MAURICE ‘COLLIE’ COLLINS DFC DFM
Maurice Collins, together with his wife Dorothy [Dot], was an early member of ELMS, joining the cause in 1996. Maurice and Dot could be guaranteed to appear at all Annual and Comète Reunions, freedom trails and other escape line related occasions in UK, France, Belgium and Italy. On one occasion, at the drop of a hat, Maurice allowed himself [and Dot] to be whisked from home, 200 miles north to give a talk about his evasion to 300 soldiers in Harrogate, getting home in time to meet Dot’s hair appointment later that day – now that’s commitment!! Prior to his support for ELMS, Maurice had been a founding member of the RAFES [RAF Escaping Society].
Maurice was one of life’s characters. Nothing seemed to get him down. Always cheerful, a friend to all, Maurice had the ability to draw everyone into his circle of friendship – especially the young ladies! No-one was allowed to be lonely at an event, Maurice and Dot adopted us all.
In 1939, Maurice turned down a reserved occupation with Vickers Armstrong to join the RAF. In his own words, “Purely a mercenary decision”. “Squaddies got two shillings a day, and pilots thirteen”. As a twenty year old sergeant pilot [later Warrant Officer] Maurice served with 226 Squadron on Bostons. On the evening of the 21st September 42, his crew were given Chocques, near Pas de Calais, as their target for the night. In terrible weather conditions they headed for their target. Although travelling with other Bostons, the weather had separated them and each appeared to be alone. Over Bethune they were hit by both 20mm and 37mm cannon fire. A large chunk of the rudder had been blown off and the starboard engine was on fire. The aircraft was becoming uncontrollable. With good handling Maurice brought the aircraft down in a ploughed field after just missing large poplar trees and clipping power lines.
Leaving the blazing aircraft, together with his two other crew members, he made a hasty retreat for about a quarter of a mile before the group stopped for a ‘council of war’ and to bury their RAF kit. It was decided that Maurice would travel alone, and his two crew members George and Harold would travel together. After a short rest in a muddy ditch, Maurice, observing in the far distance a pall of black smoke from his aircraft, decided to risk gaining the attention of a family working in the fields. However, he had second thoughts after hearing a gunshot a short distance away. His two crew members had been walking along a nearby track when the roar of an approaching German motorcycle caused them to dive into a ditch. They had been spotted – a shot was fired, both men came out and were taken prisoner. [Harold was later to be shot as one of the Great Escapers from Stalag Luft III.]
Now totally on his own, Maurice began walking south. He came across a small farm with a rain-water tank and, with no-one in sight, he stripped off and had a good wash. Then a farm girl, Yolande, appeared and took him into the farm house where he was questioned by a Dutch lady. Maurice was informed that it was not safe for him to stay at the farm so Yolande took him to a safe-house then returned home. [Regrettably she was later arrested by the Gestapo, and died a few days after her release.]
The next morning, the daughter of the house, Mimi, took Maurice to another safe-house. En route, walking about fifty metres behind his courier, Maurice observed a poster offering F25,000 to any French person who handed him in. He was moved between several safe-houses, by a succession of guides and couriers, eventually arriving in the foothills of the Pyrenees.
At La Cabannes, a small mountain village about 20 miles from the French border, Maurice slept in the station, had a good breakfast in a local café then, fortified with cognac, set off to walk the Pyrenees. Two days later, totally exhausted, hungry and with blistered feet, he was back where he started. He had walked in a circle. Clearly not fit to take on the route again at that time, he sought help and was arrested by the local French police and put in a cell, where he slept.
He was awoken by the Chief of Police, then taken to his quarters and given a good meal by the policeman’s wife. Following a few phone calls, a Sgt Policeman arrived and Maurice was taken along mountain tracks to a mountain peak. The guide pointed to two distant peaks, told him to travel between them, keep going and he would end up in Andorra.
Trudging through deep snow and battered by snow driven by gale-force winds, Maurice eventually arrived at the border where he was arrested by the Spanish border guard and imprisoned in the Spanish state prison at Lerida. The conditions were filthy. He spent Christmas Day, handcuffed, and occupied with the killing of nearly 200 lice.
He was later moved to the concentration camp at Miranda del Ebro. Following a hunger strike by Poles in the camp, Maurice was taken, by a long route, to Alhama where he stayed with two other airmen in an hotel. On the 28th March he was collected by the British Air Attaché and taken to Gibraltar
Maurice ‘Collie’ Collins DFC DFM died on the 20th March 2006.