James Collins was born in Pitullie, Aberdeenshire and moved to Newtongrange as a teenager where he settled and became a fireman (shot firer) with Lothian Coal Company on leaving school. He married and settled at 48 Abbeyland , Newtongrange and was a member of the St Mary’s Masonic Lodge. In May 1915 he enlisted in the 7th Seaforth Highlanders and went to France where he commenced a distinguished military career.
On 16th July,1916 the 7th Seaforths, part of the 9th (Scottish) Division were at Delville Wood, the scene of some of the bitterest and bloodiest fighting on the Somme. James, then a Lance Corporal and a stretcher bearer, went out under fire several times and rescued 13 men who were badly wounded, in doing so he was wounded himself 4 times.
He was shipped home to recover from his wounds and whilst home he heard that he had been awarded the recently introduced Military Medal.
When James returned to France he was transferred from the 7th Seaforth Highlanders to the 6th Battalion, part of the crack 51st Highland Division. On 9th April 1917 the 51st were engaged in heavy fighting in the Arras offensive. James was in the thick of the fighting and distinguished himself as a Lewis gunner in an attack near Vimy Ridge.
For this, he was awarded a Bar to his Military Medal.
By late 1917 James was a highly respected member of the Battalion and was about to be decorated for a third time. The 51st Highland Division had been heavily involved in the capture of Bourlon Wood , where the Highlanders were to attack with the assistance of tanks, sadly the tanks never arrived, the attack went ahead anyway and was a great success despite very heavy casualties. James was in the thick of it and was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for gallantry.
His citation for the medal
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. After his platoon commander had become a casualty, he led them with great skill and gallantry to their objective, which he consolidated under heavy machine-gun fire. When hostile fire caused his platoon to cease work, he immediately led four of his men to a position from which he could enfilade the enemy machine-gun, which he and two others then rushed and captured, having killed two of the team by rifle grenades.
James was sent home on special leave to Newtongrange as a reward for his bravery and promoted to Corporal.
In September of 1918, the writing was on the wall for the Germans, but they continued to fight on with great stubbornness and bravery. On 26th August,1918 the 51st were back in action at the Chemical Works at Rouex, after 5 days of savage fighting it captured the strong points at Roeux, Greenland Hill and Plouvain.
James, who was in charge of a section of men, was heavily involved through this period of fighting, he again performed in an exemplary manner and was awarded his 4th decoration, a Bar to the Distinguished Conduct Medal.
Here is his citation
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. Throughout a week’s fighting this N.C.O. set a fine example in organising the men in trying situations. He rallied a platoon of another unit which was withdrawing leaderless, and put it in position. He reorganised fragments of another brigade. By a personal reconnaissance he obtained good information and placed troops to cover the flank. He brought a wounded man out of action on his back, and on every occasion used his rifle with good effect.
Corporal Collins became Sergeant Collins and he was presented with his Bar by General Harper the Divisional Commander of the 51st Highland Division. His reputation in the Division was sky high. He returned home to Newtongrange on leave shortly thereafter where he was the guest of honour at a dinner in the Masonic Hall and presented with a magnificent gold watch.
The war ended a couple of months later and James returned to his job at the Lady Victoria pit in Newtongrange, a quiet and unassuming man.
To put his achievement in to perspective in World War One around 6 million men served in HM Forces, the Victoria Cross was awarded 628 times.
Only a handful of men, perhaps as few as 6 or 7, won the Military Medal and Bar, Distinguished Conduct Medal and Bar.
To the best of my knowledge James Collins is only Scotsman to achieve this and was undoubtedly a very brave man.