Profile

COLLINS, Francis
(Service number 4391)

Aliases Frank
First Rank Private Last Rank Private

Birth

Date 31 July 1881 Place of Birth Timaru, New Zealand

Enlistment Information

Date 30 August 1915 Age 34 years
Address at Enlistment
Occupation Labourer
Previous Military Experience City Rifle Battalion, Timaru, NZ (18 mths)
Marital Status Single
Next of Kin Mr Cornelius COLLINS (father), 33 High St, Timaru, South Canterbury, New Zealand; (Mrs Julia COLLINS)
Religion Roman Catholic
Medical Information Height 5 feet 6½ inches. Weight 126 lbs. Chest measurement 36¼ inches. Complexion dark. Hair dark brown. Scar on index finger of left hand.

Military Service

Served with Australian Imperial Force Served in Army
Military District

Embarkation Information

Body on Embarkation Australian Infantry
Unit, Squadron, or Ship 11th Reinforcements 20th Battalion
Date 9 April 1916
Transport Nestor
Embarked From Sydney, New South Wales, Australia Destination
Other Units Served With
Last Unit Served With 20th Battalion AIF

Military Awards

Campaigns Balkans (Gallipoli), 1915; Western European
Service Medals British War Medal; Victory Medal
Military Awards Military Medal (MM)

Award Circumstances and Date

For conspicuous services rendered. "His Majesty the King has been graciously pleased to award the Military Medal for bravery in the Field to the undermentioned soldier: - No. 4391 Private Francis Collins" (London Gazette, 15 May 1917) (Anzac Circular 97/484) (Commonwealth of Australia Gazette, No. 169 of 4th October 1917). For conspicuous services as a runner during operations at Lagnicourt, when he worked uncessingly under heavy fire.

Prisoner of War Information

Date of Capture
Where Captured and by Whom
Actions Prior to Capture
PoW Serial Number
PoW Camps
Days Interned
Liberation Date

Discharge

Date Reason

Hospitals, Wounds, Diseases and Illnesses

Post-war Occupations

Death

Date 3 May 1917 Age 35 years
Place of Death Bullecourt, France
Cause Killed in action
Notices Timaru Herald, 1 June 1917
Memorial or Cemetery Villers-Bretonneux Memorial, Somme, France
Memorial Reference
New Zealand Memorials Timaru Memorial Wall

Biographical Notes

Francis Collins, known as Frank, was the second-born and eldest surviving son of Cornelius and Julia (née Conway) Collins, of Timaru. He was born on 31 July 1881 and baptised Catholic on 28 August 1881 in Timaru. He attended the Catholic School in Timaru, where he won an award for arithmetic in 1889. At the beginning of the 1890 school year, Francis started at the Marist Brothers School. In 1897 Francis was playing in the junior grade for the Shamrock rugby club, this being the name of the first Marist Old Boys’ Rugby Club.

Francis was in fact 34 years old – although he stated he was 31 years two months - when he enlisted with the Australian Imperial Force on 30 August 1915 at Dubbo, New South Wales, Australia, where he was engaged in labouring work. It is possible he did not know his exact birth date. Both his parents were before the courts several times on charges of drunkenness, were issued with prohibition orders and faced imprisonment. On a couple of occasions they were charged with assault. There was a warning that the children would be sent to the Industrial School.

There was the observation that Julia was a hard working woman but had a weakness. And there were times when Cornelius was away from town working, probably to support his family. Their first-born son, John Maurice (Maurice), died in infancy in 1881. Francis’ brother Patrick Joseph died suddenly at home on 1 November 1912, following an injury to his head suffered when he slipped more than two weeks before at the laundry where he worked, though the cause of death may have been unrelated hydrocephalus and congestion of the brain. Another brother, Dennis, had died in May 1909 when, suffering from delirium tremens, he was decapitated in a railway accident at the Heaton Street crossing. Frank himself may have been associated with an altercation in Arthur Street, Timaru, in December 1901. Only Francis, his youngest brother John and their three sisters survived beyond 1912. So the early life of Francis and his brother John was peppered with sadness and disruption.

Why and when did Francis go away to Australia? He was still in Timaru in 1905, a labourer. He enlisted quite early in the war, intending to serve for the duration of the war plus four months. He was then a labourer, Roman Catholic, and single, of dark complexion with dark brown hair. He stood at 5 feet 6½ inches, weighed 126 lbs, and had a chest measurement of 36¼ inches. A scar was noted on the index finger of his left hand. Initially he nominated his mother, Mrs Julia Collins, as next-of-kin, but this was amended to read his father, Mr Cornelius Collins of 33 High Street, Timaru, South Canterbury, New Zealand. He had previously served for 18 months with the City Rifle Battalion, Timaru. Private Francis Collins embarked per the “Nestor” on 9 April 1916, with the 20th Battalion of the 11th Reinforcements, Australian Infantry.

He did incur a punishment for one offence, on 17 September 1916 at Rollestone (Salisbury Plain) - 7 days detention for absenting himself without leave from place of duty. Perhaps it was a last fling before heading to France. The Australian training battalions took over Rollestone Camp in 1916. He proceeded from England to France in September 1916 and joined the 20th battalion two weeks later in the field.

Private Francis Collins saw action at Gallipoli and on the Western Front in France. He was killed in action on 3 May 1917 at Bullecourt in France, aged 35 years. Having no known grave, he is remembered on the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial, in the Somme region of France. On 12 June 1917, the Sydney Morning Herald listed Pte Francis Collins, New Zealand, among the New South Wales casualties. While the Timaru Herald carried a Roll of Honour notice inserted by the family on 1 June 1917, it was not until 12 January 1918 that any detail appeared locally. Private F. Collins was awarded the Military Medal posthumously, for conspicuous services as a runner during operations at Lagnicourt, when he worked uncessingly under heavy fire. The recommendation had been made on 25 April 1917, just eight days before his death. On 1 November 1917, notification was forwarded to Mr C. Collins, 33 High Street, Timaru, N.Z., of the London Gazette extract of 15th June 1917 of the award relating to conspicuous services rendered by the late No. 4391 Private F. Collins, 20th Battalion, as follows –

“HIS MAJESTY THE KING has been graciously pleased to award the Military Medal for bravery in the Field to the undermentioned soldier:-

No. 4391 Private FRANCIS COLLINS.”

“During the operations on 15th April near LAGNICOURT Private COLLINS acted as a runner between Company headquarters and Battalion headquarters. At the start of operations he was thrown over by a shell but continued working without rest or food from 5 a.m. till relieved. He had to pass through Artillery barrages and was under constant Machine Gun fire. His devotion to duty was remarkable and greatly helped his C.O. to keep in touch with Company Headquarters during the whole of the operations.” (Source: 'Commonwealth Gazette' No. 169. Date: 4 October 1917)

Francis did leave a brief Will, dated 5 March 1917, by which he left all moneys in his pay book, also money in his account in the Commonwealth Bank Sydney, N.S.Wales, Australia (“to which account allotment has been paid”) to his sister, Bridget (Delia) Collins, Nurses Home, Wanganui Hospital, Wanganui, New Zealand.

On 5 April 1918, his father acknowledged receipt of one package of the effects of the late No. 4391, Private F. Collins, 20th Battalion, ex “Marathon”. This package, which had been forwarded to (Father) Mr Cornelius Collins, 33 High Street, Timaru, N. Zealand, contained photos of the 3rd Echelon, No. 528. And on 17 April 1918 he advised receipt of one Medal. This was the Military Medal which his father received from the Commonwealth Defence authorities on 11 January 1918, along with a letter expressing sympathy in his loss. Francis was also awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. His father had previously received notification of the award for conspicuous services. In November 1919 Mrs Collins was corresponding on Cornelius’ behalf with the Officer in Charge at the Base Records Office, Victoria Barracks, Melbourne, regarding the War Leave Payment for Francis. By this date communication with C. Collins, shown as next-of-kin, was to be forwarded to Mr C. Collins, c/o J. O’Rourke, Esq., Outfitter &c., Stafford Street, Timaru. And on 4 April 1923 Mr Collins acknowledged receipt of the Memorial Plaque for 4391 Pte. F. Collins “MM”, 20th Batln. A. I. F. Mr Collins died in 1925 and Mrs Collins in 1938.

The name of 4391 Private F. Collins, M.M. was initially incorrect in the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial Register - “MM” signifying the award of the Military Medal had been omitted, but this was rectified by the Imperial War Graves Commission in October 1933. The Australian Nation Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux is inscribed with the names of more than 10,000 Australians who died on the Western Front during the First World War but who have no known grave. F. Collins is named on the Timaru War Memorial. His brother John Collins (26565) also served in World War I with the New Zealand Expeditionary Force.

Sources

Australian Military Forces - Australian Imperial Force records (National Archives of Australia digital copy barcode 3014755) [11 August 2013]; CWGC [11 August 2013]; NZ BDM Indexes (Department of Internal Affairs) [Aug 2013]; Catholic Baptisms Index CD (Catholic Diocese of Christchurch - SC NZSG collection) [Aug 2013]; Timaru Herald, 12 March 1881, 20 December 1889, 9 May 1891, 24 June 1895, 24 December 1901, 20 April 1906, 17 & 18 May 1909, 2 November 1912 [x 2], 24 May 1913, 4 November 1912, 13 November 1914, 1 June 1917 [x 2], 12 January 1918, 18 December 1918 (Papers Past) [August 2013; 07 November 2013; 18, 19 & 20 October 2014]; Rollestone Camp, Salisbury Plain, England (Great War Forum) [20 October 2014]; The Sydney Morning Herald, 12 June 1917 (trove.nla.gov.au) [20 October 2014]; NZ Electoral Rolls (ancestry.com.au) [19 October 2014]; School Admission records (South Canterbury Museum) [21 October 2014]; Marist Brothers School Jubilee 1892-1952 (held by South Canterbury Branch NZSG) [21 June 2015]; Auckland War Memorial Museum Cenotaph Database [26 April 2015]; Timaru Herald, 2 September 1938 (Timaru District Library); Timaru Cemetery records (Timaru District Council); Francis COLLINS – Google search [09 April 2018] (The AIF Project - https://www.aif.adfa.edu.au/showPerson?pid=58459)

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Researched and Written by

Teresa Scott, SC branch NZSG

Currently Assigned to

TS

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