A great uncle, and a hero

PROUD: John Collins found out two weeks ago he had a great uncle who fought in World War I, and has been looking for information since. His great uncle's resting place will be officially dedicated tomorrow. Picture: MARK JESSER
PROUD: John Collins found out two weeks ago he had a great uncle who fought in World War I, and has been looking for information since. His great uncle's resting place will be officially dedicated tomorrow. Picture: MARK JESSER

TWO weeks ago John Collins did not know he had a great uncle who fought in World War I.

He learnt of his heroic relative only when Rutherglen RSL sub-branch secretary David Martin phoned him to say five previously unmarked graves of Great War soldiers at Carlyle cemetery were being given headstones.

The resting place of Private John Collins and that of four others will be officially dedicated in an army ceremony tomorrow – Remembrance Day.

Mr Collins was born in 1947, two years after his great uncle died at the age of 81.

“I had no idea he was here,” he said.

“I was very surprised, overwhelmed a bit because no-one knew about it.”

Mr Collins said the only inkling he had of his great uncle came from a memory when he was 10.

Private John Collins

Private John Collins

He accompanied his father to the Victoria Hotel at Rutherglen and was shown a photo hanging on the wall of Oddfellows lodge members and told one of them was his great uncle.

Having dredged up that thought, Mr Collins has been busy hunting as much information as he can about his great uncle’s war experience in the past fortnight with his sister Dawn Leahy tracking down that photograph in the collection of the Rutherglen Historical Society.

“He said on his application he would have been 44 and five months, but he would have been 48 or 49,” Mr Collins said.

Married to Jane, but childless, Private Collins enlisted in 1915 and headed to Europe.

Then a little over a year later on July 19, Private Collins was shot in the foot during fighting in France and had his ankle shattered.

He sailed home in February 1917 and returned to his council road maintenance job which he eventually had to give up because of lingering foot problems.

Mr Collins and his wife Helen have been regular visitors to the Carlyle cemetery with other relatives in marked graves next to Private Collins’ plot.

“We always wondered why they had a vacant spot, it was totally unmarked,” Mrs Collins said.

Mr Martin said the Australian War Graves Commission had approved an application by the sub-branch earlier this year and had provided $25,000 to spend on marking the five plots.

The others being recognised are Sapper William Allan, who died in 1966 aged 73, Private Martin Pascoe, who died in 1958 aged 70, Private John Sullivan who died in 1979 aged 83 and Private Francis Taylor who died in 1973 aged 85.

Tomorrow’s dedication will begin at 1.30pm with soldiers from Latchford Barracks and Rutherglen Primary School students involved in the ceremony which is open to the public.