. Two of the nurses helped at the piano.

This implies of course, that Stan Collins was wounded in the leg or legs but nothing else of his wound is known.

A photo of soldiers who have taken part, or are about to take part in, an entertainment, appears in Nurse Francis Blencowe’s album and I have reproduced it below. There is no logical reason for thinking so but I have often wondered whether the man on the extreme left, next to what is a pair of crutches (cropped in this photo) is Rifleman Stan Collins. He would have been about 21 years old at that time.

Stan Collins obviously recovered sufficiently to re-join his unit and he was killed in action with the 12th KRRC on 18th August 1916

On the date that Stan was killed (18th August 1916), the war diary notes that the battalion was on a route march to billets at Candas. There is no mention of any casualties for this period although Collins was one of eight 12th KRRC fatalities on this date (three dying of wounds and five killed in action).

On 15th September 1916, The West Surrey Times & County Express carried a simple one line obituary. On page 4 under Roll of Honour – Killed, it read:

COLLINS, Rflm. S. (Ripley), KRR

Stan Collins has no known grave and is commemorated on Pier and Face 13A of the Thiepval memorial on the Somme.

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