William Collins

Bill Collins was born into a working class family in South Croydon on 14 June 1894. His father was a scaffolder and the family struggled to make ends meet. After leaving school Collins worked in a grocery store and as a gardener before he was recruited as a stretcher bearer into the Royal Army Medical Corps in 1913. He underwent his basic training at the McGriggor Barracks, Aldershot until the outbreak of war.

Latest Update

 

August 1914

 

Private William Collins was a medical orderly attached to 7th Brigade, Royal Horse Artillery. They left Aldershot on Saturday 15 August to begin their journey over to France. They had quite a reception when they arrived at Boulogne two days later.

 

"We stole out of Southampton Water about 3am, no goodbyes on the quay, there was not a sound when we slipped out. I knew that we were going to war; I just wondered what it would be like.

When we got to off Folkestone we made a sharp right turn and on either side of us as we went straight across – there was a destroyer to keep the submarines away. We arrived at Boulogne at about six in the evening. We went in on the following tide early on the 17th. The French were all out. They gave us a huge greeting – plenty of people there to cheer us!"

All Updates

 

August 1914

 

Private William Collins was a medical orderly attached to 7th Brigade, Royal Horse Artillery. They left Aldershot on Saturday 15 August to begin their journey over to France. They had quite a reception when they arrived at Boulogne two days later.

 

"We stole out of Southampton Water about 3am, no goodbyes on the quay, there was not a sound when we slipped out. I knew that we were going to war; I just wondered what it would be like.

When we got to off Folkestone we made a sharp right turn and on either side of us as we went straight across – there was a destroyer to keep the submarines away. We arrived at Boulogne at about six in the evening. We went in on the following tide early on the 17th. The French were all out. They gave us a huge greeting – plenty of people there to cheer us!"

June 1914:

 

 

Click this button to listen to an
interview with William Collins

Like all soldiers, stretcher bearers such as 20-year-old Private William Collins had to learn their basic foot drill. This was the ability to move from A to B in a formed body. It was also the mechanism for inculcating the habits of discipline – obeying orders without thinking, and building up teamwork. As Collins later recalled, drill was essential to the army:
 
"You used to have to ‘form fours’ and do formation drills. They used to do it to music: ‘At the left, on the halt, on the left – form platoon! / At the halt on the left – form platoon! / If the odd numbers don’t mark time – two paces? / How the hell can the rest form platoon?’ That was the drill sergeant’s injunction to us to do our platoon drill properly. He used to sing out the instruction."
 
Throughout the army there was a great effort to encourage loyalty to units and the traditions they had established over the years:
 
"Captain Lock explained our cap badge to us. He said: ‘This is your cap badge, there is a Latin motto at the bottom, In Arduis Fideli – faithful in difficulties – that is the translation from the Latin. That is the esprit de corps.
 
In other words you were there to look after other people and be faithful to them. That used to drum itself into me on the battlefield. I used to say to myself: ‘Boy, you have got to live up to your cap badge no matter how afraid you are’ – and it helped!"
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