Sgt John Collins V.C., D.C.M. part 2

by Tony Collins

Details of the Medal Citation for John Collins’ V.C.

The following is extracted from the book Heart of a Dragon – the VCs of Wales and the Welsh Regiments. 1914-82 by W. Alister Williams.

“On 30 October 1917 the operations against Beersheba commenced as soon as darkness fell with the 231 Brigade moving across Wadi Saba, finding their way across the rough, rocky terrain by means of screened lights illuminating their path. When they reached Kent Wadi, they ran into Turkish patrols which were driven back, thereby allowing the assault troops to deploy ready for the attack by 02.00.  The 25th Royal Welch Fusiliers(RWF) was positioned on the right of the 74th Division, in the centre of the line where, along with the 24 RWF, they were to be the brigade’s two attacking battalions, with D and A Companies in the front. The infantry were supported by artillery, but not on the scale used on the Western Front.  Instead, the crews of the 100 fields guns and twenty heavy guns had to be selective in their targets and endeavour to react as much as possible to the changing fortunes of the battalions in the attacking force.  The 60 Division, on the right of the line, who were to commence the attack, were to initially receive the full support of the artillery.

As dawn broke over the eastern horizon, the Turkish artillery opened with very accurate shrapnel fire on the British troops on the hills and at 06.48, D and A Companies moved forward into the heavy shrapnel fire and, as soon as they came within range, into machine-gun fire.  Just over half an hour later, a message was received that the British artillery were having to cease firing as they were unable to see their targets because of the dust.  Despite this, and ignoring their casualties, the battalion edged forward to the final crest of the hills before charging the enemy positions.  Every effort was made to silence the Turkish machine-guns but to no avail, and the battalion paid a very heavy price in men killed or wounded.

The ridge was traversed with a hail of lead and a line of dead, all shot through the head, that marked the limit of the advance testified alike to the determination of the attack and to the accuracy of the Turkish shooting.  It became clear that to call on men shooting from behind no sort of cover to use their rifles against machine-guns very strongly entrenched was throwing away lives to no purpose.  Automatically everyone drew in under cover of the last ridge and waited for some turn in the battle which would afford the infantry the opportunity to push on and bring matters to a definite conclusion.  (Historical Records of the Montgomeryshire Yeomanry).

The sight of so many of his comrades lying exposed in front of the ridge was too much for Collins.  With total disregard for his own safety, he rushed forward several times to bring the wounded back behind the ridge from where they could be carried back to receive emergency medical treatment.

Over to their right, the 60 Division had been held up whilst trying to take Hill 1070 and the limited artillery was concentrated on that area of the front.  This precarious situation continued for several hours and at about 11.00, Capt Fitzhugh, leading the Lewis Gun section stood up to try and identify the position of a Turkish machine-gun which was causing his men considerable problems. As he panned across the front with his binoculars, he was shot in the head by a sniper and killed.  Although only a junior NCO, Collins was now acting a rallying point for the men in his section and others around him.  Less than an hour later, the artillery switched its fire to the Turkish positions in front of the 74 Division and obliterated a particularly strong redoubt in front of the 25 RWF.  This had an immediate effect and the fire from the Turks in front died down as their trenches disappeared under the barrage of exploding shells. The infantry then fixed bayonets and advanced through the still uncut wire defences, enfiladed by rifle and machine-gun fire as they tried to take what little cover there was.  Within a few minutes, they had captured the enemy position, killing large numbers and taking 140 prisoners.  Collins was at the forefront of this charge and is reported to have bayonetted fifteen of the Turkish defenders. Having secured the trench, he then led members of the Lewis gun section and set up defences ready to repel any possible counter-attack.  The fighting in this sector ended at about 15.00.  Miraculously, despite being under fire for over nine hours, Collins escaped unscathed.  The attack had cost the battalion 2230 casualties.

The delay in capturing the area south-west of Beersheba prompted the Corps commander to order a classic cavalry charge by the 4th Australian Light Horse which crossed the open ground east of Beersheba and captured the town, thereby forcing the Turks to withdraw and open the route for an assault on Gaza which fell to Allenby’s forces one week later.”

It was for his actions that day that Collins was awarded the Victoria Cross.  The Citation reads:

“For most conspicuous bravery, resource and leadership when, after deployment, prior to an attack, his battalion was forced to lie out in the open under heavy shell and machine-gun fire which caused many casualties.  This gallant non-commissioned officer repeatedly went out under heavy fire and brought wounded back to cover, thus saving many lives.

In subsequent operations throughout the day, Corporal Collins was conspicuous in rallying and leading his command.  He led the final assault with the utmost skill in spite of heavy fire at close range and uncut wire. He bayonetted fifteen of the enemy and, with a Lewis gun section, pressed on beyond the objective and covered the reorganisation and consolidation most effectively although isolated and under fire from snipers and guns.

He showed throughout a magnificent example of initiative and fearlessness.”

He was decorated with the VC by HM King George V at Buckingham Palace on 1 June 1918.

Details of the Medal Citation for the DCM.

“……..(As part of the assault on Jerusalem) on 29 Nov 1917 D and B Company were ordered to take the village of Beit-ur-et-Foqa commencing at 20.00 and arriving at 03.30 the next day. The assault commenced 15 minutes later and, at first, everything went well.  D Company and part of B Company, a force of only 80 men, traversed the difficult terrain and reached their objective just as dawn was breaking, catching the Turkish garrison completely by surprise as they were either forming up on parade or preparing a meal.  Dividing his small force into two Maj Rees advanced and captured a Turkish officer. When they reached the village, using the prisoner as an interpreter, they called upon the garrison to surrender.  The Turks appeared to be complying with the request before opening fire with six machine-guns which fortunately had little effect, as the men were able to take cover behind low garden walls from where they returned fire.  Collins, by this time a sergeant, was instrumental in organising part of his line and was able to bring very effective fire onto the Turkish positions.  In a very short period of time, the Turks began to put up their hands and the entire garrison quickly surrendered.  The Welsh troops found themselves in charge of more than 450 prisoners and a small escort was detailed to take them back to the British lines.  Maj Rees attempted to contact the British line for support but was unsuccessful.  The main Turkish force then realised that Beit-ur-et-Foqa had been captured by an under-strength British unit and began to close on the village from all directions. By 08.00 they were surrounded and under fire from all sides.  Amongst the four officers and thirty men, John Collins played a pivotal role in visiting each group of defenders to ensure that they were being used to the best possible advantage. Rees, realising that his position was untenable, then withdrew his men from the village and succeeded in reaching the British lines at 09.45. The village was recaptured later that day by a stronger force from the 2259 Brigade.”

It was for his actions that day that Collins was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.  The Citation reads:

“For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty.  As soon as the enemy opened fire at point blank range, he rallied all the men near him, took control of a portion of the line, and brought every available rifle to bear on the enemy.

During the consolidation he did exceptionally good work, and later, when the enemy counter-attacked, went under heavy fire from post to post to see that they were being held to the best advantage.

His ability and devotion to duty were of the highest order”

Collins was decorated with the DCM by the Brigade Commander on 4 January 1918.

Memorial stone for John Collins at St Tydfil’s Church

A Forgotten Grave, I Presume?

Sir Henry Morton Stanley

Most people will have heard of Sir Henry Morton Stanley, the journalist and explorer who was famous for his exploration of central Africa and his search for missionary and explorer David Livingstone. He is the person who is supposed to have uttered the famous phrase “Dr Livingstone, I presume?” upon finding him.

A few people may know he was Welsh, having been born John Rowlands in Denbigh on 28 January 1841, but how many people know that his great-grandfather is buried in Merthyr Tydfil?

The following article from the Western Mail 128 years ago today will tell you more….

Western Mail – 22 May 1889

Freedom of the Borough

Ceremony of the Conferment of the Freedom of the County Borough of Merthyr Tydfil

by Carl Llewellyn

On Thursday 18 April 2002, the County Borough of Merthyr Tydfil bestowed two of its sons – Dowlais born Sir Glanmor Williams C.B.E and Cefn Coed born Major Tudor Price M.B.E, the freedom of the town.

The ceremonial proceedings began at St. Tydfil’s Church, where invited guests were able to view the Conferment of the nominated Honorary Freemen. I was fortunate to be an invited guest through my association with the Merthyr Tydfil Historical Society. At the commencement of the ceremony a fanfare of trumpets hailed the entrance of the Mayor, preceded by the mace and accompanied by the Chief Executive; Council Leader; Leader of the opposition; local Councillors; Mayor’s chaplain; present Freemen and Honorary Freemen elect.

The procession led by the Mayor proceeded to the designated platform assembled in front of the Church altar where the Master of Ceremonies, Mr Gordon Gray called for silence for prayers to be said by Canon Gareth Foster. The Chief Executive then read the notice convening the meeting with confirmation by the Council who unanimously agreed the proposal and indicated their confirmation by voting again.

The Mayor asked both Sir Glanmor Williams and Major Tudor Price if they would accept the Honorary Freedom of the County Borough of Merthyr Tydfil, and after both men agreed they were asked to read the oath. The Mayor then presented both honourees with their illuminated Commemorative scrolls, with floral tributes presented to Lady Fay Williams and Mrs Elsie Price by the Mayoress. The Master of Ceremonies then introduced a young lady called Zoe Perman who entertained the gathering with her angelic voice.

She sang “Ar Lan y Mor” and “Bring Him Home”, and the acoustics of St Tydfil’s Parish Church assisted Zoe’s vocal ability producing a harmonious resonance. The ceremony finished with the singing of the Welsh National Anthem, and the Mayor led the procession, preceded by the Mace, and followed by the Civic Party Honorary; Freemen and Members of the County Borough of Merthyr Tydfil, to Rhydycar Leisure Centre, where a celebratory dinner awaited the invited guests. The Mayor’s Chaplin Canon Gareth Foster said grace, with the toasts proposed by the Mayor.

In keeping with tradition the dinner menu was Cawl Cennin (Leek soup ) followed by Roast leg of lamb with laver bread stuffing topped with crisp pastry, served with mint sauce and redcurrant jelly, also hasselback and baby new potatoes and braised leeks, sugar snap peas, and baton carrots. The third course was a Raspberry Mist, followed with Cheeses, celery and grapes. To finish there was coffee and after dinner mints. The after dinner speeches began with Councillor  Royston Thomas, leader of the local labour party, giving an account of why the nominees Sir Glanmor Williams and Major Tudor Price where chosen as freemen.

Sir Glanmor Williams C.B.E.

Sir Glanmor Williams is undoubtedly one of Wales’ most illustrious living sons. His achievements all testify to the strength and affectionate links he feels for the town of his birth Merthyr Tydfil. On the commencement of the 21st Century, when perhaps distinguished academic accomplishments require strength and popular models, Sir Glanmor serves as a shining example through his hard work, loyal endeavour and dedication to the generation in South Wales. Sir Glanmor justifiably meets all the requirements for conferring the, Freedom of the County Borough. He is one of the great contemporary Welshman admired and respected throughout the cultural life of Wales and indeed throughout the world. When Sir Glanmor was called upon to make a speech, he described himself as “Bachgen o Dowlais”. He then went on to comment about dizzy professors, which led him to a story about an old Minister in Dowlais, who was very forgetful. One day when he arrived at one of the railway stations in Dowlais he’d forgotten his railway ticket. The ticket collector, realising the Minister’s dilemma, said, “Don’t worry about your ticket Reverend, I know who you are.” The Reverend answered, “Thank you, kind Sir, it’s very kind of you, but the ticket is not my biggest problem, I’ve forgotten where I’m supposed to be going”.

Major Tudor Price M. B. E.

Major Tudor Price has achieved many things in his lifetime, not only in the Armed forces, but also in the community at large, Indeed when the Queen bestowed the honour in 1982 , it was for his developments in relationships between military and civilian population. Major Tudor joined the South Wales Borderers in 1946, rising through the ranks and eventually commissioned into the Welsh Regiment before retiring as a Major in 1989. He saw active service in Korea, Cyprus, and Northern Ireland, and was stationed in Hong Kong and Germany in a career spanning 43 years, serving King, Queen and Country. There is no doubt that Major Tudor Price is a man of presence who is not only a great ambassador for the Royal British Legion but also for Merthyr Tydfil.

In the past 100 years the town of Merthyr Tydfil has only conferred the honour of freeman on at least 27 occasions, which clearly underlines the importance of such an honour.

Sir Glanmor Williams
Major Tudor Price


The Fountain

We’ve all seen it but what do we know about the Fountain in Caedraw?

The Fountain in 2015

The fountain was commissioned in 1906 to mark the granting of the charter for Merthyr’s Incorporation as a County Borough. The fountain was a gift of Sir William Thomas Lewis, the Merthyr-born coal magnate and philanthropist, as a tribute to Robert and Lucy Thomas, his wife’s grandparents.

Lucy Thomas (1781-1847), was one of the most remarkable people in the South Wales coalfield. She is considered to be the ‘Mother of the Welsh steam coal trade’. It was the coal from the Waun Wyllt Colliery at Troedyrhiw opened by her husband Robert in 1824 that helped to establish the reputation of Welsh coal on the London market.

The fountain, designed by W Macfarlane & Co, and manufactured at the Saracen Foundry, Possilpark, Glasgow was an elaborate canopied drinking fountain, 18ft. by 4ft. The open filigree canopy was supported by eight columns with griffin terminals which were positioned over capitals with foliage frieze above square bases. The highly decorated cusped arches were trimmed with rope mouldings. Cartouches contained within each lunette offered shields for memorial: a miner wielding a pick axe; a working miner; the coat of arms of St. Tydfil; and a dedication shield. Doves and flowers offered decorative relief on the circular, ribbed dome. The internal capitals contained flowers, and lion mascarons were placed on internal lunettes. The cast iron structure was surmounted by a heroic classical figure of Samson inscribed Strength.

Under the canopy stood the font. A circular shaft, ornamented with water lilies, rested on a wide base with canted corners. Four lion jambs supported four highly decorated quatrefoil basins. Rising from the centre was a pyramid shaped stanchion decorated with swan and bird decoration. A kylix-shaped lamp terminal with four consoles originally offered drinking cups suspended by chains.

The inscription on the dedication shield read:

Erected by Sir William T. Lewis and William Thomas Rees of Aberdare and presented to their native town in commemoration of Robert and Lucy Thomas of Waunwyltt in this parish, the pioneers in 1828 of the South Wales steam coal trade

The fountain was originally sited on a raised plinth near the site of the present-day Caedraw roundabout. It remained there until 1966 when it was moved due to the widening of the road, and the canopy was re-sited in front of St Tydfil’s Church, on the site of the current car-park. By this time the original drinking troughs had been removed and the canopy needed restoration, but the whereabouts of the original drinking fountain and five of the eight shields is unknown.

The Fountain at its original site. Photo courtesy of

In 1988 it was designated a Grade II listed monument, and in 1993 as a result of a refurbishment programme, the fountain was moved to its present position immediately south of St. Tydfil’s Church. In 1995 Merthyr Council awarded the project to restore the fountain to Acorn Restorations Ltd and the re-sited and refurbished fountain was officially opened in July 1996.

The Carlton Workingmen’s Hotel

105 years ago today, a report was published in the Merthyr Express about the opening of the Carlton Workingmen’s Hotel. The building is better known today as the Ex-Servicemen’s Club.

Many thanks to Carl Llewellyn for transcribing the article below:

Carlton Workingmen’s Hotel

(by a visitor)

The fine building which has been erected at the bottom of High Street by Mr Nathanial Moss, and which will in future be known as the Carlton Workingmen’s Hotel, will be opened to-morrow (Saturday). It has often been urged that the Merthyr Corporation ought to provide a municipal lodging-house. Such a place was needed, and Mr Moss has met the want. He has erected a substantial building, which has certainly improved this part of the town, and will prove a great boon to those who frequent lodging-houses. I have been in many similar institutions, but I do not remember one that was better arranged. Mr Moss is certainly to be commended for his public spirited enterprise.

The building is three stories high, and the front of red pressed brick, faces the old Parish Church. It is 80 feet long and the height from floor to the apex is 40 feet. The rooms are all commodious and well lighted. They are also well ventilated – a most important matter in institutions of this character. In every room there are wall boxes to admit fresh air and outlets for foul air. The site on which the hotel has been built was formally occupied by old dwellings, which projected on to the pavement at one corner and were set back at the other corner. Mr Moss, however secured a straight building line, though he had to pay a substantial sum for the privilege.

A wide entrance from the main street gives access to the hotel, and on the right of the passage there is an assembly room about 40 feet long and 18 feet wide. It contains four polished tables, dozens of Windsor chairs, and a number of smoking chairs, besides an upholstered settee. At the rear and parallel to the assembly room is a kitchen almost as long as the assembly room and about 20 feet wide. Here there is a large cooking-range, one of the best in South Wales. It has all the latest appliances, and is well adapted for such an institution. Lockers are provided for lodgers in which to keep provisions etc. Opening off the kitchen is a pantry for crockery and cooking utensils which are provided for the use of lodgers. Close at hand is a bathroom with hot and cold water. At the rear is a washing place, with six or eight basins, and a couple of foot baths, all with hot and cold water attached. This room also contains a number of shelves for bundles of clothes, and a smaller room adjoining, which is well heated, is fitted up as a wash-house, and there are racks on which wet clothes can be hung to dry. At the back there is a big yard, enclosed, and in summer time men will have the privilege of using this. There are four or five w.c.’s. and lavatories, all on up-to-date principles.

On the first floor, which is approached by wide stairs, there is a large sleeping room containing forty-four single beds. This room has windows on three sides. There is another drying room here, and bathroom and w. c. adjoining. On the top floor there are three more sleeping rooms, one of which contains forty-six beds, and another twenty-two beds, and a smaller room with three beds. In all, there is accommodation for 120 beds. Another w.c. is provided on the top floor. The bedsteads, which are substantial, are of iron, with wire mattresses, flock mattresses and pillows. Three blankets, two sheets, and a counterpane are provided for each bedstead.

All the walls are distempered and the woodwork painted. The hotel is lighted throughout by gas, inverted incandescent mantles having been adopted. Ample provision has been made to cope with fire. There are two fire escapes from each of the upper floors, and 60 feet of hose pipes on each floor, with necessary appliances

The hotel is to be conducted on methodical lines, and rules and regulations are displayed in every room. For weekly lodgers the charge will be 3s, per week, and nightly visitors will be charged 6d, per night. For these moderate charges men will have single beds, the use of the kitchen for cooking purposes, the large assembly room for games or conversation, the washery and drying room and dining room and the other conveniences, including footbaths. A charge of twopence extra will be made for the use of the slipper baths. As I have mentioned, lockers are provided in the kitchen, and each man can have a key on paying a deposit of sixpence, which will be returned when he gives up the key

Separate apartments are provided for the manager, and there is also a shop which can be approached without leaving the hotel. The idea is to sell provisions here, which will be a great convenience for lodgers.

Mr Moss has been fortunate in the selection of a manager. Mr. W.F. Rowley who was airing beds, when I called on Wednesday, is an ex- Army man, having served ten years with the colours. He was in the East Yorkshire Regiment, and was for nearly two years in South Africa during the Boer War. He left the Army with a splendid character, and for seven years he has charge of municipal homes in Bristol. He has come from Bristol with excellent credentials. A better selection could hardly have been made.

As I have remarked, the institution is a credit to Mr Moss, and will supply a long felt want. The foundations were commenced in August, and it has taken only fifteen weeks to complete the hotel. The total cost of the hotel, which has been erected from the plans prepared by Messrs. Johnson and Richards, architects, cannot be much less the £3,500.


Merthyr Express – 16 December 1911

Heritage Calendar

Many thanks to Carolyn Jacob for the following:

The 2017 Old Merthyr Tydfil Heritage Calendar is now available. The calendar is dedicated to the memory of Alan George, the founder of the website, and features a selection of Alan’s favourite photographs, chosen by him shortly before his untimely death last year.calendar

The calendar, which will cost £2.99 is currently available from Ynysfach Engine House, and will be available from Holdaway’s Newsagent, St Tydfil’s Church and Cyfarthfa Castle Museum from next week, or will be available via the Old Merthyr website within the next few weeks.

The story of ‘Martyr’ Tydfil

If we are going to have a blog about the history of Merthyr Tydfil, it is perhaps natural to start with how Merthyr Tydfil got its name.

Stained glass window of St Tydfil at Llandaff Cathedral courtesy of Llywelyn2000

The story starts with the legendary 5th Century king Brychan Brycheiniog. Brychan was allegedly the son of the Irish king Anlach, son of Coronac, and of Marchell ferch Dewdrig heiress of the Welsh kingdom of Garthmadrun, which the couple later inherited. Upon his father’s death, Brychan returned to Garthmadrun and changed its name to Brycheiniog. Brychan had four wives and several concubines and was said to have had 24 sons and 25 daughters. Tydfil was his 23rd daughter by his fourth wife. Most of Brychan’s children were well educated, girls and boys, at a school in Gwenddwr on the Wye and went on to live deeply religious lives.

Tydfil decided to make her home in the Taff Valley, sparsely populated by Celt farmers. She established an early Celtic monastic community, leading a small band of men and women. She built an enclosure around a small wattle and daub church, and she became known for her compassion and healing skills as she nursed both sick humans and animal.

In approximately 480AD, the aged Brychan decided to visit his children one last time. He took with him his son Rhun Dremrudd, his grandson Nefydd and his son along with several servants. They visited his third daughter, Tanglwstl, at her religious community at Hafod Tanglwstl, what is now known as the village of Aberfan, south of Merthyr Tydfil. Brychan wanted to stay with his daughters a little longer, so he sent most of his warriors and Nefydd on ahead, along the homeward journey. The king went on to Tydfil’s home while Rhun and Nefydd’s son were still at Hafod Tanglwstl.

At the time, Wales was experiencing raids from Scottish Picts who had settled in Radnorshire, and it was during Brychan’s journey from Hafod Tanglwstl that one of these raids occurred. Rhun was attacked by a raiding party, a mile from Hafod Tanglwstl and he died defending a bridge over the river at what is now the village of Troedyrhiw. With the bridge undefended, the marauding Picts were free to attack the King’s party. One group destroyed Hafod Tanglwstl, whilst the other attacked Brychan’s party which had reached Tydfil’s community. The party were all murdered, but whilst most ran away or fought, Tydfil knelt and prayed, but she too was cut down.

Tydfil was buried within the church she founded, and a Celtic cross was put up in a clearing near the Taff to mark the place where ‘Martyr’ Tydfil was slain and which became a site of pilgrimage. In the 13th century the cross and wattle and daub church were replaced by a stone church dedicated to Saint Tydfil the Martyr. This was in turn replaced in 1807, and rebuilt again in 1894.

Old St Tydfil’s Church courtesy of Old Merthyr Tydfil (
St Tydfil’s Church courtesy of Steve MT