Robert Collie: One Man’s Will to Live – Surviving Both Ypres AND the Somme!











Robert Collie was a soldier during the First world War. He had survived the Somme and Ypres and then was finally shot and left for dead at Passchendal.

For most soldiers, this is where the story ends. That is not the case for Collie.

After being shot and left for dead, Collie was tossed on a pile of dead bodies. Collie was hanging on by a thread and was saved by a passing medic who noticed a body, Collie, twitching.

He was brought back to heal from his wounds. When he finally healed, he returned to battle. When the First World War ended, he went on to serve in India. It was there that he rose through the ranks from Private to Major.

Collie’s brothers also fought in the war, but unfortunately they were not as lucky as Robert. They died while fighting. Collie’s sister also perished during the war. She was victim of a Zeppelin bomb raid in London.

With such an incredible tale, why are we only now hearing about Robert Collie and his story? The Daily Mail reports that his son, also named Robert, is selling all of his father’s medals, 13 in total.


Robert Collie Jr, 75, from Eastbourne, East Sussex, said: ‘My father was a tough Scotsman and not a lot phased him. ‘But the loss of his elder and younger brother and sister in such a short space of time must have been the most terrible thing to endure.

‘He hardly ever spoke about the war when he was alive. I managed to get a few things out of him but the rest I have found out on the internet.

‘He fought at the Somme where the Allies lost 57,000 men on the first day. He fought at Ypres and was badly wounded at Passchendale.

‘His colleagues thought he was dead and he was thrown on a load of dead bodies.

‘An Indian doctor then saw him twitch and pulled him off and treated him and saved his life. Within a year and was back fighting again.’

Along with having to deal with his own personal distress, Major Robert Collie also had to come to terms of his two brothers.

The medal set and paperwork that are being sold by Robert Collie's son.
The medal set and paperwork that are being sold by Robert Collie’s son.

Robert’s eldest brother, William Collie, enlisted as a Private with the Canadian Infantry in 1916. He emigrated to Toronto from Dufftown, in Banffshire after he married his wife, Agnes.

William was listed as missing and was assumed to be killed in action during the Battle of Vimy Ridge in 1917. He was only 37 years old. His body was never recovered and now, his name is on the Huntly and Mortach War Memorials in Scotland.

There is little known about Collie’s younger brother, John. What is known is that he served as a Private in the Gordon Highlanders Regiment and he died in 1916. Robert Collie saw his brother at Dover with severe injuries to his legs. John Collie never recovered from the wounds and he did not survive.

Even after the war had ended, Robert Collie’s suffering did not end. Collie’s wife, Ida, became sick with tuberculosis in 1933 and, sadly, she too died.

Robert, a semi-retired accountant, added: ‘My father met and married my mother, Kathleen, while she worked as a children’s nurse in Calcutta in 1937 and I was born a year later.

Robert's first wife, Ida, died of tuberculosis in 1933--15 years after the end of WW1. He then married his second wife, Kathleen, in 1937.
Robert’s first wife, Ida, died of tuberculosis in 1933–15 years after the end of WW1. He then married his second wife, Kathleen, in 1937.

‘I inherited the medals from him. My two children don’t really want them and I thought I would look to give them a good home now.’

His impressive medal set comprises of the MBE, 1914 Star, 1914-18 War medal, Victory medal, 1939-45 Star, Burma Star, World War II War medal, 1939-45 India medal, 1935 and 1937 Commemorative medals, George IV and Queen Elizabeth Coronation medal, George V Long Service medal, George V Meritorious Service medal.

Collie was also a talented boxer and the collection includes white metal box with the inscription ‘Presented to Lt. R. Collie M.B.E., I.C.C. for Services Rendered to Army Boxing 1936-38 by The Military Boxing Committee, Calcutta’.

The medals are being sold by Eastbourne Auctions and are expected to fetch £1,200.

Auctioneer Jeanette May said: ‘Major Collie’s is a incredible story that is tinged with great personal tragedy and sadness yet he mustered up the strength to carry on fighting.’

Evette Champion

Evette Champion is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE