Bickenhall-born John Collins was awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest military decoration in recognition of his bravery in the face of the enemy on 31 October 1917.
Collins was an acting corporal in the 25th Battalion, The Royal Welch Fusiliers, British Army during the First World War.
On 31 October 1917, at Wadi Saba, Beersheba, Palestine, the battalion came under heavy fire suffering many casualties. Collins worked continuously under intense fire to bring the wounded back to safety saving many lives. The commemorative Victoria Cross stone will be unveiled exactly 100 years on from this heroic act.
West Hatch Village Hall was chosen as the most appropriate place as it is close to the small settlement of Bickenhall and, more appropriately, the building was originally used as the local school which was attended by Sergeant John Collins during his early years. The stone is embedded in the exterior wall.
John Collins died on 3 September 1951, aged 73. He is buried at Pant Cemetery, Merthyr Tydfil.
The commemorative event was hosted by Councillor Hazel Prior-Sankey, Mayor of Taunton Deane, on Sunday 29 October 2017. She was joined by representatives from the Armed Forces, civic invitees and members of the Collins family.
Descendants travelled from South Wales and further afield to be present and the community turned out in force to honour their VC at the ceremony. Wreaths were laid by the family and representatives from the armed forces.
Tony Collins, a grandson living in Australia, sent this message that was read out by the Mayor: “It makes me really proud and appreciative of the honour your community is showing my family. I am only sad that I cannot be there, but will be in spirit. Please pass on my thanks and appreciation to everyone involved.”
Councillor Prior-Sankey said: “We all owe a massive debt to our service men and women, both past and present. I am proud that, as a town, we have an opportunity to remember and honour John Collins whose selfless acts of bravery were awarded with our nation’s highest honour- the Victoria Cross. I’d like to thank everyone who has helped to organise this event and hope this stone will allow people to show their respects to this local hero for years to come.”
Ward member Councillor John Williams, Leader of the Borough Council, presented the citation and a brief history that will be hung in the village hall so that future generations can learn of John Collins’s bravery.
This commemoration is part of a nationwide campaign to honour First World War Victoria Cross recipients. The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) is providing 469 commemorative paving stones to local authorities, 145 to the National Arboretum and 35 to the Republic of Ireland to mark the bravery of the people awarded the Victoria Cross during the First World War.
Each stone will be available to view on the 100th anniversary of the heroic action that each soldier was recognised for.