Tuesday, 09 August 2022

True hero more than once

THE 100th anniversary of the death of a Henley war hero will fall next month.

Arthur Collier was a decorated veteran of two wars who once turned down a Victoria Cross.

He was later awarded the Military Cross for his gallantry during the Great War and also showed true heroism after a train crash in Reading just before the conflict.

Collier was born in Dilton Marsh in Wiltshire in 1872 and enlisted into the 14th Hussars in November 1887, claiming to be over the age of 18 when in fact he was only 16.

In October 1889 he transferred to the 18th Hussars and a month later sailed to India where he experienced garrison life under the British Raj.

In 1898 he sailed to South Africa where the Boer republics were in revolt against the British Empire.

On October 20, 1899 he fought in the Battle of Talana and was captured at the Siege of Ladysmith and imprisoned in Pretoria for seven months before managing to escape with comrades. In recognition of his efforts, the King granted him the Medal for Distinguished Conduct in the Field.

He was also recommended for a Victoria Cross for saving a wounded soldier under heavy fire but because the private who helped him was not recommended to receive one, he refused to accept his.

Collier returned to England in 1902 and three years later was awarded the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal. He became Squadron Sergeant Major and in 1908 was posted to the Oxfordshire Yeomanry with C Squadron at Henley with whom he won the Regimental Shooting trophy, the Dugdale Cup.

In 1914 the Yeomanry were mobilised to France and in October fought in the first battle of Ypres.

In January 1915 Collier was raised to the new rank of Warrant Officer Class 2 before his regiment moved to Ypres again and served in the trenches in that bitterly cold winter. As it became clear that the war was not suited to cavalry, 1916 was to be his last year at war. In January that year, Collier was awarded a bar to his DCM.

His citation read: “For conspicuous gallantry and devotion. He brought in six wounded men from in front of the trenches under a heavy fire, the men having been left out from the previous day’s engagement.

“He has invariably shown great bravery and coolness under fire and set a fine example to all ranks.”

The award was later converted to a Military Cross and he was promoted to Regimental Sergeant Major on April 3, 1916.

However, by November that year his health had deteriorated as a result of having spent two years and 66 days on active service in France and Belgium with little or no leave.

He complained of a sore throat and loss of voice and was sent home aboard the hospital ship Cambria.

With his health deteriorating further, he was finally discharged from the army on January 10, 1917 at York after 29 years and 50 days’ service with a pension amounting to £2 a week in today’s money and an extra 17.5p for his DCM.

Collier was just 45 when he died in June 1917 of tuberculosis and exhaustion brought on by war service and was buried in Fairmile cemetery. He is commemorated on the war memorials in both Henley and Thames Ditton.

His death came two days after the death in action of Major Valentine Fleming, from Nettlebed, his former Squadron Commander in the Queen’s Own Oxfordshire Hussars.

His pre-war heroics were told to me by Norman Topsom, a retired railway chargeman from Henley.

He says: “Arthur Collier’s heroism was not only confined to the battlefield. In June 1914 he rendered invaluable assistance in helping to get the firemen out of the wreckage of his locomotive when two trains collided just outside Reading station.” A true hero.

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