Private Collings was a soldier in the 11th Lancashire Fusiliers who died from his wounds on 15th October 1916. Although Private Collings did not fight, died or fought with any Belgium connection, his connection with one of the most famous British writers from the 20th century makes his group so special I couldn't resist to write this article.


Private F. Collings never had the chance to read his signal officers books after the war, his legacy and sacrefice during those days and nights in the battle of the Somme ar well reflected in these books.


During his assault on the Regina Trench that morning in October 1916 at the Ancre Heights, he layed wounded on the battlefield with countless others. He had been figting on the western front since 29 Juli 1915 and served his commander Lieutenant-Colonel L. G. Bird with honor and loyalty. Probably he fought sight by sight with him at Thiepval wood. His new signal officer arrived just five months earlier. Did they every speak to each other?  that they ever shake hands? one fact is shure  they were brothers in arms in a world at war.  One men died when another men lived. How could young officer of 24th years of age subscribe this world, full of darkness, shadows and the death of his best friends, if he didn't had the fantasy of creating his own world. This officer,  J.R.R. TOLKIEN, knew that there is something good in these both worlds, and it diffinitely is worth fighting for.

"God bless you my dear John Ronald and may you say things I have tried to say long after I am not there to say them if such be my lot" - Geoffrey Bach Smith T.C.B.S.








J.R.R Tolkien, author of The Hobbit (1934), The Lord of the Ring (1954-1955) and The Salmarillion (1974) was born on 3 January 1893 in the South African city of Bloemfontein. Tolkiens father died in 1896 on the desease acute rheumatism in South Africa wile Tolkien with his mother and younger brother were visiting familymembers in England.   Tolkiens mother educated her two sons by herself until J.R.R Tolkien was went to the King Edward School in Birmingham. The death of his mother in 1904 made Tolkien and his younger brohter orphans. 


While a student on King Edward School in 1911, Tolkien established with his friends Robert Gilson, Geoffrey Bach Smith and Christopher Wiseman the secret society: 'Tea Club and Barrovian Society'. A society who expressed there love of Tea and made and discussed poetry. Tolkien met Edith Mary Bratt while he was 16 years of age at the same orphanage were he was sent to after the death of his mother. His guardian,  E.H. Francis Morgan, forbade Tolkien to see, speak or write to her until he was 21 year of age, mainly because his grades were shrinking and Edith was a protestant girl. Tolkien held to this until his 21th birthday, when he wrote a letter to explain his love for her and asked her to marry him. Edith was by then already engaged with someone else because she hadn't heart nothing from him so long. It didn't take long until the two fell in love again, and she joice Tolkien as her husband, breaking off her former engagement. Edith converted to Catholicism on Tolkiens behalf after she married him on 22 March 1916 in the Saint Mary Immaculate Catholic Church in Warwick. Just a few months before Tolkien was transfert to the French/Belgium front to serve in the First World War.




J.R.R Tolkien left the 2th of June 1916 from Cannock Chase to his newly married wife to stay the last 48th hours with her before getting to France. They both stayed in an hotel not for from were the lived in there childhood. On the morning of 4 Juni 1916 Tolkien departed for war in Folkstone. Once he arrived in Calais he was incorporated into the 32th division, where Geoffrey Smith was located. The next day he was transfered into the 25th division, because of there many cassualties at Vimy Ridge. Because Tolkien was a Signal Officer, and Signal Officer, Luitenant W.H. Reynolds from the 25th division was going to promoted for his bravery at Vimy Ridge, there was now a vacancy.


De 25th division was sent to Bouzincourt and 4 battalions were sent to La Boiselle to support the division. Tolkien stayed at Bouzincourt because he wasn't selected for fighting duty. On 6 Juli 1916 the Salford Pals arrived in Bouzincourt and Tolkien saw his T.C.B.S friend Geoffrey Smith, who was since half a year on the front. They stayed together for a couple of days until the Salford Pals where sent to Ancre crossroads, where British units assaulted on the city of Ovillers.


Tolkien and the 11th Lancashire Fusiliers marched into the Ancre Valley on the 14th of Juli 1916, to plan an attack on the city Albert. This was only 13th days after the dissasteres assault on the 1st of Juli 1916. Here saw Tolkien the landscape where his good friend Robert Gilson had died. The bodies of those who died on that dissasteres day where still laying in the fields.


On 21 July 1916 Tolkien was promoted to the battalions Signal Officer, wich made him the cheaf of all communications from the 11th Lancashire fusiliers. Three days later the battalion was set in Beaumont-Hamel until the 30th of July when they were placed into the reserve in Mailly-Maillet. On the  1st of August the regiment celebrated 'Minden Day', for there victory against the French in Minden in 1759. 


Tolkien returned to Bouzincourt on the 27th of August 1916. This time he didn't stood in his old trench from a month ago, but on the other side in the former trench of the German soldiers. The British had conquered the trench and the Germans had to located to what was now called the Leipzig Salient.


By the second week of September, Tolkien was on leave for the first time in two months. The division went to Franqueville to get the needed rest and training new recrutes. Tolkien trained six soldiers to sufficient Visuel Signals. While he was at Franqueville he met up with an old friend from Cannock Chase, Leslie Ridson Huxtable, who was appointed Signals Officer. This came as a relieve for Tollkien because he had  some discussions with one of his superiors.


Huxtable and Tolkien arrived with the battalion in Hédauville on 26 September 1916, where they shared a tent together. The battle of the Somme was as desperate as the battle of Verdun by this point. Though a new development in warfare gave the troops some comfort. On the battlefield appeared a fully steel weapon that cleared the front from tripwires and other obsticals and had a good amount of fire power, this new weapon was called a tank. Since the 15th of September 1916 the third big assault in the Somme offensive was launched. Thanks to the newly used tanks, was the enemy driven back for five miles. This resulted that the 11th Lancashire fusiliers arrived the 27th of September 1916 in Thiepval Wood, and needed to be prepared for the battle of the Schwaben Redoubt. The Lancashire Fusiliers conquered a German trench in the next days. Ironacly they had defeated many German soldiers from a Saksen regiment who the Lancashire fusiliers fought with in the battle of Minden in 1759. Here  Tolkien spoke to a wounded prisonner, because he had a good knowledge of the German language.


By the 6th of October 1916 Tolkien was stationed in the regiments headquarter known as the Mucky Farm. The Lancashire Fusiliers were appointed to attack and concquer the Regina Trench. There flank will be supported by Canadian troops. Huxtable became buried under a trench when a German mortar struck only a few feet in front of him. He was rescued by his comrades and sent to the fieldhospital for a schrapnell wound in his leg. A few days later he was sent back to England as a war casualty. Tolkien had lost another good friend and was now all alone again. The only thing he still had were the inoming letters from Smith at this point. The German had launched a counter-attack by the use of poison gaz, wich made to Lancashire Fusiliers to pull back. The next Saterday, rapported the British army that the Schwaben Redoubt was fallen. This gave it the oppotunity to take the Regina Trench because the German flanks were now open. It didn't take long until the Lancashire Fusiliers and the rest of the division were ordered to conquer the Regina Trench. 


On the 18th October 1916, G.B. Smith's 22th birthday, the assauld was launched. The 11th Lancashire Fusiliers were immediatly stopped by enemy artillery shelling that started since 4 am in the morning. This made the terrain into a swamp. The next day, six minutes after noon, the British Howizers opened fire on the Regina Trench. The first two companies, with possibly private F. Collings with them, assaulted from the Hessian Trench into No-Mansland and up to the Regina Trench. They were followed by the Tolkien Signals, the battalions machinegunners and mortar personal. Even the battalions Padre Evers joined the assault by bringing to stratchers. This made the Hessian Trench almost abbandoned. Two minutes of the assault the Hessian Trench was assaulted by german artillery, by this time the Royal Irish Rifles had taken possitions in this trench, after going forward from the rear. Tolkien rapported the first prisoners crossing No-Mansland around 20 minutes over noon. One of Tolkiens 'Runners' who took messages through the heavy bombardement was later decorated for bravery. By 01.12 pm, Tolkien rapported to the division that the Regina Trench was conquered and that the Lancashire Fusiliers had joined forces with the Loyal North Lancashires. More than 700 German prisoners of the 73th and 74th Landwehr were taken that day, and those who refused to surrender lay death in the Regina Trench. The Lancashire Fusiliers had 41 casualties and 117 wounded, who private F. Callings was one of them.


On 23 October 1916 the 74th Brigade was inspected and congratulated by the Brigadier-General in Albert. The brigade was transported by bus to the division headquarters of the Major-General. From here it took a march for 13 miles from Vadencourt through Beauval for leave. Here Tolkien was laid to rest in an actual house with a roof over his head in the Rue d'Epinelte for the first time during his overseas service. On the 25th of October 1916 Tolkien was feeling weak and sick, but didn't rapport it until General Gough of the 5th army and Field-Marshal Haig had inspected the brigade. Afterworths he went to the medical officer, who diagnosed him with trench fever. A sickness coused by lice and gave the following symptoms, sudden loss of strenght and balance, rash, headache and serverly pain in back and toes. The high fever can couse hart faillure. The army sent Tolkien to an officers hospital near Beauval, from were he was put on a train to Le Havre to get onboard the so called "Blighty boat". This was the prewar steamer 'the Asturias' that was painted white with red crosses. Tolkien arrived at South-Hampton, England on the 8th of November, and was put on a train to his childhoods town, to recover at the Birmingham University Hospital. His wife Edith joined him soon after, after five months of separation.






One of the immortale four members from the T.C.B.S. was a men named Robert Gilson. He was only 21 years of age when he rapported for duty on the 27th of November 1914, and signed up with the 11th Cambridgeshire battalion in the Suffolk Regiment.  He was sent to France on 7 January 1916 with his regiment wich was incorporated into the 101th Brigade in the 34th  division. Gilson was just promoted to Lieutenant and was one of the officers in C Company. On the first of July 1916 the battle of the Somme began and the regiment was placed near Becourt. The regiment had been bombed with artilleryshels for days and many soldiers and officers were killed or wounded. Gilson said earlier on that he rather died facing the enemy in an assault then dying in a trench by an artillery attack. Their will be no meaning to such an wastfull death to him. When he jumped out the trench that morning on that day of day's he was calm and organised commanding his company into the assault. Gilson and Corporal Hicks were hit by a mortarshell in no-mansland. It is said that Gilson has crawled back to his trench were he died of wounds. A great member of the T.C.B.S. and a great officer vaniged from the earth that day. Gilson was burried on the Commonwealth graveyard of Becourt. His father, head of King Edward's School in Birmingham recieved the following letter of his sons death:


Mr R Cary Gilson, head master of King Edward's School, Birmingham, has received news of the death in action of his eldest son, Lieut R Q Gilson of the Suffolks. Lieut Gilson was twenty-two years of age, and after a distinguished career at King Edward's, Birmingham, he passed on to Trinity College, Cambridge. He was an undergraduate in his third year when war broke out, having taken first-class honours in the classical tripos the previous year. He was gazetted in the early days of the war and was recently promoted to full Lieutenancy in France. Lieut Gilson was a very good rifle shot, and was one of the shooting eight of the School OTC, and was later a member of the Cambridge University OTC. He was a skilled draughtsman, and did excellent work both in England and France in connection with trench construction. He was passionately devoted to architecture, and intended reading for that profession.


Geoffrey Bach Smith, one of the immortale four had seen his friends (Gilson) name on the casualtylist in the newspaper just 17 day's later. Devastated and beyond the count of grieve he wrote the following letter to J.R.R. Tolkien who was in the same regiment, but miles away:


I am safe but what does that matter? Do please stick to me, you and Christopher. I am very tired and most frightfully depressed at this wordt of news. Now one realises in despair what the TCBS really was. O my dear John Ronald what ever are we going to do?'.


Later he wrote the following:


"My chief consolation is that if I am scuppered tonight -- I am off on duty in a few minutes -- there will still be left a member of the great T.C.B.S. to voice what I dreamed and what we all agreed upon. For the death of one of its members cannot, I am determined, dissolve the T.C.B.S. Death can make us loathsome and helpless as individuals, but it cannot put an end to the immortal four! A discovery I am going to communicate to Rob before I go off tonight. And do you write it also to Christopher. May God bless you my dear John Ronald and may you say things I have tried to say long after I am not there to say them if such be my lot."


Tolkien wrote a confusion letter back to his best friend, stated that Robert Gilson never was meant to be great. This made Smith furries and angry until they met in person again, were Tolkien explained the Robert Gilson never was ment to be mentiod as a great marthyr as Julius César and other great persons in history. Robert Gilson was never ment to be to remembered in death, but should have been loved during a long live.


Geoffrey Smith reported for duty in October 1914 while taking the Oxford University Officer training. Hij signed into the Lancashire Fusiliers and was sent to France in November 1915, were he was incorporated into the 19th battalion. He was ther first member of the T.C.B.S to sent to the front. At the end of the battle of the Somme he was promoted to adjudent was located in Doullens-Arras. Sinds the arrival of J.R.R. Tolkien he corresponded with him many times and met occasionally each other in the trenches, because they served with the same regiment. On the 29th of November 1916 Smith was hit by shrapnel during a German artillery strike. He was evacuted from the battlefield and was nursed in a field hospital. On 2 december 1916 his wound became serieusly infected and in the morning of 3 december 1916 around 03.30u Smith died of his wounds.




J.R.R Tolkien and Private F. Collings served together with the 11th Lancashire regiment and both ended there war service with the battalions charge at the Regina Trench in October 1916. Serving together for five months, sharing the same blood in the same mud.


It is believed that Tolkien was inspired by the events and landscape of the Ancre Heights at the Hessian- and Regina Trench for creating the Death Marshes in his books 'The Lord of the Rings'. I am convinced that these marshes filled with death soldiers from "a battle lang ago", must come from a scene, that can not be seen by those who weren't there to see it.



















15 OCTOBER 1916