Wil­liam Collins

BBC History Magazine - - Wwi Eyewitness Accounts -

Bill Collins was born into a work­ing-class fam­ily in Croy­don. He worked in a shop and as a gar­dener be­fore join­ing the Royal Army Med­i­cal Corps as a stretcher bearer in 1913. On the west­ern front, Sergeant Wil­liam Collins was still serv­ing with the No 1 Cav­alry Field Am­bu­lance, Royal Army Med­i­cal Corps. He no­ticed that an in­creas­ing num­ber of wounds he en­coun­tered in treat­ing pa­tients were caused by high-ex­plo­sive shells which spat out great chunks of steel shell cas­ing. The Ger­mans had be­gun to use high-ex­plo­sive shells in­stead of shrap­nel. Very dif­fer­ent – much more se­vere wounds. One of the worst I had to deal with was a pri­vate of one of the York­shire reg­i­ments. An HE shell had dropped right in among them and blown off both his legs, half way up the thigh, leav­ing the fe­murs ex­posed as if they were two crutches.

He sat upon the stretcher, looked down at his legs and said: “If only my mis­sus could see me now! Give me a cig­a­rette!” That was the guts and courage of those men. All we could do was to cover the wounds up with gauze, to keep the dirt and air away as much as pos­si­ble, and put him on the first am­bu­lance away.

The great­est dan­ger to that man was shock. The wounds could be dealt with, but the shock to the body and the brain was the great­est dan­ger. In seven or eight hours’ time he’ll get the re­ac­tion. The re­ac­tion would be im­mense. If he was ex­cep­tion­ally strong he might sur­vive it.

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