Herbert Frederick Collins was born in Winkfield (a village between Bracknell and Windsor in Berkshire), at the end of 1897, the son of Edwin James Collins and his wife Sarah. His father Edwin was born in Newmarket, Cambs, and worked as a domestic gardener throughout East Anglia. The family were living in Winchester by 1907, since their youngest son Ernest died that year in Winchester aged 6.
In the 1911 census, the family is living at The Nursery, Park Road, Winchester where Edwin is now a nurseryman, employing others to run the nursery, including his son Bernard William, aged 18.
In November 1914, at the age of 17, Herbert enlisted in the Hampshire Regiment as a Trooper, with the army number 33443. He served with the Pioneers, the 11th (Service) Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment. The 11th Battalion was formed in Winchester in September 1914, and their main function was the repair of trenches, maintenance of roadways and tracks, bringing up coils of barbed wire and picket posts. When the need arose, they would convert to full fighting troops.
The Battalion moved to Ireland and Aldershot to train, before being mobilised for war on 18th December 1915. They landed at Le Havre and engaged in various actions on the Western Front.
By mid-February 1918, the Germans had moved many divisions from the now collapsed Eastern front to the West. The Allies had been expecting an attack in March, and it came as a massive onslaught of the Kaiserschlacht (Emperor’s Battle), a series of assaults on the Allied lines that was supposed to bring the Germans victory in the West after the defeat of Russia in the East in 1917. Thus began the First Battles of the Somme which took place from 21st March – 5th April 1918. The first phase was the Battle of St Quentin (21st -23rd March) and Herbert was Killed in Action on 22nd March 1918. He was 20 years old.
The Battle diary of the 11th Battalion begins the entry for 21st March 1918 with “German barrage put down on the Front Line and back area very heavily shelled – gas and High Explosive shells”. The Battalion had to retreat though “stampede was avoided and transport removed without casualties”. On the
morning of 22nd March, “Enemy commenced his attack at 10:30am in a heavy mist … The right flank of the ST EMILIE position being now completely turned, the withdrawal continued to VILLERS FAUCON, Battalion suffering several casualties during the withdrawal. Successive positions were taken up on the railway embankment and on the high ground.”
Herbert was buried at Pozieres Cemetery which is some way to the west of the site of the action on 22nd March. Some idea of the scale of the fighting on the Western Front at this stage of the war is given by the sheer number of burials in the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery at Pozieres: the total number of Commonwealth troops buried here is 14,708 – and this is just one cemetery. By May 1918, the Battalion had lost so many men that it had been reduced to becoming a training cadre.
Herbert’s older brother, Bernard William, enlisted in the army much earlier, in 1912, aged 18 or 19, as a Private in the Hampshire Regiment. He served in India, Mesopotamia (Iraq), and Persia. He survived the war and married May Louisa Munt in 1922 in Winchester.