The thrill of war

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

THE day war broke out, I was thrilled; we were all thrilled.

There was a feeling that we were all determined to push the Germans back into Germany.

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

I don’t remember any boy saying he didn’t want to go, in fact most wanted to get into action before Christmas.

We loved our country, patriotism was assumed. We had a great pride in our Empire and I felt I had to defend my country, although looking back now I don’t know why I ever joined the army after seeing what shellfire could do.

However, I was British and I was fighting for my country, and I think I was in the mood that any guy who was fighting us was a bad guy.

Rather silly really, looking back with hindsight; we were all duped to a great extent.

At that time, though, I was proud to be a volunteer who was willing to defend his country and ready to die for his country too.

Well, anyway, on the day war broke out, August 4th 1914, I immediately rushed down to the recruiting station in town, told them I was twenty, although I didn’t look anything like it.

I said I wanted to join a Scottish Regiment and they said that they had vacancies in the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, so I enlisted.

A local doctor, Dr Robertson, passed me fit for service. This doctor later fought in both wars, was taken prisoner in 1940 and died in captivity.

I had joined up, at least I thought I had. I hadn’t told my parents, of course, and the next morning I set off to go down to the station to get on a train to join my Regiment. However, when I got there my father was waiting, with a company director of a firm to which I had recently become an indentured apprentice in the drawing office.

The company was Sir William Grey and Company, shipbuilders of Hartlepool, who were building ships for the Royal Navy, as well as shallow draught boats for the River Plate in the Argentine.

They told the officer I was already on war work and that, besides, I was only seventeen, ‘so I’m afraid you can’t have him’.

I was embarrassed, of course, and found to my disgust that I was not in the army but rather I was returned to my position as an apprentice. I was, however, given a little badge to put in my lapel to signify that I was on important war work, but for those us who wanted to get into the army this was of limited comfort.

l Tomorrow: Norman finally joins up.

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