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.