James Collins was born in Islington, Middlesex, in 1892, one of five children of John and Annie Collins. Prior to entering military service, James lived in Cromwell Road, Upper Holloway, and was employed as a pianoforte finisher.
On the outbreak of war in 1914, James volunteered for Army service and joined the 8th (Service) Battalion, the East Surrey Regiment, formed in Kingston-on-Thames in September 1914. His Army number was 4723.
After basic infantry training in Great Britain James was posted on 1 September 1915 with his Battalion to the Somme sector in Northern France.
The 8th East Surreys were part of 55 Brigade, 18th Division, which was a New Army Division (2nd New Army) and carried out defensive duties and training in preparation for the major offensive planned for 1916. It was during this period of trench duty, which included active patrolling (fighting and reconnaissance patrols), that James Collins was awarded the Military Medal for gallantry.
On 1 July 1916, the 8th East Surreys with the rest of 18th Division took part in the first phase of the Somme offensive on A/1 sub-sector at Montauban. The objective of the Battalion was to secure part of a ridge line near Mametz. In comparison to the results further north on the attack front on the first day, the Division was more successful, due mainly to the thorough preparation and planning by General Maxse, the Division Commander, albeit casualties were high.
James Collins was killed shortly after the attacked started. He is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.
The information above has been obtained from Surrey History Centre archives (SHC ref COLLINS/ESR/25, which include a letter from the War Office to James Collins’ fiancée, Miss A Humphrey of Highgate, confirming the contents of his will), plus Ancestry Institution, The Long Long Trail, Surrey Infantry Museum records and History of the East Surrey Regiment, vol 2, 1914-1917, by Col H.W. Pearse DSO & Brigadier-General H.S Sloman CMG, DSO (1923).