Archive for March, 2010
Just had to write a few lines to praise to the heavens the Bristol-based design team, OMB Direct. I was put in touch with them by my wife who had done some work with them before and approached them with regard to doing the design work for a (2x1m) information panel that we are getting done for the Tunnellers Memorial www.tunnellersmemorial.com. I thought they may offer us a good rate but was bowled over when, on hearing about the project, they offered their services completely for free!
So far they have sent us revised editions as we provide more pictures and text – throughout they have been brilliantly helpful and I think the finished article is superb. It will explain the story of William Hackett and Thomas Collins and a little about the Tunnelling Companies along with great pictures and a fantastic line drawing of the incident in which the two men lost their lives.
So, a big thanks to Chris and Sharon for their design skill and help plus their wonderful generosity and sheer good nature. I would recommend them to anyone. www.ombdirect.co.uk
John Abraham is one of the nephews of Thomas Collins. He read of our appeal to trace any family descendants in the South Wales Evening Post of 1 March and called me a few days later. The phone call was a very special moment as I had worked so hard to trace him and, as he mentioned his relationship to the Collins family members and I recognised every name from the 1911 census records, I realised that my search had been rewarded. For a researcher, this was a Eureka moment which had quite an effect on me.
Following a number of phone calls with John and BBC Wales (who covered the story for the regional news) Peter Barton and I travelled to Swansea on Friday 12 March to meet up. We met the BBC at the Swansea Cenotaph to view Thomas Collins’ name on the memorial.
It felt strange seeing his name (and that of his brother Daniel who had died in 1918 whilst serving with the RNVR) and knowing that we would soon meet a descendant of his. The BBC did their filming there and we then headed to Thomas’ old address that he enlisted from (50 Shelley Crescent – now renamed as High View) where I was interviewed for BBC Radio Wales. Next up was Colbourne Terrace where the Collins family moved to post-war (Thomas’ youngest brother William lived at No.58 until his death in the 1990s).
Our last and most moving stop was our visit to John’s house (all of a mile or so from Colbourne Terrace) where we were welcomed in. John had mentioned that Thomas’ mother had had a large picture of Thomas but I never imagined what I would find. It really is the most incredible 3ft x 2ft framed picture of Private Thomas Collins in khaki with cards that he sent home from France stuck around the outside of the frame. This painted picture, although in need of a good clean up, had incredibly vivid colours. It had sat in Thomas’ mother’s parlour for the rest of her lifetime (along with one of Daniel Collins). These remarkable pictures were clearly treasured possessions and a real tribute to her two eldest boys lost in the war. We had a good long chat with John, some on camera for the Beeb, but mostly after they had left. John indicated that he would be delighted to attend the memorial unveiling on 19 June along with other members of his family. I am sure that day will be an incredible experience and can only imagine what it will be like to see relatives of Sapper William Hackett VC and Private Thomas Collins standing together at the spot where their family members still lie 40 feet beneath the Givenchy clay. As ever, please visit the News & Fund Raising section of http://www.tunnellersmemorial.com/ for further details and to see the picture of Thomas Collins. Please click for a video of the BBC Wales News piece on our meeting John Abraham
I had a lunch yesterday in London with friends from Genesta Battlefield Club and was introduced to Keith Collman. Keith is a photographer with a keen interest in Great War veterans. His face seemed familiar and as he pointed out to me that we had met on a battlefield trip to Ypres in 2002 the recollections of that trip slowly came back to me. Keith had been travelling with us when we had taken Jack Davis, Harry Patch and Arthur Halestrap back to Ypres for Armistice commemorations. I recalled that he has been snapping away through the trip so wasn’t surprised to hear about his photographic project.
For the past 25 years he has been taking black & white portrait photographs of veterans. He realised that he had a remarkable collection and that he had better preserve these for posterity. (He mentioned that his children wouldn’t know what all the negatives were and would probably bin them on his demise!) The result of his endeavour is a superb book entitled ‘Great War Portraits’. I bought a copy (priced £25) and it is a lovely quality book to flick through – a real tribute to these remarkable gentlemen that we all owe so much to. Some of them I had had the pleasure of knowing, some I had never met but seen on TV documentaries whilst there are others whose faces were new to me. All are beautifully photographed and there are good details of all the men featured.
Keith has only produced 1000 copies and hopes one day to be able to get his money back – it is certainly not a profit making venture. His website http://www.greatwarportraits.com/ gives a really good idea of the quality of product and is a very nice read in itself. Highly recommended for those who want a memento of these wonderful men.