Brief Outline of Military History
When Richard Collett attested for the Berkshire Regiment at Reading on the 1st of April 1896 he gave his details as following:-
Born in North Stoke, Wallingford, Berkshire
Age 18 years and 1 month, a baker by trade, 5ft 9¼in tall, 134 lbs in weight, fresh complexion, brown eyes and dark brown hair. He
had a scar on his left eye and one on his sacrum. He was at that time a serving member of the 3rd Royal Berkshire Regiment (Militia).
He was posted from the Depot of the Berkshires (49th Regimental District) to the 2nd Battalion on the 21st of November 1896 as
No.4666 but only remained with that unit until the following year. Under authority of a War Office Letter the 11th of December 1897
he transferred to the 1st Life Guards with effect that date (as No.2036 of that unit) and would have joined his new corps in London
for the long run of ceremonial duties that they were famous for.
After the declaration of Hostilities against the Boer Republic the 1st Life Guards were sent to South Africa in a combined Household
formation with the 2nd Life Guards and the Royal Horse Guards. The regiment went to South Africa on around the 4th of November
1899 and fought in some stiff actions in the relief of Ladysmith and the capture of the Boer laage at Paardeburg. They returned to
England in August 1900 where Richard was granted the Queen’s South Africa Medal with bars for Paardeburg, Dreifontein,
Johannesburg, Cape Colony & Relief of Ladysmith.
Richard served for another 3 years in England (including a period of 21 days in the glasshouse for some undisclosed offence in
February 1903) before being transferred to the Army Reserve at Regents Park Barracks on the 29th of October 1904. He further
served on the Army Reserve for 4 years until his final discharge (having served a total of 12 years) on the 31st of March 1908.
Six years later, with War declared against Germany, he re-enlisted for Short service in the 1st Life Guards at Reading on the 3rd of
September 1914. At that time he was a Police Constable living at 6, The Forbury, Reading. Strangely enough he gave his age as 33
and 8 months, which means he either lied about his age to join the army in 1896 or lied about his age in 1914 to make sure he got
in. Having joined the Life Guards he was numbered as No.3079 of that Corps and was duly promoted to Acting Corporal on the 19th
of September 1914. Whilst serving at Hyde Park Barracks on the 13th of October 1915 he was reprimanded for neglect of duty
(reported by the RSM), but that appears to be the whole of his misconduct.
On the 12th of August 1916 Collett reverts to the rank of Trooper, is transferred to the Military Mounted Police and is immediately
promoted to the rank of Acting Lance Corporal, No.P3712.
Collett finally goes overseas from Southampton on the 8th of December 1916 and arrives at Le Havre the following day. He then
joins his unit at Rouen where he serves until being posted to 18th Corps in January 1917. In December 1917 he is posted to the
Army HQ and serves with them until the end of the war. He is transferred to the UK for demobilization on the 1st of June 1919 and
discharged on the 30th of June 1919.
Later in life Richard wrote down his memories from his time in the service which is produced below..
The Memories of Richard Collett (b: 1881- 1961).
Written in his own hand on November 12/1959.
Note:..........denotes missing text from original.
I was born in a small country village near Oxford, the town of colleges in England, on the 4th of February 1881.
My great ***grandfather was a protestant minister and escaped execution from France with the Huguenots in 1685. He settled in
the village in which I was born, February 1881 is on record
in England as the worst month for its deep snow and blizzards. I left school at the age of 14
years and obtained work in Oxford and worked under a cruel master. I ran away after working there for a year and joined the army. I
was a tall youth and by telling a lie, adding three years to my age, which made me 18 years, no inquiries were made about me .
I was a recruit in a smart Cavalry Regiment, the First Life Guards, with barracks in London and Windsor. My recruits course of riding
and foot drill..................................................about a year and trained a young...........................about 9 months. Horse and self
entered the squadron stable for duty, that duty consisted of sentry duty in barracks and mounted duty in London, escorts for
Queen Victoria for opening of Parliament and visiting Heads of State etc. I often rode by the side of Queen Victoria 's carriage.
In October 1899 war was declared between England and the South African Republic and was called the Boer War. .together with a
detachment of men of the 2nd Life Guards and Royal Horse Guards we immediately set sail for Africa. Our boat was overcrowded
with men and horses, we encountered a very rough sea, our horses were battened down at the bottom of the boat and we lost
many. Our food on board consisted of corned beef and very hard biscuits. No change was made for several days so we complained,
an alteration was them made to cold bully mutton , this was covered in thick white fat, so we complained again, a large barrel of salt
pork was then brought up from stores and when opened; inside the lid the date 1856 appeared, no doubt it had been stored since
the Crimean War and brought back from there. It was rotten and was thrown overboard and we went back to bully beef and biscuits.
Our food was very scarce, we had a tin of mochonice ration occasion with vegetables, but mostly it was bully beef and biscuits all
through the war. We scarcely saw bread.
At Capetown our horses were all so weak and ill that they were taken off the boat and left there. The rough voyage without any of
them being able to lie down and packed in like sardines had been very cruel. We carried on a few more days up the coast by boat
and landed at Durban. We then went to Petermaritzburg by rail, then marching,....joined General Bullers Army outside Ladysmith for
the battle of Colenso. We were repulsed there with heavy losses and unable to relieve the besieged army inside. No headway could
be made on natal side of the country; and upon the arrival from England of General Lord Roberts to take over, we were then
transferred to his army and joined him on the other side of the country for the Modder River battle. This being a success we
advanced to Paardeburg. The Boer General Cronje and 4000 of his men were surrounded; we were held up for 3 weeks and during
that time, most of his oxen and mules which had been killed by our artillery gunfire were thrown into the Modder river, which became
blocked with their carcasses at our camp downstream. ; to get water we had to push them aside. . The stench during the heat of the
day was very bad. Enteric fever and dysentery soon broke out among our troops. Very many laid down on the veldt and died.
Field hospitals we... .....ny m....s apart and only transport was by mule waggon. Motor transport had not been heard of. The Boers
surrendered after 3 weeks and were treated very kindly and sent down to Capetown, then by boat to St. Helena. Their coloured
transport drivers; Zulu, Kaffers, and Basutoes who had been surrounded willingly came over to our army for they had received no
money from the Boers and were just slaves. They were a great help to us for they knew the way back. We went into the Boer
Laarger "or camp" after it was evacuated and it was just like a cemetery with dug graves which they had occupied during the 3
weeks. We were then able to continue our advance a little.
Lord Roberts was a very strict General and would sign any sentence inflicted by a field court martial and one saw occasion a soldier
tied with his arms outstretched to the wheel of a gun carriage for 4 hours facing the hot sun and for 4 hours back to the sun. Many
more Boers had arrived to face us, since their loss of the 4000. They were on the Koppies, or Hills with the huge stone boulders to
hide behind and rest their rifles upon, and they being such good shots we lost many men. The going was hard and slow. My turn
came for outpost duty with 5 others. It was a very bad night, wind, rain, thunder and lightening. We were well advanced in front of
the troops, what with the noise of the wind and the animals on the veldt we did not hear a commando of Boers who had crept
behind us and being greatly outnumbered had forced our surrender. We were ill treated and forced back with the butts of their rifles,
they knew we belonged to the army who had helped capture their comrades. We were then tied up in bullock waggons (soon after) I
got to work loosening a board at the bottom of the waggon and when it was quiet in the very early hours of the morning, pulled it
up and dropped to the ground and made off. A few shots were fired after me but missed. I shall never forget.
I found my unit, my comrades who had been taken with me, reported when they were released that
they were forced to walk all day and tied in bullock waggons at night until they reached the prisoner of war compound at Watervaal in
the hills above Pretoria. They all looked very thin and ill when released and reported having had very little food. The advance seemed
a little quicker now. Bloomfontun was taken. We soon seemed to be over the Vaal river into the Transvaal and the Elandofontien
Battle then along the Raand for 7 miles through Joannesburg. The two high natural forts guarding Pretoria were shelled by the naval
guns which had been taken off the Battleships Powerful and Terrible and placed on carriages to be drawn overland. As there was no
reply to the shelling we clambered up the mountainside into the
Fort which we found evacuated, and we entered the capital town Pretoria.
All we were longing for now was for Peace to be signed and for some of us to get back home, for many new troops were coming out
to take over. More men had died in that war from enteric fever and dysentery and other diseases than by gunfire.
President Kruger had cleared off from Pretoria with all the gold they said, but as soldiers we didn't care a little bit about that. Mrs
Kruger wife of the President remained in her little cottage there and I in my turn had to do sentry duty on the house to keep her
safe. My turn came with others to be shipped back to England. As I had several years to do in the Army to complete my term of
service. I said goodbye to Africa; a country I had been hungry in. Many whose service had expired were allowed to remain in Africa.
King Edward the 7th was now on the throne and we settled down in barracks in London for routine duty as in Queen Victoria's time.
Escorts, sentry duty etc. On one occasion after leaving Buckingham Palace on escort I was placed on one side of the King's carriage,
the road was wet, no tarmac road in those days, the Kings equerry leaned out of the carriage and requested me to get back further
as my high stepping horse was splashing His Majesty. I have often thought of that incident, (not many men have splashed a King).
I left the Life Guards after 4 years of service with 3 years reserve to be added. In 1904 I joined the Reading Police. I was soon
promoted to the Detective Department and married in 1907. Things ran very smoothly in the Police and I extended my reserve
period in the Army. However that smooth......riod didn't seem to last long. ........e 1914 war broke out with the ..ermans and I was
called to .....join my Regiment from the ...eading Police.
I arrived in barracks in London and that same evening whilst crossing the street with a comrade outside we were both knocked down
by a very fast blacked out car and my comrade was instantly killed. I was very severely bruised and shaken and I thought what a
start to a new duty.
I was soon well and was sent to France and Belgium and was in the fierce battles of Ypres and Somme. I was one of 7 other
occupants of a dugout during a bombardment when a large German shell destroyed it. 6 were killed instantly, a comrade and myself
was buried for a while but after we were uncovered were soon alright,. I was with the 5th British Army when the Germans broke
through in March 1918 and drove us back to Villars Brettence in front of Amiens in France. Things looked very black there and a very
fierce battle raged for several days but they were halted and driven back.
The General recommended me for a commission to Officer rank and I was attached to an Infantry Regiment.
Our advance was slow. On the 11th of November 1918 at 11am, 41 years ago yesterday, the bugle sounded the cease fire on all the
battlefields, Germany had surrendered. There was no cheering men's thoughts turned to the friends they had lost. I then continued
on the march into Germany with the occupation troops but I was soon to be on the demobilization list and with a trainload of
troops was on my way back to England.
The train consisted of long transport vans with wide doors in the middle. ........ont seats, men sat at these doors............................
nyone they saw. At Chaloroy in ...............................any warning the train ran off the lines and crashed on its side. Most of the men
sitting at the doors were killed or seriously injured. I was very severely bruised and shaken. A very bad ending to a terrible war.
It was lovely to be home after so long. I returned to the Reading Police and completed my term of service and retired on pension in
1929. I was then engaged in the Royal enclosure at Ascot at race meetings and saw to the safety of King George the 5th and the
6th and our present Queen Elizabeth.
In 1939 the second world war broke out and I was already a well trained air raid warden and did duty during the bombing of
England. My wife and I celebrated our Golden Wedding Anniversary 21/2 years ago. This is our second visit to Canada to be with
our 3 children and 8 grandchildren. Which we are enjoying very much. England is a lovely country, Good Night and God Bless you all.
|Richard Collett - Life Guards & MMP, 1896 to 1919
Courtesy of Carol Gelette, Ontario, Canada