Memoirs of a true hero

READY FOR 'ACTION: A young Norman Collins shortly after 'signing up for war
READY FOR 'ACTION: A young Norman Collins shortly after 'signing up for war

A HEROIC young soldier’s memorable account of conflict has been published for the first time.

Hartlepool man Lieutenant Norman Collins saw the terrors of the First World War first hand and penned as many memories as he could in 170 letters and 42 postcards back home.

Forty one years later, the documents have been published in the book Last Man Standing by historian Richard Van Emden.

Now, in a new series to run throughout Christmas, the Mail has teamed up with Richard and publishers Pen and Sword Books to bring you some of the fascinating account.

Here is the first instalment.

“In 1911 I recall the Army coming to camp at Hesleden.

This was really very thrilling to watch. Large numbers of soldiers gathered at High Hesleden in a field in front of the Ship Inn, where there were pitched hundreds of bell tents. Bugles were blowing, bands were practising, the horse lines were formed with the most magnificent officers’ chargers.

Chestnuts, bays, greys, the harnesses of which glistened with polishing by grooms who seemed to be at it all the time polishing the reins, the horses’ bits and chains.

“That wonderful summer of 1911!

“We often visited the horse lines, and it was lovely to see these beautiful chargers with their hooves black-leaded and their officers in their smart uniforms.

“One day they marched from High Hesleden over the bridge into Monk Hesleden, and for the first time I saw an army unit at close quarters.

“The officers were mounted on their chargers and a Sergeant Major, a fierce looking man, was in charge of the proceedings as far as I could see.

“I learnt that a battalion of 1,000 men consisted of four companies, A, B, C, D, and each company consisted of four platoons, 1, 2, 3, 4. Each company was commanded by a Major or Captain, each platoon by a Lieutenant, Second Lieutenant and a Platoon Sergeant.

“Each platoon was divided into four sections, each commanded by a Corporal or Lance Corporal.

“In those days the men marched in column of fours and I saw that many of the men wore the Ribbons of the South African War.

“The sound of the bugles was thrilling, especially the sunset ceremony, when the colours were hauled down for the night.

“These bronzed infantry soldiers marched through the village with packs and rifles on long route marches.

“They went down into the Dene and up the other side of the valley to Nesbit Hall and disappeared into the distance while we awaited their return.

“When they came back their shirts were open to the neck and they looked really exhausted and we offered to carry their rifles. Then, if we allowed to do so, we made our way up to the camp where the soldiers were making full use of the Ship Inn and there was a lot of singing going on.

“It looked very romantic with the field kitchens going, preparing the meals, and the smell of the food, the smell of the horses in the lines, the jingle of the harnesses and the bits, and it made a fourteen year old boy long to be a soldier.

“No doubt most of these men became part of the original Expeditionary Force that went to France just three years later.”

l Next time - The day war broke out.

l Extracted from Last Man Standing by Richard Van Emden, published by Pen and Sword Books at £12.99. To buy your copy call (01226) 734222 or visit 
www.pen-and-sword.co.uk