Welcome to my blog......

The purpose of this blog is to remember the fallen heroes of the Great War, whose names are recorded on the memorial plaque situated in St Barnabas Church, New Whittington, Chesterfield.

To mark the centenary of World War 1 I aim to research all of the men on the memorial. I hope to ensure that the brave men who gave their lives for their country 100 years ago are remembered and each man's story told.

I would love to hear from anyone who may have information regarding the men; photos, letters or passed down memories. Any descendents are most welcome to contact me and I will provide copies of the research that I have undertaken.

"They shall not grow old, as we that are left to grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them"

For The Fallen,
Laurence Binyon September 1914.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

JOHN COLLINS

JOHN COLLINS

Private 7029

1st Battalion Sherwood Forester Regiment 

Killed in action - 31st July 1917


John Collins was the first born child of Thomas and Margaret Collins.  He was born in 1884 at New Whittington.  His father Thomas hailed from Ireland, he married Margaret Flynn in 1882 and set up home in New Whittington where Thomas worked as a coke burner.

In 1891 the family lived in Crown Yard and had grown in numbers, John had a brother named Edward and two sisters Margaret and May. Over the next ten years more children were born to the Collins family; Tom jnr, Stephen, Ellen and Annie.  Perhaps due to its growing size the family had moved to live at 118 High Street, New Whittington. John was 16 years of age and worked as a colliery pony driver, he would contribute his small wages to the family and help clothe and feed his siblings.  

A change in direction for John....

Tragedy struck for the Collins family when in the July of 1900 John's younger brother, 14 year old Edward was killed in an accident whilst working underground at the Seymour Colliery.  The Derbyshire Times covered the story stating that Edward was found already deceased under one of the loading tubs which must have come uncoupled from its pully. 

To lose a young brother in such sad circumstances must have played a pivotal role in John deciding to change his life pathway, he left the colliery a year later and embarked on an exciting career in the army, which could send him around the world seeing sights a boy in New Whittington might only dream about.

On 8th July 1901 he enlisted with the 3rd Derby Regiment (Sherwood Foresters).  He was aged 18 years and 2 months old, had blue eyes and a "fresh complexion" stood at 5ft 6" tall and weighed 122lbs.  John signed up for 6 years service and was given the soldier number Private 8430.  

Life back in New Whittington....

John's family remained in New Whittingon and grew in numbers even more; Agnes, William and Elizabeth were to make the Collins family complete.  Once again they moved house, just along the street to number 52 High Street.  

By the 1911 census John had returned to his home village, he found employment once again underground at the coal mines.  He was 26 years old and still unmarried.  His youngest sister was 1 year old and the Collins family of ten people lived in a large for the times, a five roomed house. 




John's war....

As John was listed as a reserve soldier he was called into service at the outbreak of war in August 1914.  He was drafted to Sunderland to work as a signal instructor, where he remained for the first two years of the war.  


Signal Station - using daylight lamp
via National Library of Scotland

The war which was supposed to be over by Christmas was dragging on, more civilians were enlisting and John would have a busy time teaching the new recruits army life and the art of the use of signals in warfare. Various methods were used to transmit a signal when on the battlefield; lights, mirrors, flags, whistles could all be used to send a special message in Morse code and where possible cables could be used to pass the signal to the receiver.  John held the knowledge and skill to perform this task and his contribution to the war effort would have been priceless.


John joined the British Expeditionary Force (B.E.F) sometime around the early autumn of 1916.  The slaughter of thousands of troops during the Somme offensive had taken its toll on our British troops and reinforcements were badly needed.  Many of the men who had been regular soldiers had already been killed or injured by now and John had some experience in warfare, but alas not the type of warfare WW1 had engineered.

During the month of July 1916 the 1st Battalion Sherwood Foresters recorded the following numbers of casualties;
Officers - killed 5, wounded 13
Other ranks - killed 51, wounded 257, missing 6

In the August of 1916 the 1st Battalion Sherwood Foresters were basking in hot temperatures, moving around the Bethune area in northern France.  The battalion spent the next months carrying out orders, maintaining equipment and taking their turn at manning the trenches.  In the October of 1916 an unusual occurrence was noted when having bombarded the enemy with heavy gun fire they were surprised when "a man approached the HQ sentry, when challenged and told to surrender he ran away, he was at once fired on and wounded and brought in".  The man was interrogated in the German language but appeared confused, it was as "he used the word "RUSSRI" that they understood that the man was a Russian prisoner of war.  The war diary states "his delight on falling into English hands knew no bounds".

The month of October 1916 was also one of tremendous difficulties for the battalion; the men were called upon to do a 24 day tour of the trenches, they had no relief at all in those 24 days and were subject to heavy trench mortar attack "which has the most demoralising effect upon the best trained troops".  The battalion was also ordered to carry out three attacks on enemy trenches, one being particulary difficult as gas weapons were used.  There was a short rest period of two days and then the men were sent back to the Somme where they had already seen active duty.  The men were continually under attack but despite of all this "it was remarkable how the morale of the troops was upheld throughout the whole tour of duty".

Rest & Relaxation....

During December 1916 the battalion appear to have taken things much easier.  The month comprised of training classes, football matches, route marching contests and boxing championships.  On Christmas Eve the battalion took part in the Divisional Cross Country championships; each team had 6 men and they ran a course of 6 miles.  The 1st Sherwood's came a respectable 2nd to the 2nd West Yorkshire Regiment.

Christmas was spent at Selincourt "full opportunity was taken to give the men as happy an Xmas as possible".  John was many miles away from his loved ones but we can hope that he felt some peace and happiness at this 1916 yuletide.  Gifts were received from several newspaper company charitable collections, including the "Derbyshire Times Fund".  By New Years Eve the men had moved on once more and found themselves back on the Somme at Albert.  The war diary notes that only 3 other ranks were wounded, none were killed during the month of December 1916.  One of the wounded was however self inflicted, a Christmas away from family had proved to much for one poor soul.

A new year, 1917....

1917 started sedately, cleaning the camp, renovating the duckboards, followed by bomb classes.  The first months were very cold, snow fell and in early February the men were in the trenches when it was so cold "the battalion experienced the hardest frost it had ever known.....The water supply was seriously hampered, fires having to be lit under water taps & ice continuously broken in the tubs".  "In one shell hole the ice was found to be 6 feet thick & the frost had penetrated to a depth of 8 feet into the ground".

The months of March and April saw the battalion carry out some fierce fighting, snow was still falling in the middle of April but by the end of the month the weather was very hot.  

In June 1917 the men found themselves moving away from the familiar territory of the Somme across the French/Belgium border, on 15th June they arrived in Ypres.  That same night the "the whole of battalion provided a working party for laying a cable under divisional signal offices"; a job that would may well have involved John and his knowledge of the signaling equipment. 

The camp at Ypres came under heavy enemy shelling and so on 21st June it was moved to Linde Goed Farm near Busseboom.  The battalion were marched from camp to camp in July, being shelled and attacked by the enemy as they went forth.  In mid July they were in billets at Beaumetz Les Aire, where they began instruction and practice in attack, including lectures on bayonet fighting.  

On 18th July Sir Douglas Haigh was present and watched the operations, the battalion must have been aware that their was an air of impending action about to come their way.  Morale would be boosted and spirits would no doubt be high as the men trained to their best abilities for the fight of their lives.  The Officers and N.C.O's were all shown a large picture  map of the land which was to be their future battlefield, possible concerns were discussed at length between the Officers.

On 21st July the training was over and the men were route marched to St Hillaire and then on to Liller where they entrained to Abeele.  From there the battalion were billeted and slept under canvas at Reninghelst. The coming days were spent in preparation; Officers had more meetings, they even had a group photograph taken. The ordinary ranks were now also sent along to view the large picture map.  A service was held which was officiated by the Arch Bishop of York, the men's spiritual well being was most important for morale. During the evenings men carried the gas shells up onto the waiting positions in anticipation for coming events.  The weather was fine.

On the evening of 24th July John and his comrades marched to Halifax Camp.  The weather changed, it was a very wet day.  The men were given a special treat when the 17th Battalion Sherwood Foresters came to join them for tea on 25th July.  A fellow New Whittington lad named David Cresswell was serving with the 17th Battalion, maybe the men met up for a few words and exchange of family news that night?

During the next couple of days more equipment was issued to the men, the large map was revisited and lectures were given.  On one evening several of the men from each corps were taken and questioned by the C.O.  The men must be fully knowledgeable on the lay of the land and the instructions for the upcoming attack.

At 9.30pm on the night of 28th July 1917 the battalion set of, leaving the camp to a position known as "Halfway House".  Each company set off 200 yards behind the preceeding company.  The men marched into the night and into the unknown.  The journey was a hot one, the weather was fine, enemy fire was constant and gas shells were also used upon the battalion.  Once at the dugout they shared this position with the Scottish Rifle Brigade, however the area was too crowded and the Sherwood Foresters split away from each other by company into different areas. 

The day of the 30th July was spent resting, around 10pm that night the battalion's companies rejoined in the assembly trenches, in their positions just behind the Northamptonshire Regiment.  They then waited "for Zero hour the following morning".  Each man no doubt in his own place for those final hours, thinking of the past and trying so hard not to think of his future and the fate that was to follow.

Zero day....

31st July 1917 the war diary reads "This was Zero Day.  The hour for the attack was 3.50am.  The barrage started at 3.50am and the attack commenced at 4am.  The Battalion moved forward in artillery formation and passed on the right (sic) BELLEWAARDE LAKE to their forming up position, under cover of the ridge".

John was killed in action on 31st July 1917, the day which would signify the first day of the bloody, muddy battle known as Passchendaele.  The CWGC list that 80 members of the 1st Battalion Sherwood Forester Regiment lost their lives on that same day.


John Collins was buried at the Menin Gate South Military Cemetery, Belgium; grave reference ii. E. 2. His grave is marked simply with the sign of the cross, no other inscriptions were added by John's family.


Private 7029 John Collins was awarded the Victory and British Medals for his service.


John was remembered in the Derbyshire Times 25th August 1917 page 4, along with a photograph the obituary read....

"News reached New Whittington a fortnight ago that Pte. John
Collins, Notts & Derbys, had "gone under".
A soldier writing home to his wife, said Collins was killed,
but his mother who resides in Crown Yard, 
never gave up hopes of hearing from him 
until the official word came last Wednesday, 
saying he had died of wounds.

Pte. John Collins had served eight years in the Army 
and four years in the Reserve when the war broke out
and the call came for Reservists and Volunteers.
He was called up on August 5th, 1914, and was 
drafted to Sunderland as a signal instructor, where
he stayed two years, when he volunteered for France,
having been there almost 12 months when the dreaded
message came.  He was 33 years of age and worked at
Markham No1 Colliery before being called up.
Great sympathy is felt for his widowed mother,
who has two more sons on active service"


Life went on....

Thomas & Margaret Collins - John's parents.  Thomas had died on 28th October 1916.  Margaret stayed in New Whittington, living at 52 High Street with her children; Thomas, Helen, Annie and William.  She died on 1st June 1941 and is buried alongside her husband at St Bartholomew's Church, New Whittington.

Margaret married Irish born Michael Collins in 1909, they had five children; Thomas, Michael, Edward, John and Mary.  She remained in New Whittington and died in 1972.

Tom married Catherine Leeson in 1915. Catherine was the sister of John Patrick Leeson, the soldier who is also named on St Barnabas Memorial and died on 31st July 1917.  The couple had a son named Patrick in 1916.  Sadly in 1918 Catherine passed away aged just 30 years old.  It looks likely that she died due to complications of child birth as a daughter was born that same time, named Kathleen *this has not been confirmed by the registration certificate.  Tom died in 1952.

Stephen married Agnes Gregory in 1925.  They had at least two daughters; Margaret and Hazel and possibly a third child.  They lived on John Street in Brimington and Stephen worked as a builders labourer. He died in 1959 aged 63 years old.

Annie may have remained a spinster.  In 1939 she was working as a grocery shop assistant (possibly alongside her brother William).  If she did not marry then she may have lived in Hasland and died in 1991 aged 90 years old.

William died in 1941 aged just 33 years old.  His obituary states that he worked as manager of Messrs Hunters grocery shop in Brimington.  

I am not sure at this stage what became of John's siblings; May, Ellen, Agnes and Elizabeth.  If anyone can help with information please let me know.
****

For service on the dates of 31st July and 1st August 1917 the 1st Battalion Sherwood Forester Regiment awarded 14 members of the Non Commissioned Officers and Men the Military Medal for their "Gallantry and devotion to duty during operations near Ypres".  Also awarded were -
2 x Distinguished Service Orders
1 x Bar to the Military Cross
5 x Military Cross
8 x Distinguished Conduct Medals

****

If you may be connected to this family or have any further information on John Collins or his family please do either leave comments via the pen icon below or drop me an email.

I hope that I have not given details of living persons, if so please advise and I will remove immediately.

Please note all information has been taken from online indexes and sources.  Due to the sheer numbers of people to be researched I am unable to purchase vital event certificates to confirm my research.

*****


Ref and further reading  -
Census
Parish registers
Medal rolls
Soldiers who died in the Great war
Register of soldiers effects
Service record - www.fmp.co.uk

Newspaper articles - 
                               - Derbyshire Times 25th August 1917 page 4


War diaries - Piece WO 1721/1-4

Signaling during WW1 http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/0/ww1/25401271
                                      http://www.worcestershireregiment.com/wr.php?main=inc/signaller_ww1




2 comments:

  1. Thankyou for your profile and tribute Louise.
    My maternal Grandmother Catherine May Collins was one of John's younger sisters.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Jane, Thank you for reading the remembrance post for John Collins. Glad to have shared the Collins story and helped to get these men remembered 100 years on from WW1.

    ReplyDelete