Aug 11, 2010

Home for portrait of Thomas Collins

As a slight aside from the work on the Tunnellers Memorial I am glad to report that I have managed to secure a permanent home for a treasured portrait picture of a young man who lost his life in the Great War.

When I tracked down John Abraham in March 2010 and we met to discuss Thomas Collins and the Tunnellers Memorial he showed me an amazing picture of Thomas which had always hung in the Collins family parlour. Details of this are given on this blog entry.

The full length picture was accompanied by his death scroll, both framed but in need of restoration. Following a conversation with John Abraham who suggested the picture needed lodging in a suitable military museum I am delighted to say that the Royal Engineers Museum at Chatham has agreed to take Thomas’ picture and death scroll to hang alongside William Hackett’s picture. Their stories are inexorably intertwined and I am not alone in feeling that there is a potent symbolism in their pictures hanging alongside each other while they both lie entombed 40 feet below the fields of Givenchy.

Picture of Private Thomas Collins, 14th Battalion Welsh Regiment

However, that is not the end of the story. Thomas was the eldest boy of the family. His younger brother was Daniel who, like Thomas, served his country in its hour of need. Sadly, Able Seaman Daniel Collins, RNVR was killed on 26 February 1918 on “SS Greavesash”, a merchant steamer which was torpedoed without warning by German submarine UB-74 and sunk off the Normandy coast. Daniel was one of eight crew who were killed that day.

On our visit to Swansea John Abraham also presented us with a framed portrait of Daniel along with his death scroll and asked that we secure a home for it too. This presented me with a problem as I knew the RE would be keen on Thomas’ picture because he was so integral to one of the best known VC actions in the war but I had no idea who to approach for safeguarding Daniel’s picture. I have tried the Royal Naval Museum at Portsmouth but sadly, they are unable to take this as it needs some restoration work and their space for storage is limited. I guess it will now have to go back to the family – it would have been nice to have had both brother’s pictures in museums.

On a final and not too wayward note, I can also report that the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Debt of Honour entries for Thomas and Daniel have now been amended. I approached the CWGC in March 2010 as the “Additional Information” field gave different addresses for each man – a fact that threw me somewhat in my research process. I also asked that they acknowledged the loss of each brother in this field. They kindly agreed and the pages now say:

Daniel Collins

Son of Jack and Rachel Collins, of 58, Colbourne Terrace, Swansea. His brother Thomas also fell.

Thomas Collins

Son of Jack and Rachel Collins, of 58, Colbourne Terrace, Swansea. His brother Daniel also fell.

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