G V Dennis writes:
Just after nine o'clock on the morning of Thursday, June 1st, we heard the sound of shellfire not very far away. A few shells of high explosive had burst above the wood and shrapnel rained down on 'A' Company, part of which was having a rifle inspection with Second Lieutenant P. Grahame (Pansy) in charge. As quickly as possible the men flung themselves down on the ground - no drill book had taught this movement, it had to be grasped when the time for it came. Sergeant Seward was one of those killed instantly and some men were wounded including Ernest Forster. Sergeant R. Seward, Rifleman J.W. Collier and Rifleman V.G. Hickes were buried in Riflehouse Cemetery in Plugstreet Wood.
There is quite a bit of information about John William Collier, C/12966, beyond the CWGC record, but Ancestry have done their best to hide his military record. It is badly mistranscribed but I still don't understand why, when you have the options set to 'UK and Ireland' and the name at least is correct, all sorts of USA records and different names come up first. To save others the slog here's the link - John William Collier military record .
Or search on the full name and enlistment date without a place of residence, because it says
'Residence High Street?? , Regiment name ??Rd Rifles Man Rifles of Canada' and gives his number as 12966, without the C/ ,even though it's clear on the attestation form.
He was born in Helmsley - I'd noticed him first on the photograph of the Fevershams with 'A' company men from Helmsley and area, at Aldershot just before embarking for France, illustrating the KRRC journal article about Dennis to which I gave a link before. The note at the back of Dennis's book, written by Michael Hickes who edited A Kitchener Man's Bit for publication, says that Collier's
letter to his father, dated that morning, giving interesting detail of the conditions of YR men, has been deposited by his nephew, Johnny Collier, Pottergate, Helmsley, with the Liddle First War Archives, at The Brotherton Library, Leeds University.
There's a facsimile of part of it on the cover of the book - nice clear handwriting, to 'Dear Dad' from 'Somewhere in Belgium 1/6/16'.
In 1911 he was a postman living at home with his family in High Street, Helmsley, with his parents and six younger siblings aged 5-16. His father, William, is described as 'Gardener Labourer Domestic'. I've been interested in the number of these riflemen so far who are NOT farmers, but most of them belong to small communities in farming areas. In 1901 the Colliers had been at Sproxton, close by and like Helmsley itself on the edge of Duncombe Park, and his father seems then to have been a gardener in the grounds of Sproxton Hall, a large farm.
In 1915 Collier was described as a 'clerk' on his attestation form; other records show this was still in the post office. His attestation was at Helmsley on 17 November and Feversham approved on 19 Nov. His medical form confirms the supposition that he was in A company.
He was just very unlucky that he was in the wrong place on June 1.