John’s tale a remarkable one

Collinson singing.
Collinson singing.

The fate of many men in the Great War, if they survived, was rarely one of betterment or radical transformation of their life on return home.

However, the remarkable story of one man from Wallsend will shortly be given the exposure that it surely deserves, not only because of the amazing facts of his life after sustaining terrible wounds but the incredible happenchance of his becoming a star of the operatic world and the emerging broadcast medium of radio.

John Collinson was born in Shiremoor and was brought up in Wallsend. After an apprenticeship in the shipyards he travelled to Australia via South Africa, arriving on the outbreak of the Great War.

Like many of his age, John Collinson enlisted into the Australian Imperial Forces and after service at the Dardanelles he found himself in France at the beginning of the slaughter that was the Battle of the Somme in 1916.

Only briefly back at the front after a slight injury he was severely wounded in October 1916 and required a long series of operations to restore some use to his severely damaged forearms and wrists – he never recovered full use of his hands.

However, in 1918 (now invalided out of the army), in a story that reads more like fiction than fact, he was introduced to Sir Henry Wood of Proms concert fame, after he began singing in a beautiful voice whilst coming out of the anaesthetic administered to him in one of his operations.

His rise to fame in the world of opera and a starring role in the newly-emerging British Broadcasting Company will be re-told by Chris Jackson in one of his regular BBC Newcastle Inside Out documentary programmes, due to be broadcast on Monday, November 5.

The story of Collinson, who is credited as the first person to make a recording of Waltzing Matilda, the unofficial Australian national anthem, is truly one of remarkable serendipity and of some good coming of an awful situation, when his war injuries meant he could never have returned to his former occupation, with the prospect of the hardship and unemployment that would befall millions of the wounded and mentally damaged victims of the conflict.

Articles of War – a compilation of 150 articles written for this column over seven years was launched on September 25.

Alan Fidler will speak about the project and the book at the Lit and Phil Library, Westgate Road, Newcastle upon Tyne on Monday, October 8 at 6pm (free event) with refreshments. The book is available from North Tyneside libraries and Keel Row Bookshop, Preston Road, North Shields.

The Memorial Hall, Wallsend will be the venue for a concert at 7pm on Friday, November 9, to mark the end of the war and the second phase of the project. The concert is titled – Our Journey’s End – after the famous dramatic work of R C Sherriff, brilliantly translated recently into cinematic format.

A wide ranging programme of music and stories of some of the 4,000 casualties of the war in North Tyneside will fill an evening of entertainment and reflection on the project’s work and the wartime experience of our community.

Tickets, £7, for the concert are available from the Memorial Hall, Frank Street, Wallsend and the Project workroom at Room B9 – Linskill Community Centre.

New volunteers are welcome to join the project – the commitment of time is entirely at your discretion. To find out more contact: tommy@northumbriaworldwarone.co.uk or call into the workroom at Linskill.

The project workroom (Room B9) at Linskill Community Centre, North Shields is open from 10am to 4pm each weekday for enquiries and for anyone to bring information about relatives lost in the war. The Memorial Garden is open for public visits during the opening hours of the centre – 8am to 5pm daily.