Major Peter Collins

Peter Collins in 1944

Major Peter Collins was recommended for an award of the Victoria Cross, but as this was not approved he was instead awarded, posthumously and according to the rules at the time, the very much less prestigious ‘mention in despatches’.

He was born in 1911, the son of Brigadier L P Collins who had commanded the 1st Battalion from 1925 to early 1929.  He was educated at Marlborough and pre-war had worked for G Henderson, a trading company in Calcutta that was subsequently absorbed into Jardines.  In 1939 he married Anne Coles at St Paul’s Cathedral in that city.

In November 1941 Peter was given a wartime Emergency Commission in the 2nd Goorkhas and was initially ADC to Major General F I S Tuker, later Colonel of the 2nd Goorkhas, who knew him from having served with his father.  In January 1942 he went with the 4th Battalion to Razmak on the North West Frontier, remaining with them there for three years.   He deployed with them to Burma in March 1945 in command of B Company, and quickly made a name for himself and his company for taking the fight to the enemy, in the period 8 May to 1 June 1945 killing sixty-four Japanese in six consecutive operations for the loss of only nine Gurkhas wounded.

He led a courageous and successful attack on Tanbingon in which, tragically, he was killed.  The citation recommending him for the Victoria Cross read:

After an arduous night march on a compass bearing through thick jungle, Major Collins detached four sections to establish his first block and went on to take up the main blocking position with the remaining five sections and Company HQ.

In the darkness he had penetrated into a strong Japanese position consisting of five cunningly hidden bunkers.  Japanese fire, including five light machine guns, was sweeping B Company from the front and both flanks at a range of thirty yards, and the position was critical as the bunkers were almost impossible to locate in the waist high grass and scrub. With utter disregard of danger and displaying supreme coolness, Major Collins walked from section to section.  Standing up under a hail of bullets, he succeeded in locating all five bunkers and, by firing his rifle at them, was able to direct fire of his men on to their correct targets.

He then organised an attack with two sections on the left-hand bunkers and, again under intense fire, walked back to direct the covering fire of the remaining sections.

By this time, in the damp heat of the jungle, Major Collins was almost exhausted by his exertions and the strain of constant exposure to imminent danger. Whilst his attack was in progress, enemy reinforcements from Ondaw.

arrived by mechanical transport and formed up in readiness to counter attack.  It then became obvious that Major Collins would have to withdraw his small force to escape encirclement by superior numbers.  The enemy launched their attack but in spite of his fatigue Major Collins once more walked round under heavy fire to all his sections giving out orders for the evacuation of the wounded and the withdrawal of his force.  Enemy pressure increased , but the withdrawal was so skillfully planned and controlled that heavy casualties were inflicted on the Japanese and the wounded carried safely away. Major Collins stayed with the last section to cover the remainder, and finally gave the order for it to pull out as the enemy closed in from all sides.

He was killed by light machine gun fire at a range of fifteen yards after a sustained display of courage,  determination, leadership and endurance under conditions of extreme danger which is quite beyond all praise.

As a result of his action Tanbingon was captured and consolidated by the remainder of the Battalion at negligible cost and Ondaw was seized the following day against trifling opposition. When Major Collins’ body was recovered, forty dead Japanese were found close to the spot where he had held off the counter-attack and covered the withdrawal. Captured documents showed later that the strength of the enemy with whom he was engaged was more than two hundred.

To Major Collins’ self-sacrifice, magnificent bravery and outstanding leadership are due the heavy defeat of a strong Japanese force, the capture of two important enemy strongpoints and the safe withdrawal of his own men from a critical position.

In 1948 his parents set up a Memorial Library in his House at Marlborough College.  It included copies of letters sent to them after his death.  Major General Gracey, his divisional commander, wrote: ‘He stood out head and shoulders above the rest, a real category A officer.  To meet, he was so charming; to see him at work was to realise he was absolutely efficient and beloved of his men; and to hear of his leadership in action was proof that his courage and coolness in action were of the very highest order.’  An anonymous officer wrote ‘The Subedar-Major gave the Subedar of B Company a hell of a rocket for letting Peter be killed, but the latter’s excuse was that the sahib would keep right forward and go wherever there was firing.’

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