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William Alexander Carlton Collingwood (1915-1992)

Obituary

BRIGADIER W. A. C. COLLINGWOOD OBE

12 Feb 1915 - 24 Dec 1992

Bill Collingwood died suddenly at home on Christmas Eve, among his family, so further diminishing that 'band of brothers' which was the 6th Airborne Division. He played a key role in the invasion of Europe, the high-spot in a varied and intriguing service as a (not altogether typical) Regular Army officer.

At Charterhouse, as a boy, he boxed, fenced and swam with marked success, riding in the wintertime; then, well equipped for an Army career, he sat the Sandhurst examination and passed high in the list. Displaying all the enthusiasm and cheerfulness that was so characteristic of him, Bill entered wholeheartedly into both military and sporting activities at the Academy, winning the Modern Pentathalon. He went on holiday in Austria, Hungary and Yugoslavia with three other cadets, and they were temporarily arrested in Zagreb for spying - an event which Bill regarded with glee.

In 1935 he was commissioned into the 2nd. Northumberland Fusiliers, who were still using horse transport, and he found himself very much at home in the stables. His sporting activities led him to be selected and to train for the British Olympic squad, due to go to Berlin in 1936. But appendicitis put him out of the team.

While convalescing in Cornwall, he met a number of artists and writers, discovering a strong empathy with them, which he was to develop later on. Then, on holiday in Florence, where he had been guided by some of his new friends, Bill met Barbara Tatham, his future wife.

That year, he learned to fly a BA Swallow aircraft. It was altogether a very happy time for him, especially when he became engaged to, and then married Barbara. Shortly after the Munich crisis, the Collingwoods moved - typically as part of Bill's humour - to Collingwood Terrace, Jesmond, Newcastle.

When war broke out, he instantly volunteered for the 'sharp end', the '5th Scots Guards', cover name for a ski battalion of volunteers for service in Finland against the Russians. Having trained with the Chasseurs Alpins in Chamonix, and prepared to sail, the battalion's operation was called off.

There followed a period of further flying experience, appointment as Adjutant at the Depot, and several courses including the Staff College at Camberley. Bill was appointed Brigade Major of a tank brigade, but when its role was changed to training, that would not do for him at all. Now very well equipped for a prime Army job, he volunteered for the Parachute Regiment,

After a short spell as a company commander in 7 PARA, and then completing his parachute course at Ringway, Bill joined that remarkable 3rd Parachute Brigade team: James Hill the Brigade Commander, Alec Pope the DAA & QMG and Bill the Brigade Major. A private soldier from 9 PARA, temporarily posted to 3 Brigade defence platoon, remembers Bill at the time: 'He always had a smile and a cheery word for all of us. He was a lovely officer!'

On the night of 5 June 1944, Bill left in an Albermarle aircraft with the Pathfinders, having selected the Brigade DZ himself from air photographs. The pilot, a Charterhouse contemporary, could not find the DZ at all, and had to make five circuits of the area. Bill was on the edge of the hole ready to jump, when a near miss with another aircraft and then an AA shell-burst close to the fuselage toppled him out. But somehow his foot had got caught and he hung by one leg under aircraft for an agonising 3/4 hour, wafting in and out of consciousness, until his batman, Pte Allen, and the rest of the stick who had been unable to jump, hauled him in. Among all the dashing parachuting stories, this is a perfectly true one!

Major Napier Crookenden, Bill's opposite number as Brigade Major of the Airlanding (Gliders) Brigade, was eating eggs and bacon in the RAF mess, Brize Norton at 3.30 that afternoon, preparatory to flying over to join the 3rd and 5th Parachute Brigades, when in came a battered figure, his face still covered with camouflage cream, wearing his smock and limping badly. Of course it was Bill, followed closely by his stick.

'Can you give us a lift to Normandy?' he asked, and was at once provided with a spare glider, By 9.30 that evening, Bill was in position at 3 Para. Brigade HQ in Le Mesnil, having come in to Ranville with the 6th Airlanding Brigade, as his second attempt to land in Normandy within 24 hours. Few can claim this double assault on Hitler's 'Western Wall'!

Bill showed great endurance by carrying on with his key role, despite injuries, often under heavy fire and not helped by a wound in his backside, until eventually he had to submit to being evacuated. Graded Category B, he recovered enough to become Chief Instructor at the School of Land/Air Warfare in Old Sarum, which he knew from a previous course there, and it was possible for Barbara to be with him again. So ended the brief war experience of a first rate Regular officer, typical of so many men, full of energy and enterprise and of complete devotion to duty who laid the foundations of the young Airborne Forces.

When the war was over Bill, now A.l fit, went to India as GSO 1 of the Indian Airborne Division but very nearly died of meningitis. Barbara was sent for, came out and remained with him when he had again recovered. They spent memorable leaves together in Goa and Kashmir and thereafter were seldom separated. Regimental duty with his own Royal Northumberland Fusiliers followed in Gibraltar, then Warminster, on the directing staff at Camberley, on the Suez Canal, CO of 1RNF in Northern Ireland, then still a land at peace. Bill commanded Old College at Sandhurst, taught naval history and had a hand in the beginning of the 'Edward Bear' parachute exercises, whose brand of quirkiness in the whole idea appealed to him. He also helped organise the World Modern Pentathalon Championship, based on Sandhurst and, for the two years he was there, his gentle kindness and consideration for the cadets created its own form of discipline.

Bill's Army career ended as Commander of 151 TA Brigade in Durham and North Yorkshire, where he continued to hunt and to ride point to points. The comforts, and the staff which his rank entailed, led him one day to say to himself: 'Too good to be true,' and he applied for his 'Golden Bowler'.

In 1962, he was made Regional Officer of the Independent Television Authority in the South West & the Channel Islands, where he was to indulge his fondness for sailing. His grasp of the job, personality and his way with people all made him a popular figure. Lord Hill soon realised Bill's worth and promoted him Secretary at ITA's HQ, where he organised new contracts at the time when Colour TV first came in.

Three years later, he returned to his beloved South West with lots of sailing and enjoyment from his growing family of four children and their own offspring. There were many visits to Plymouth Theatre Royal for plays, opera and ballet, which had now become part of Bill's and Barbara's life as an adjunct to the TV programmes which were all part of the job.

But in 1977, a necessary hip operation and an attack of angina forced Bill's retirement from the IBA. Then he and Barbara settled in a house on the Devon side of the Tamar river at Bere Alston.

His own description 'We made a garden' is inadequate to express what he created at several levels on the site of a fifteenth century silver smelting works, with exotic plants, goldfish pool, lawns and trees, He also converted 'the barn' into a fully equipped hall where art exhibitions attracted visitors from near and far, and where he was planning to promote concerts. His and Barbara's love of the arts was now fully developed at home, and his ever-youthful search for modern devices included a computer, which he soon mastered. Their golden wedding party in the barn was for 150 people, intended to be only the beginning of its artistic and social purpose.

Bill leaves Barbara, the four children, 12 grandchildren, and 4 great-grandchildren, as well as very many friends and old comrades, all sadder for the loss of a marvellous companion, player of games and of tricks, a man whose very presence lit up the company he kept.

Napier Crookenden / Alan Jefferson.


Owner/SourceNapier Crookenden & Alan Jefferson
DateJan 1993
Linked toWilliam Alexander Carlton Collingwood

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