William Collins

BBC History Magazine - - Wwi Eyewitness Accounts -

Bill worked in a shop and as a gar­dener be­fore join­ing the Royal Army Med­i­cal Corps in 1913 as a stretcher bearer. Pro­moted to sergeant, he served with the No 1 Cavalry Field Am­bu­lance on the western front from 1915 to 1918.

Sergeant Collins was caught up in a de­fen­sive ac­tion at the town of Le Hamel.

Ca­su­al­ties were stream­ing onto my post. Cap­tain Swan, the med­i­cal of­fi­cer, was as busy as he could be dress­ing ca­su­al­ties. While hav­ing a breather, I went to a bank next to this Lewis gun­ner – he was fir­ing – and I was sat with my back to the bank and my head back. I’d got my tin hat on, hav­ing a rest you see. A shell came and I was blown un­con­scious. How long I was un­con­scious I don’t know. When I came to I was half woozy, off my head. My tin hat had been forced down on my head, I was badly con­cussed, and I was wounded round the back of the neck and over the shoul­der. My coat was all torn ragged by the bits of shell.

All of a sud­den, a stream of ma­chine gun bul­lets came by. I’ve never heard a more hor­ri­fy­ing sound in my life. It was like a thou­sand gas taps turned on: Psssst! Hssst! Hssst! Hsst! Psssst! mag­ni­fied a hun­dred times go­ing hiss­ing past! I had suf­fi­cient con­scious­ness to go down – I was flat on my face – in­stinct! Even­tu­ally I found my­self back with the field am­bu­lance. I was very shocked, there’s no doubt about that. I still couldn’t tell you ex­actly what I did to this day. I couldn’t bear to hear a sound; couldn’t bear to hear a pin drop! Ev­ery ex­plo­sion, my heart jumped out of my skin. Over the next three weeks I lost nearly all my hair.

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