Tom, Albert, Bill and Harry – A Fearsome Foursome in the Forwards
Daniel Collins, a waterman, married Acquilla Stone in 1866. The couple had six sons and two daughters; four of their sons played rugby for Gloucester. In 1871 the family were living at Island Tivey Court, St Nicholas, Gloucester, but by 1881 they had moved to 2, Tiney’s Court, St Nicholas, and by 1891 to 6, Lower Quay Street, Gloucester.
Between 1887 and 1908, the four brothers, Tom, Albert, Bill and Harry collectively made 362 appearances for Gloucester.
Thomas Collins, the eldest brother, was born in 1868. He made his first appearance for Gloucester on 15th October 1887, coming straight into the 1st XV in a victory by three goals and one try to nil against Royal Agricultural College at Cirencester. The following week he made his debut for the 2nd XV against Newport 2nds. He made eight further first team appearances that season, including the best performance of the season in the last game against Cardiff, when “the Gloucester players retired the victors of one of the best and most exciting games ever played at the Spa, the score reading – Gloucester, one converted goal and one try to one dropped goal”. It was one of only two defeats suffered by Cardiff that season.
During the following season, 1888-89, Tom commanded a regular place in the First XV, playing in all 23 fixtures, of which 15 were won, and only three lost. He scored his first points for the Club with two conversions against the Civil Service on 25th February 1889, as Gloucester won by two goals and one try to nil. It was reported that “from the first two of the tries Collins kicked excellent goals, the first especially being a fine kick. The third kick was an almost equally good one, and passed over the post.”
A few days later, Tom scored his first try on 2nd March 1889 against Swindon Rangers. However, his kicking did not go so well as “all the place-kicks, entrusted to Collins, proved failures, most of them through the inability of the kicker to raise the ball sufficiently to cover the bar, for the greater number passed under the cross-bar – out of the whole eleven tries scored, though several of the kicks were of the easiest possible description, only one was converted into the major point. There is no disguising the fact that the place-kicking was lamentably poor, as the conditions were exceptionally favourable, the ground and ball being hard and dry.” Eventually the captain, Tom Smith, took over the kicking duties, and Gloucester won by one goal and ten tries to nil.
Again the team finished the season in a blaze of glory, Tom participating in the defeat of Swansea by three goals and two tries to one try in the last match, but the season summary commented that “though Collins promised well at one time he afterwards disappointed expectations”.
Tom was selected for the County trial at the Spa on 1st December 1888, in which Gloucester beat the Rest of the County by one goal and nine tries to one try. Two weeks later, he won his first cap for the County against Devon at Exeter, where Gloucestershire fielded a weakened team, as reported by the Gloucester Journal – “As originally selected the back divisions of the Gloucester First XV were to have done service for the county. In consequence of the county executive paying railway fares only, and not hotel expenses to the players, this arrangement collapsed; and though Gloucester did supply the whole of the backs, one of the three-quarters was a second fifteen man, and the other a forward. This is not in disparagement of these men; on the contrary they seem to have performed in a capital manner, but the fact remains that the team was not what a representative county team should be.” Nevertheless the team came away with a draw, two tries apiece, and Tom had the distinction of scoring on debut (and before he had scored a try for his Club). He won a second cap in the defeat at the hands of Somerset by one goal to nil on 12th January 1889.
On 2nd February 1889, Tom played in the biggest match of the season for the County against the New Zealand Maoris (the first international side to tour this country) at the Spa. The visitors won by one goal and one try to one try. On 27th February, Tom travelled to London to represent Gloucestershire against Oxford University in a match played at West Kensington, and again tasted defeat by one goal and two tries to nil.
In 1889-90, Tom played in 18 of Gloucester’s 25 fixtures, during a less successful season in which 14 games were won and eight lost. On 19th October, he made a successful return to goal kicking duties with a conversion in the victory over Swindon Rangers by two goals and one try to nil. In February 1890, Tom took part in the Club’s first tour to the North of England, and it was reported that “the tour was thoroughly enjoyed by the team, who spent an extremely pleasant time, and every man conducted himself in a thoroughly creditable manner. The only drawback was a black fog which hung over Manchester during the whole of the time the party were there, but this was not allowed to interfere with the enjoyment.” Tom and his brother, Albert, played in both games, which resulted in defeats at the hands of Swinton and Wigan – perhaps they all enjoyed the tour too much.
On 30th November 1889, Tom scored a try in the County trial, but subsequently missed the first Gloucestershire match against Somerset. He came back to star against Devon at the Spa on 11th January 1890, when “not many minutes from the kick-off, some clever passing, in which several forwards took part, gave T Collins an opportunity, and he fell over the Devon goal line with a try, amidst tremendous cheering. The place was close to the touch-line, and Hughes could not convert the point; but the home men, not to be denied, continued to press their opponents, and a minor was quickly followed by a second try, T Collins again distinguishing himself by taking the leather in a line-out a few yards from the goal line, and scrambling over close to touch.” With no score in the second half, Gloucestershire won by two tries to one.
Gloucester had a very successful season in 1890-91, winning 21 and losing only two of their 26 fixtures. On 14th February 1891, Gloucester travelled to Moseley, where “the welcome interval arrived with only one try scored, and Gloucester now had to play up the slope, whilst T Collins was unfortunate enough to bring his stomach into violent contact with an opponent’s knee, which proved better able to stand the shock of the collision than Collins’s stomach, the result being that Tom was laid out for a short while, and had to change his position in the field for some minutes from forward to very full back;” Tom’s brother, Albert, scored the Gloucester try in a 1-1 draw. Two weeks later, during a 4-1 win away at Cardiff, Tom was reported to have “played a very strong game for Gloucester”. In a scrappy game against Cardiff Harlequins on 21st March 1891, Gloucester scrambled home by two tries to nil – “Tom Collins fell on the ball on the second occasion,” and was credited with doing “a lot of hard work”. But Tom was less available than in previous seasons, making twelve appearances, although the season summary identified “nine who may be regarded as first men” amongst the forwards, including Tom.
He missed the County trial but notched up two more County caps, when he returned to the side for the final south-west game against Somerset at Bath on 5th February 1891. Gloucestershire won 3-0, and Tom was selected again for the County Championship semi-final against Lancashire at Manchester on 14th March, but the home team won comfortably, 14-0.
Tom’s appearances declined further in 1891-92, when he made nine for the Club, but this came about largely because of a falling out with the Club committee, as the Citizen reported “on the 9th of January frost prevented Gloucester from securing a second victory over the Old Edwardians, and on the 15th the team rested again, London Scottish being unable to get a sufficiently representative team together. The want of a match, however, did not prevent a split in the home ranks on a matter of selection. T Collins and C and J Williams thought each and all of them should play when it suited them, and the committee very properly decided to do without their services altogether rather than submit to any dictation.”
Tom played in the County’s first match of the season against Somerset at Bath on 2nd December 1891. Gloucestershire lost 4-5, but the state of the ground was so bad that the contest was reduced to a 20 minute each-way exhibition game. This proved to be his final appearance for the County; he finished with eight caps and three tries.
Summarising at the end of the 1892-93 season, the Citizen reported that “T Collins, J Williams, and C Williams, who, it will be remembered, through some unfortunate misunderstanding with the committee, only played half way through the season before, again figured in the team,” but Tom made only six appearances. He was brought back into the side when the committee felt the need for strengthening against Newport, but the game was lost 0-29, and Tom was dropped for the game against Cardiff the following week, which was also lost 2-13.
He did not play at all in 1893-94, but returned for eight games in 1894-95. He scored his last try in a 23-0 win against Old Edwardians on 23rd February 1895, when he was described as “the veteran,” and made his final appearance in a 0-8 defeat by Salford on 15th April 1895. His career record with Gloucester amounted to 85 appearances, three tries and three conversions
Albert was born in 1869, was working as a boatman by 1891, and as a dock labourer in 1901. Albert married Lily Eva Baldwin at St Nicholas, Gloucester in 1889, and the couple lived at 1, Lower Quay Lane whilst Albert was playing for Gloucester. The couple had six children
He first played for the Gloucester second team in a win on the Spa against Monmouth on 9th November 1889. The game ended prematurely when “Stoddart rushing up just saved the ball from going into touch, and dribbled over the visitors’ goal line, and scored a try, which the visitors disputed, alleging that the ball crossed the touch line. The referee, Mr. T. G. Smith, decided that the try was valid and Watts kicked a fourth goal. The visitors refused to charge the kick, and also refused to give way and go on with the game, and after waiting some ten minutes the referee declared the game over and left the field. The players then retired amidst the hoots of the crowd, Gloucester having scored 4 goals to nil.”
A month later on 7th December 1889 Albert made his debut for the First XV against Swansea, but it was played on a snow-bound Spa, and the teams agreed to play an exhibition game, twenty minutes each way. Albert was described as “conspicuous” and “A Collins succeeded in putting the leather over the goal line behind the uprights, but was called back for a previous infringement”. It was the closest either side came in a 0-0 draw. This was the second of nine successive games in which Gloucester kept their opponents scoreless. Albert was selected to play again the following week, another 0-0 draw, against Cardiff, played in such a thick fog that little could be reported on the game other than the crowd’s antipathy towards the referee who came from Newport.
In the first half of the game against Penygraig on Boxing Day 1889, “Healing, A Collins, and Cromwell dribbled finely over the goal line, and Ball was fortunate in falling on the leather and scoring the third try”. At the end of the match “when scarcely a moment remained for play, A Collins secured possession in the loose, and dexterously avoiding the opposite full back, ran nearly three quarters of the distance from one goal to the other, and was unfortunate in being overtaken and grassed on the goal line. The whistle immediately sounded, the game ending in a victory for the home team by one goal, two tries, and two minors to nothing.”
Albert thereafter played fairly regularly for the 1st XV for the rest of that season, ending with 13 appearances, and in the end-of-season review, his introduction was seen as having strengthened the team. He continued to occasionally turn out for the 2nd XV, and scored a try in their victory over Lydney by four goals and two tries to nil on 21st December 1889. He also accompanied his brother on the Club’s first tour to the North of England, reported above.
Albert made his debut for Gloucestershire in a win by two tries to nil against Devon at the Spa on 11th January 1890. He played alongside his elder brother, Tom, who scored two tries, and the Gloucester Journal reported that “the forwards all played well, A Collins being amongst the best,” but he was not selected for any further games that season.
For the next five seasons, 1890-95, Albert was a first choice selection for Gloucester, scoring five or six tries a season, generally playing as a forward, but also at half-back when called upon to do so. In 1890-91, Albert played in all of the Club’s 26 games, of which 21 were won and only two were lost.
He had to wait almost a year from his first appearance before he scored his first try for the Club, against Rugby on 11th October 1890, but made up for lost time by scoring a hat trick. The match report describes how “Collins brought off Georgie Coates’s old trick of charging through the line-out, and, running down the touch line, threw across to Jenkins, who scored under the posts; Powell once more made a clinking run, and enabled Collins to score; Bagwell got a tricky try under the posts; Bolton slipped over from a scrummage near the line; Collins ran in from the half way; Page scored after a dribble; Collins added his third try; and Hughes, Page, and Mugliston between them converted five of the 13 tries scored,” as Gloucester won 23-0.
On 14th February 1891 at Moseley, “a scrimmage was formed in front of the Moseley goal from which Albert Collins succeeded in grounding the leather over the line. Hughes made a fatal mistake in sending the ball just wide of the mark from the easiest possible position,” and the match ended in a 1-1 draw, a try apiece. Two weeks later at Cardiff, Albert had a good game in a 4-1 win, but attracted some criticism in the match report for not consistently getting stuck in – “A Collins completed a strong run by scoring….The Gloucester “ups” dribbled remarkably well, and had one or two of the eight who spent a good deal of the time hovering round the outskirts gone into the scrimmage with the same readiness and determination as did their colleagues, the home pack would have been routed in the tight work. As it was, with Page and A Collins doing more waiting than pushing, the scrimmages were hotly contested, sometimes one side and sometimes the other getting the advantage, and often without advantage to either….Albert Collins after winging badly during the greater part of the time, went into the game with heart and soul for the last quarter of an hour, and assisted materially in playing down the Cardiff pack during that time. His try was a creditable effort, and in order to score it he had to overcome considerable opposition.”
At the end of the season, Albert was described as one of the “first men” amongst the forwards, but it was also noted that “A Collins has scored a lot of tries, but he, too, as we have often stated, has not done that share of the hard work that some others have borne”.
On 11th December 1890, Albert score two tries in the County trial, in which his City team was drawn entirely from the Gloucester Club, but with only 13 players, beat the County 16-0. He was called up for only one appearance in the south-west group, his second cap, against Somerset at Bristol on 29th January 1891 – the result was a 0-0 draw. However, when Gloucestershire won through to a County Championship semi-final against Lancashire at Manchester on 14th March 1891, Albert was selected but suffered defeat, 0-14.
In 1891-92, Albert played in 24 of Gloucester’s 34 fixtures, another successful season in which 24 were won and six lost. Early in season, on 3rd October 1891, Albert scored two tries in the second half of a match at Stratford-upon-Avon, a team which had “on more than one occasion made a good fight for the Midland Cup,” contributing to a win by two goals and four tries to two goals. A week later he played in the match which marked the opening of the Kingsholm ground, when Burton were defeated by two goals and four tries to nil, and after the match attended a celebratory dinner at the Spread Eagle.
He scored another brace of tries against Old Edwardians on 7th November, when Gloucester won by four goals and five tries to nil. Towards the end of the season, on 26th March, in a tight match against London Scottish, the only score of the game came when “the try gained by Collins just on the conclusion of the game was the result of a most determined effort on the part of the Gloucester team generally and of that player in particular”. The team celebrated with a smoking concert at the Spread Eagle. Two days later, Albert was in the Gloucester team which met the Barbarians for the first time, and won a notable victory by 10 points (two goals) to 9 (one goal and two tries), with a try scoring two points and a conversion three.
On 9th April, Albert finished off a win against Devonport Albion by three goals and one try, when “from the line-out Collins got possession and raced in under the posts”. At the end of the season, the Citizen said of Albert that “he has proved very valuable in the loose, and has taken upon himself his share of the honest forward work”.
In 1892-93, Gloucester had an indifferent season, with 16 wins and 12 losses from their 31 matches. Albert played in 19 of them, missing several when injured. He scored a try in the early season game against Gloucester Next XX, which was drawn a try apiece, and again in the first match against another club, when Bristol were defeated 15-0. Early in the game “Gloucester scored their first definite point − a goal − in a very unusual manner. A Collins was dribbling the leather, with several others, towards the Bristol goal when the former got his foot under the ball and lifted it beautifully over the cross-bar.” It proved to be the only dropped goal which Albert scored in his entire playing career. Albert also scored the final points of the match, when “after a determined onslaught on the Bristol goal, A Collins managed to drop on the ball and score a try after a dribble by Jenkins”.
He had to wait until 18th February 1893 to register his next try, but then scored two against Leicester. After a scoreless first half, “it was a fine piece of work which was the means of obtaining the first try, Gough being the shining light, though Albert Collins succeeded in planting the leather over the line”. Late in the game “A Collins, from a combined forward rush which Leicester were powerless to check, obtained his second point,” and Gloucester won 12-0 (two goals and one try), with Albert described as “very prominent in the open”. Four days later, Albert scored a crucial try at Oxford University, where Gloucester won 5-2 (one goal to one try).
In a summary of the season, it was reported that “of the “old ‘uns, Jenkins and A Collins have been invaluable, and have stuck to the club well. The former kept up his reputation for hard work throughout, and the latter for his brilliance in the open. Collins, unfortunately, was several times injured, and was kept out of one or two important games in consequence, but on recovering each time he again donned the jersey, and eventually finished out the season.”
Albert did not play in the early County matches, but was recalled for the game against Devon at Exeter on 7th December 1892, but Gloucestershire lost 4-17 and went out of the County Championship.
In 1893-94, Albert played in 28 of Gloucester’s 30 fixtures, of which 19 were won and ten lost. In the season summary, the Citizen said that Albert had been one of the “principal stays of the pack,” and had “exhibited all his old brilliance in the open,” whilst the Chronicle reported that “A Collins, C Williams, and Wellings, have set their confreres a good example, of which they have not been slow to take advantage of. The wheeling and heeling out of the whole pack have been of an exceptionally high order.”
On 26th April 1894, Albert played for Gloucestershire and South Wales in their 19-0 victory over Yorkshire, the reigning County Champions, at Kingsholm. He made his final County appearances against Somerset at Bristol on 27th October 1894 (lost 0-4) and Surrey at Richmond on 6th March 1895 (lost 4-18), finishing with seven caps.
He also played for Western Counties in their 8-6 victory over Midland Counties at Exeter on 31st October 1894, an England trial which marked the peak of his rugby career.
Although suffering several injuries playing for Gloucester in 1894-95, he was nevertheless described as “invaluable” whilst showing his “brilliance in the open”. He made his final Club appearance on 16th March 1895 against Weston-super-Mare, injury finally terminating his career after 132 appearances, during which he scored 28 tries and kicked one conversion and one dropped goal.
In 1898, Albert played three games of Association Football for Gloucester City, scoring two goals. Albert’s wife, Lily, died in 1902, leaving Albert with six children aged between 12 and a baby. He remarried to Judith Bridget “Biddy” Berry, and they had three more children. By 1911 the family had moved to 4, Alma Place. Although Albert was aged 45 when the Great War started, he enlisted and was allocated to the Worcestershire Regiment rather than the Glo’sters, and served in the defence of England rather than being deployed abroad. He died in Gloucester on 10th January 1924, aged 55.
The third son, William, was born in 1872. A forward, he first wore the cherry and white for the Second XV in their first game of the season against Swindon Rangers on 3rd October 1891, and made nine further appearances for them that season. He made his debut for the First team on 31st October 1891 in a win by three goals to nil at Leicester, his only appearance that season.
On 17th September 1892, Bill played well for the Gloucester Next XX in a draw a try apiece, against the First XV, which contained both his elder brothers, Tom and Albert. He started the season in the 2nd XV, and in their first match scored a try at Gordon League, which was the only score in a 2-0 win. On 15th October, he scored two tries in a 28-0 victory for the 2nd XV over Swindon Rangers. Two weeks later he scored another in a 21-2 win at Cheltenham, and the following month was promoted to the 1st XV.
On 19th November, Gloucester travelled to Leicester, where they won 16-0, and “the new addition, W Collins, though rather small, showed up splendidly once or twice with capital dribbles”. The following week, Bill was retained in the side against Moseley, and was reported to be one of “the most prominent” amongst the forwards, but tasted his first defeat, 4-5. Thereafter he was selected regularly for the First XV, and appeared in 20 of the season’s 31 fixtures, of which 16 were won and 12 lost.
In the Boxing Day match against Old Merchant Taylors, Bill “dribbled well” and Gloucester won 7-2. In the 3-4 defeat at Coventry on 11th February 1893, “W Collins and Walter George were most conspicuous for individual bits of play”. The highlight of the season came when a single try gave Gloucester a 2-0 win over Swansea on 8th April 1893, during which “the forwards all worked hard,” and W Collins was credited with “being very conspicuous”. A week later, in the last game of the season against Stroud on 15th April 1893, in a 4-5 defeat, Bill scored his first try for the 1st XV, although he had also scored four for the 2nd XV that season.
The end of season summary commented that “W Collins, who showed very promising form last year, found a permanent place in the team, and has done honest and sound work”. But 1892-93 proved to be the only season when he was a regular first choice player.
In 1893-94, he appeared in 13 of the Club’s 28 fixtures. In the first competitive fixture of the season, against Bristol, “W Collins with a fine burst away made considerable headway,” but Gloucester went down 3-7. Having dropped down to the 2nd XV on 21st October, Bill scored two of Gloucester’s four tries in an 18-3 win at Cheltenham, and the following week scored another as Stroud were beaten 8-0. He returned to first team action at Cardiff, and reportedly played well, but a weakened team went down 3-33.
Having another run in the 1st XV in the new Year, Bill scored two tries, which came in successive games. On 17th February 1894, Gloucester played Derby for the first time, entertaining them at Kingsholm in incessant rain, which started several hours before kick-off and rendered the pitch a quagmire – the match was described as “mudlarks versus tadpoles”. In the conditions the much larger Derby pack were expected to dominate, but they ran out of puff, and Bill’s try contributed to a 16-0 victory.
A week later Gloucester travelled to London to play Old Merchant Taylors at Stamford Bridge, then the home of the London Athletic Club, but now the home of Chelsea FC. This was only the second time that Gloucester had played in London, following a visit to London Scottish three years previously. Most of the spectators proved to be folk from Gloucester who were resident in London. Although OMT were already established as regular visitors to Kingsholm for the Boxing Day fixture, this was the only time the clubs met home and away. On Boxing Day 1893, OMT had inflicted a rare defeat, 0-11, on Gloucester. The return fixture, on 24th February, was a close fought encounter, and the match report records that “when half-time arrived no score had been effected, but with the change of ends Gloucester put on an extra spurt, and from a combined forward movement W Collins gained a try in the corner, which proved to be the only point registered in the match”. It was not just his winning try, which proved to be the last he scored for the Club, that Bill had cause to remember. OMTs clearly enjoyed their Christmas outings to Gloucester (which they kept up for about 60 years), and went out of their way to reciprocate, so “that outing to London, noteworthy for the splendid hospitality and entertainment extended to the visitors, was one to be remembered”.
In 1894-95, Bill could not command a regular place in the 1st XV, but made nine appearances, as well as ten for the 2nd XV. The highlight for Bill may have been when he lined up alongside both of his elder brothers, Tom and Albert, for the first time on 9th March 1895, although the trio will have been disappointed when the game was lost 3-12 to Newport. For the 2nd XV Bill contributed tries in victories against Bristol Hornets, the Royal Agricultural College (Cirencester) and Old Edwardians.
Bill did not play for Gloucester in 1895-96, but did stage a bit of a comeback in 1896-97, with three appearances for the 1st XV and eight for the 2nd XV. He scored a final try for the 2nd XV on 30th January 1897 to win the match 3-0 against Lydney. A week later, he made his final appearance for the First XV on 6th February 1897, a 5-0 win against Penarth at Kingsholm. He finished his career with 46 appearances and three tries for the 1st XV; he also racked up at least 40 appearances and 11 tries for the Second team.
Henry “Harry” Collins, the youngest of the brothers to play for Gloucester was born in July 1879 at St Nicholas, Gloucester. In 1881, then aged 12, Harry was employed as an errand boy, but joined the Army on 30th September 1894, enlisting as a Private in the 3rd (Militia) Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment. On 5th October he signed up for eight years with the Colours and five in the Reserve of the Gloucestershire Regiment. He gave his address as 1 St Mary’s Square, and was recorded as being 5ft 7¾ ins tall, and weighing 140 lbs, with grey eyes, brown hair and a fresh complexion. His age was recorded as 19 yrs 2 mths, although he was in fact only 15 years old.
He transferred to the 1st Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment on 30th October 1896, and subsequently served in Egypt (1896-97) and India (1897-99), before arriving in South Africa on 24th September 1899, where he fought in the Boer War. He survived the 118 days of the Siege of Ladysmith, beginning on 30th October 1899. When the siege was finally lifted on 28th February 1990 lifted, the news of the relief was greeted by rejoicing crowds throughout Gloucester, with the main streets decorated with bunting and Union flags. Harry was awarded the Queen’s South Africa Medal with clasps for Orange Free State and Defence of Ladysmith. But after the disaster at Nicholson’s Nek, the 1st Gloucesters were transferred to Ceylon in August 1900 to guard Boer prisoners of war. Harry remained in Ceylon until the end of 1902, when he returned home to Gloucester. He went into the Army Reserve, from which he was discharged in 1906, but opted to become a member of the Special Reserve, and trained with the Worcestershire Regiment.
Back in Gloucester, he was soon playing rugby. Like his brothers he was a forward, usually playing in the back row. His first appearance for the Club was for the Second XV, losing 0-11 to Cardiff A on 28th February 1903. Two weeks later, on 14th March, he made his debut for the First XV, losing 3-8 to Northampton. He played another seven games before the end of that season, but made only one appearance in the following season.
In 1904-05, he came into the side for an 8-5 victory over Bath on 3rd December, and played regularly thereafter, appearing in three games in four days over Christmas, starting with a 5-0 win against Bristol on 24th December. He then scored his first try for the Club against Old Merchant Taylors on Boxing Day in front of a large holiday crowd, when “in a scramble close in Collins was credited with a try;” Gloucester won 27-0. The following day, Gloucester made only one change in their selection and beat London Welsh 13-5; Harry was judged “most conspicuous” in the return fixture in London two weeks later, which Gloucester won 8-5; and “played a hard game” in the subsequent 3-6 loss to Leicester.
In a County Cup game against Cheltenham on 25th February 1905, “Collins was laid out. An examination showed that the Gloucestrian suffered with an injured shoulder, and he had to be assisted off the field,” with a broken collar bone, but Gloucester still won 14-5. Harry was out for the rest of the season, and missed the final against Bristol which saw Gloucester lift the cup. But he had racked up 14 appearances, and was judged to have “distinguished himself in turn”.
He established himself in the senior side for a full season in 1905-06, playing in 32 of the Club’s fixtures, of which 26 were won, eight were lost and three drawn, with a new record number of points scored in a season at 661, whilst only 165 were conceded. Harry played in the first game of the season, before which the new gymnasium (now known as the Lion’s Den) was officially opened, and the celebrations continued when Clifton were defeated 29-0. The following week Bristol were beaten 17-6, and Harry was reported to have “put in some capital footwork”.
Harry played in Gloucester’s biggest match of the season on 19th October 1905, against New Zealand at Kingsholm. What would have been a tough afternoon for Harry and his colleagues against a formidable All Blacks pack was made tougher as a result of Gloucester selecting three half-backs and only seven forwards against the All Blacks eight. It was reported that “at length a miss by a visitor gave the Gloucester forwards a chance. Collins, Parham, and Matthews got possession and dribbled down, but Wallace got back and saved.” But this was a rare chance to get on the front foot as Gloucester were thumped 44-0, although much of the scoring came when Gloucester had a man off injured. In summary “the forwards towards the end were feeling the effects of their arduous work, but on the whole they did creditably considering the weight opposed to them. Matthews, Vears, Parham, and Collins were perhaps the most conspicuous of the seven, but all did well.” After the match the teams were entertained to a reception and tea at the Guildhall and to a performance of Hamlet at the Theatre Royal.
Two days later, a Gloucester team weakened by injuries sustained against the All Blacks, but including Harry, fought out a 3-3 draw with Cheltenham, in a match so poor that it was reported that “a little pugilistic encounter after the match between two of the spectators furnished far more interest and amusement than did the whole of the game”. In the return match between these teams, Harry was praised for his effective line-out work, and Gloucester won 20-0.
Harry missed the Christmas matches, but was back in the team on 30th December for a notable 5-3 victory at Bristol. In January 1906, three of the touring All Blacks paid a return visit to Gloucester, and turned out for the Club in a match against Leicester. Not only did Harry have the pleasure of playing alongside them, but it was noted that “Collins was always in the thick of the fight,” and Gloucester won 20-0. Records of this match differ as to who scored the sixth Gloucester try – one version says that Harry scored it, and another attributes it to Seeling, one of the All Blacks.
On 3rd February, Gloucester defeated Lydney 24-5, but records again differ over one of the try scorers – was it Harry or was it Matthews? On 10th March, Gloucester played Cinderford in the County Cup. Early in the second half “Gloucester came back, and after clever play by Wood, Collins scored a good try”. Gloucester went on to win 9-0. Harry subsequently played in the final against Bristol, and “Collins, with a big punt, kicked past Cranfield,” but the match was lost 3-8.
At Cardiff on 31st March, Harry was “distinguished for good work,” but Gloucester went down 0-15. The following week he played in a 5-0 win, which was the Club’s first success against Newport for seven years. Over Easter, Harry played in three games in four days, starting with a 37-3 win over Hartlepool OB, and finishing with a 20-6 victory over Northampton. Inbetween was a match against Lennox, a London club, during which “a little later Collins ran over, but the whistle had gone for a previous infringement. Ensuing play was very scrambling and in a heavy tackle Harrison was injured and had to leave the field. Holder came out three-quarter, and immediately, from a mistake by the Lennox custodian, Collins scored near the posts. Romans converted.” Gloucester won 30-13.
In a review of the season, the Citizen reported of the forwards that “Gloucester have had a well-trained, clever set of players who have nobly borne their share of the arduous work of the season. H Collins, F Pegler, J Merchant, and J Jewell have all proved their worth.”
During that season, Harry made his debut for the County, appearing against Glamorgan at Cardiff on 2nd November 1905, when Gloucestershire lost 3-17. He won a second cap in a County Championship match against Somerset at Bath on 9th December, but Gloucestershire lost again, 0-13, and that proved to be the last occasion on which Harry was selected.
In 1906-07, Harry made 32 appearances (no other player appeared in more than 29 games), and scored four tries. In the first game of the season against Lydney, “Collins was noticeable in the line outs,” and Gloucester won 6-0. In the first half against Stroud on 10th November, “near the centre A Hall broke away, and passing between the backs saw the Stroud defence beaten, and Collins was credited with a try near the posts”. He came close to another in the second half, when “Johns and one or two other City forwards followed up and kicked past Johnson, but C. Smith got back and put in a punt which was fielded by Stephens. The latter passed to G Vears, who handed on to a colleague, and finally the ball was sent to Collins, who galloped over the line. The movement deserved a try, but the last transfer was ruled forward, and the point consequently disallowed,” but Gloucester won 11-5.
Against London Welsh at Leyton the following week, “the Welsh defence was severely tried, and from a clever cross-kick by Stephens, Collins picked up and sent H. Smith over, but the transfer was ruled forward. From the subsequent scrum H. Smith picked up and, passing to Collins, the latter forced himself over with a good try.” It proved to be the only score of the match. In defeat in the next match against Newport, Harry was nevertheless lauded as a “splendid worker for Gloucester”. In a subsequent defeat at the hands of Bristol, Harry was described as “always prominent”.
On 2nd February 1907, against Cheltenham, “Gent got the ball out to Hall, who cut clean through, and yielding to Collins, the latter scored in a good position” and Gloucester went on to win 12-8. A month later at Leicester, Gloucester went down 5-17, but not before “just inside their own half Leicester started passing, but Collins intercepted, and after Gent had handled Purton galloped over and scored a good try, Wood converting,” and commenting on the performance as a whole, Harry was one of those “often distinguished for individual efforts”.
In the semi-final of the County Cup against Bristol, “from well inside the home half, Hudson started a movement which was taken part in by Frank Smith and Collins. The two latter inter-passed beautifully, and clean beat the defence, but Collins was not fast enough, and was pulled down amidst excitement a few yards from the line.” Which was a shame, as Bristol won 7-5.
Harry scored his last try for the Club in a splendid 15-0 victory over Northampton on 2nd April 1907, when “fine play by Holder started Gloucester going, and Leigh being beaten by footwork, the ball was taken over the line, where Collins dropped on the ball and scored”.
In the end-of-season summary, the Citizen declared that Harry “had proved his worth” and was “a hard worker who had added to his reputation”.
Harry married Florence Edith Eldridge at the Register Office in Gloucester on 20th July 1907, and they raised two sons and a daughter. The family lived in Clare Street. Harry was employed as a stoker, and then engine driver, at Priday, Metford & Co.
In 1907-08, Harry was in and out of the team for the first half of the season, making twelve appearances. He played his last game for Gloucester on 1st February 1908 at Kingsholm against Coventry. An injury meant Gloucester played one short for much of the game and they put in a poor performance, although they had an early chance when “a smart run by Collins gave Gloucester an opening, but a wild pass back lost the opportunity”. Gloucester were under pressure in the pack, although “Johns worked desperately, and his best supporters were Vears, Collins, and Quixley,” but it was not enough and Coventry won 10-0.
Across six seasons Harry had made 99 appearances and scored nine tries for Gloucester, and won two County caps.
At the start of the Great War, as a reservist, Harry enlisted again at Shire Hall, Gloucester, for active service for one year or the duration of the war, and remained with the Worcestershire Regiment as a Private. By now there was no reason to falsify his age, and the medical examination which passed him fit for service recorded that he was 35 yrs 2 mths old, 5 ft 8¾ ins tall, weighed 150 lbs, with grey eyes, brown hair and tattoo marks on both arms. He was transferred to the 1st Battalion Worcesters, and landed in France in November 1914.
On 9th January 1915, in an accident in the trenches, he was shot in the right hand. The military records report that “he was handing a rifle to the corporal in charge of his section, over the water in the trench when the rifle went off and shattered the right forefinger. The corporal was not certain that he himself was not the cause of the accident by touching the trigger as he received the rifle.” Harry was in hospital at Boulogne for four days, before being evacuated by hospital ship to England, and then spending a further fourteen days in hospital at Clacton-on-Sea. On 13th April 1915, the Army Medical Board determined that his “forefinger of right hand missing – has been amputated at metacarpo-phalangeal joint,” and discharged him as permanently unfit for active service due to a bullet wound received on active service – they had no use for a soldier without a trigger finger.
Harry did not need to return to active service – he had already “done his duty” – but he subsequently taught himself to shoot and bayonet fight with his left hand, and less than a year later persuaded the military authorities that he was again fit for active service. He returned to France on 25th February 1916, joining the 10th (Service) Battalion, Worcestershire Regiment on 4th March. On 1st July 1916, he found himself billeted with the 10th Worcesters, west of Albert, in the reserve line for the Somme offensive.
His battalion moved into the front line on 3rd July to take part in the second assault on the fortified village of La Boiselle. At 3:15 am they moved into the ruined village to engage in what the official regimental history described as “hand-to-hand fighting at point blank range, with bombs, bullets or cold steel” and “with the first light of dawn, the fighters now able to recognise each other with certainty, the struggle reached its climax”. Harry survived this assault on La Boiselle, but as the Germans were driven out of the village, they sent up red flares as a signal for the German artillery to launch a bombardment on the village, now that it was clear of German troops. The British soldiers took cover in the abandoned German dugouts, but Harry was buried beneath debris, and subsequently died during the continuing bombardment on 4th July, just before his battalion was relieved.
The fight for La Boiselle not only claimed the life of Harry, but also that of his Gloucester teammate, John “Jack” Price. In the same action, another teammate, Arthur “Ronk” Saunders won the Military Medal for gallantry whilst in charge of a machine gun, but was killed in action on the Somme four months later.
Harry’s body was never recovered and identified. He is commemorated amongst the missing on the Thiepval Memorial, and he was awarded the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. On 16th January 1917, the War Office officially listed Harry as “killed in action” and his widow, Florence, was awarded a weekly pension of twenty shillings and six pence for herself and their three children, a reduction of two shillings and sixpence from what she had received while Harry was still alive.