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Arthur Edward James Collins

 
 
 

Born on the 18th August 1885 in Hazaribagh, India. Attended Clifton College from September 1897 till 1902. His father, Arthur Herbert Collins, was a judge in the Indian Civil Service but died when he was young.

For some unknown reason he was omitted from the list of names on the memorial. We know he played for Clifton RFC (joined Feb 1905 although never played higher than the 2nd team) and died in World War 1. The only reason we can think of is that he left the club before the outbreak of war.

A E J Collins Bristol Evening News Saturday November 21st 1914

Old Cliftonians and the War Old Cliftonians Roll of Honour

Collins A.E.J. Captain Royal Engineers.

He died during the 1st World War only 3 months after it had started on 11th November 1914. He is commemorated at Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial in Belgium.

Above left and right Collins in 1898, aged 13.

During the 1901 census the Collins family lived at 29 Beaufort Road, Clifton, Bristol. They were

Name Relation Age Occupation Where born
Esther Collins Head 42 Living on own means India
Grace Collins Dau 18 India
Arthur Collins Son 15 India
Herbert Collins Son 11 India
Norman Collins Son 3 Tavistock, Devon
Agnes Evans Serv 31 Cook Hamylock, Devon
Caroline Mears Serv 21 Parlourmaid Birmingham

Above 29 Beaufort Road, Clifton.

Above a photo of Arthur Collins which was found in the album of fellow Clifton College and Clifton RFC player Alfred Gardiner.

Back Row (L-R): John Topham Brown, Alexander John Carter, Harold Adye Prichard, William Ladais Sandover, Richard Prescott Keigwin, Arthur Edward James Collins, Roland Raw, Wilfred Fanshawe, Bernard Meakin. Sitting Maurice Fanshawe, Bomdi Sri Ramulu.

Above the 1902 Clifton College Cricket XI with A.E.J.Collins aged 17. His final year at Clifton College. Maurice Fanshawe also played rugby for Clifton RFC, for more click here

Above AEJ Collins and RP Keigwin at the Clifton College racquets court in 1902. Keigwin went on to play cricket for Cambridge and England, became a master at Clifton College and later a Governor.

Above Collins in the 1902 Clifton College Rugby 1st XV. Standing at the front, to the left of the captain holding the ball.

Above North Town, Clifton College 1904. Collins seated, front row, fifth from left.

The Times on Thursday November 19th 1914 said Lieutenant Arthur Edward Jeune Collins was born in 1885, gazetted 2nd Lieutenant in the RE in 1904, and promoted Lieutenant in 1907. Mr Collins sprang suddenly into fame as a cricketer in 1899 when, as a 13 year old schoolboy at Clifton by making the astonishing score of 628 runs not out in a Junior House match between Clarke's House and North Town. The match was played on five consecutive afternoons so that the batsman was able to rest between the different sections of his innings. The feat was therefore not quite so remarkable a one of physical endurance as it might appear, though for a boy of thirteen, extraordinary enough. He was batting altogether for 6 hours and 50 minutes.Both brothers of A.E.J.Collins, Herbert Charles (educated at Clifton College and Queen's College, Oxford, died 11th February 1917 aged 27) and Norman Cecil Collins (educated Wellington College and Sandhurst, died 9th August 1916 aged 18), also died in World War 1

He married Ethel Slater in the spring of 1914, and was sent to France when World War I broke out later that year. He was killed in action, as a Captain, on 11 November 1914 at the First Battle of Ypres, while serving with the 5th Field Company, Royal Engineers, at the age of 29. His body was never found, but his name is recorded at the Menin Gate Memorial in Belgium.

His wife Ethel Collins, and was at the time of his death living at 11 Park Mansions, Bath. She died on 1st September 1966 in Haslemere, Surrey. She never remarried.

On the 11th November 1914 his Company, of which he was then in command (his Senior Officers having been killed or wounded), was called up to help thrust the enemy back at Polygon Wood, near Ypres. It was whilst signalling for reinforcements during this action that he was killed.

In 2007 Arthur de Sybel wrote in the The Cliftonian Magazine

The Soldier Cricketer A.E.J.Collins (CH/PH Pre: North Town 1897-1902)

Very little is known about one of the College’s greatest sons, Capt. A.E.J. Collins, RE (1885-1914) after he left Clifton in the winter term of 1902; a fact made apparent in Derek Winterbottom’s affectionate tribute A Season’s Fame (1991), and more so, in John Arlott’s elegiac monograph The Boy Collins (1959). It is hoped the following information will shed some light on an altogether enigmatic figure who, in the summer of 1899, achieved immortality on the cricket field with a colossal 628 not out, which is still the highest individual score in the history of the game.

Arthur Edward Jeune Collins entered the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich on 28th January 1903, as a Gentleman Cadet. In the open competitive examination for admission to the R.M.A., Collins gained 4th place in the list of successful candidates drawn mainly from the leading public schools.

Greeted by a heavy training schedule at the ‘Shop’, it is significant Arthur Collins did not abandon his love of games. Within the year, he was awarded his cricket, rugby and rackets colours. Appropriately enough, it was at the crease that Collins flourished, coming top of the averages (35.3) for the 1903 season. His highest score was a buccaneering 119 made against the ‘Shop’s’ principal rivals RMC Sandhurst. Although the match ended in a draw, Collins’ reputation as a destructive batsman of pedigree was assured.

With the July manoeuvres on Salisbury Plain over, Collins appeared for Bishop’s Stortford C.C. in their fixtures against Saffron Walden and Moor Hall. In the Moor Hall game he hit a characteristically rapid 54.

Pressure of work may have accounted for Collins’ slight fall from eminence in 1904. He came third in the season’s averages (32.4). His best innings for the Academy was a bludgeoning 104 off the hapless bowling of R.N.C. Dartmouth. In early July he rejoined Bishop’s Stortford C.C. in their match versus Hertford. He made
a low score and did not play for the Club again.

Having completed his final examinations at the RMA (securing 7th place in order of merit) A.E.J. Collins was commissioned into the Corps of Royal Engineers on 21st December 1904, with the rank of Second Lieutenant.

As a junior Sapper Officer, Collins continued his studies at the prestigious School of Military Engineering, Chatham. Although the courses on Surveying, Fortifications, Tactics etc. were of searching and demanding nature, he was not denied the opportunities to play regimental cricket.

On the strength of a fine 132 at the expense of the Rifle Brigade, Collins was selected to play for the Royal Engineers against the Royal Artillery at Woolwich on 23rd and 24th June 1905. Unaccustomed to going late in the batting order, he failed to do himself justice on a plumb wicket and was dismissed cheaply in both innings. With modest scores of 4 and 12, it was hardly an auspicious debut for such an accomplished batsman. There was, however, some consolation for the one pip subaltern. He captured two wickets, pocketed a catch; and the artilleryman lost the engagement by 237 runs. A month later, in the return match at Chatham, in which the Engineers steamrollered to victory by 9 wickets, Collins struck a spirited 21 not out in the first innings, and in the second, carried his bat for 13.

Owing to his military commitments, Collins was unable to play much Corps cricket during the 1906 season. And yet, despite his lack of match practice, his form was not in doubt; and in June, Collins once more took his place in the RE side that met the RA at Chatham. The match was evenly balanced until the Engineers surrendered the initiative in the second innings and were hurried into defeat by 93 runs. Collins made an adventurous 60, but in the second innings debacle was out for 10. He held two vital catches. In the second encounter at Woolwich, which ended in a draw, Collins made 39 and 63. On each occasion he played with great skill, and hit the ball with tremendous power and assurance. Collins’ innings of 63 (which proved to be his highest score against the Gunners) had the attributes of a swansong. He was lost to cricket for the next six years.

In March, 1907, he was posted to India, the fabled land of his birth. At the outset of his tour of duty, Collins was attached to the Military Works Service. In May, he was transferred to take up the appointment of Garrison Engineer at Jubbulpore, Headquarters of the Southern Army 5th (Mhow) Division. Several weeks later, Collins received notification of his promotion to Lieutenant on 23rd June 1907.

In April 1909, he was sent to the United Provinces as an Assistant Engineer in the Public Works and Railways Departments; and with sojourns at Lucknow and Muttra (where irrigation works were being carried out on the Ganges Canal) he finally ended the year in Bangalore as Garrison Engineer. On 23rd March 1910, Collins joined the 2nd ‘Queen Victoria’s Own’ Sappers and Miners at the Corps Headquarters, Bangalore. He was appointed Company Officer of ‘C’ Company.

Between 4th June, 1910 and 17th January, 1912, Collins was absent from Mysore State. He had been hand-picked to attend a telegraph course (with its intelligence- gathering implications) run by the Government Telegraph Department based at Rawalpindi and Agra. On his return to the Corps, he was posted Company Officer of No.12 Company, stationed at Secunderabad. Collins’ company subsequently took part in the Infantry Brigade training and divisional manoeuvres under orders from Southern Command.

Granted a year’s leave from 19th November, 1912, the soldier of the Raj was back in the Mother Country when the 1913 cricket season was in full swing. In June, he appeared without ceremony for the Old Cliftonians against Clifton College. However, the very presence of A.E.J. Collins on the Close undeniably transformed the two-day event into a celebration and a homecoming. The match ended in victory for the host side by ten wickets. Collins, ever eager to attack the bowling, went for 20 and 4. Behind these poor figures lay a mitigating factor: out in India, the six-hundreder had inexplicably substituted cricket for tennis, rackets and polo!

As the season progressed, Arthur Collins’ confidence at the wicket grew; and after a few preliminary games with the Royal Engineers, he was drafted into the eleven for the annual match against the Royal Artillery at Lord’s on 25th and 26th July, 1913. (Army cricket had taken a step forward in 1907, when the authorities arranged that the teams should play one match instead of two, with the venue at Lord’s.) Pitted against good bowling, Collins batted soundly in both innings for 58 and 36: but his side could not avert the outcome. The Artillery claimed the palm by one wicket with the last ball.

Days later, Collins accompanied the Old Cliftonians on their tour of Kent, Sussex and Hampshire. It was a memorable and happy tour, highlighted by Collins in superlative form. In the three matches in which he played, whether it was against the Blue Mantles (39), the United Services (86), or the Trojans C.C. (121 and 68 not out) he quite simply tore apart the opposition bowling with Jessopian ease. His average of 103 speaks for itself.

On his return to India in November, 1913, Collins was posted Company Officer of ‘D’ Company, Bangalore. He remained with the Company until 9th March, 1914, when he left the corps on reversion to the Home Establishment.

Before taking up his next appointment in May, as an Officer with the 5th (Field) Company, Aldershot, Arthur Collins married Ethel Augusta Slater (the daughter of an army officer) at Castletown, Isle of Man, on 29th April.

As the 1914 cricket season unfolded with the prospect of the First German War looming large, Collins inevitably played little cricket other than a few inter-regimental games at Aldershot. His only foray further afield was at Lord’s on 24th and 25th July, in the soldiers’ match, where the Sappers were comprehensively defeated by an innings and 163 runs. Collins’ contribution against the Gunners was a boundary and a duck. In what proved to be his final game for the RE versus the RA, he had a respectable career average of 30.7. Collins was undoubtedly a very gifted player and it remains something of a mystery
that he never appeared in a first-class match.

Twelve days after the declaration of war on 4th August, 1914, the 5th (Field) Company, RE (complete with its four sapper sections, Collins being No.1 Section Officer) landed in France as part of the BEF contingent. The Field Company, attached to the 2nd Division, went into action at Mons, endured the retreat from Mons, fought at Le Cateau, the Marne and the Aisne, before advancing across the Franco- Belgian frontier into Flanders on 17th October.

Forty-eight hours later, the First Battle of Ypres began. As the fighting grew in intensity after the battles of Langemarck and Gheluvelt, the 5th (Field) Company were deployed on 25th October at Polygon Wood, in the Nonne Boschen sector of the Ypres salient.

The Field Company were immediately subjected to relentless German artillery fire and during days and nights of bitter fighting sustained heavy casualties, among them Capt. J.K. Dawson-Scott, killed by a high explosive shell on 29th October, and Major C.N. North, the O.C., shot dead by a sniper on 1st November. With the loss of these two officers, command of the company devolved to Lieut. A.E.J. Collins.

In the nightmare that was 1st Ypres, Collins’ qualities of leadership and indomitable courage under fire served as an inspiration to the Sappers who found themselves rapidly turning from their normal duties into front-line infantry.

On 10th November, a senior officer, Major A.H. Tyler, arrived at Polygon Wood and assumed command of the Field Company. The struggle for Ypres reached a bloody and brutal climax on Wednesday 11th November. At 0630 hrs, German guns unleashed a massive bombardment on the British lines which stretched along a nine-mile front from Messines to north of the Menin Road.

The moment the artillery barrage lifted at 0900 hrs, German ground forces attacked en masse the thinly defended BEF positions. Strategically, the responsibility in delivering a elite Prussian Guard (the 1st Foot Guard and 3rd Foot Guard Regiments).

Emerging through the early morning mist at a jog-trot, the pride of the Kaiser’s army swept aside British resistance at Nonne Boschen Wood. Advancing rapidly across open country from the western to the southern edge of Polygon Wood, the Prussian Guard fell upon the 5th (Field) Company and a random collection of cooks, grooms, transport men, clerks and batmen.

Facing certain annihilation against overwhelming odds, the small force of Royal Engineers (and their improvised retinue), occupying a disused trench and a reserve trench, somehow absorbed the initial impact of the assault.

Vicious fighting, often at close quarters, continued throughout the morning. At about 1230 hrs, with the outcome of the battle still in the balance, the right flank (of the disused of paramount importance. In signalling for reinforcements, Lieut. Collins was shot and mortally wounded. Under withering machine- gun fire Sappers Farmfield and Matthews brought Lieut. Collins back into the trench, where he died an hour later.

Although the BEF had checked the German offensive by midday along the whole Front, the Battle of Polygon Wood still raged on into the early afternoon. The unyielding tenacity and expert marksmanship of the Royal Engineers was, however, beginning to tell on the Prussian Guard who had taken heavy casualties, thus reducing their chances of an easy victory by the minute.

At 1400 hrs, the 5th (Field) Company, together with the 2nd Bn. Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry and elements from the Black Watch, the Irish Guards and Northamptons, counter-attacked. With fixed bayonets, no less than six hundred men of all ranks charged the Prussian Guard, putting them to flight across uncultivated fields of potatoes and turnips. It was not long before the Germans were evicted from trenches, machine-gun nests, isolated farm buildings and from Nonne Boschen Wood itself.

During the course of the counter-attack, the 5th (Field) Company lost Major Tyler, shot through the head, and 2nd Lieut. H.F.T. Renny- Tailyour killed by machine-gun fire. At midnight, the two officers and Lieut. Collins were buried close to where they fell. (Like countless others, their battle graves were obliterated in the subsequent battles of Ypres.)

The repulse of the Prussian Guard, in which the 5th (Field) Company played a pre-eminent role, effectively ended the First Battle of Ypres. The ramifications of the bayonet charge at Polygon Wood went far and wide. Ypres was saved and the Germans were denied access to the Channel coast.

On that extraordinary day, five Sappers of the 5th (Field) Company were awarded the DCM (two had already been won on 8th November at Polygoneveld). Had Collins lived he would almost certainly have been awarded the DSO.

Lieut. A.E.J. Collins, RE, was posthumously gazetted Captain on 20th January, 1915 (from 30th October, 1914), and Mentioned in Dispatches on 17th February, 1915 (from 20th November, 1914); and is commemorated
at Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial (Panel 9), West Flanders, Belgium, Clifton College War Memorial Gateway and Bath Abbey War Memorial Chapel. In 1962 a plaque commemorating A.E.J. Collins’ record score was placed near ‘Collins’ Piece’, Clifton College.

Arthur Collins’ two younger brothers were destined not to survive the war. Lieut. Herbert Charles Collins, 24th (Service) Bn. Manchester Regiment, died of disease on 11th February 1917; and 2nd Lieut. Norman Cecil Collins, 3rd action on the Somme on 9th August 1916.

A.E.J. Collins died as he had lived, an officer and a gentleman and a true sportsman.

His name on the Clifton College Memorial Arch.

Above the Clifton College Memorial arch at the entrance to Clifton College in 2008.

Above the Bath College Memorial in Bath Abbey with Bartelt's name as well as F.W.Bartlet.