24 October 2014

( select to enlarge )
Medal entitlement of Gunner James Collis,
Royal Horse Artillery

  • Victoria Cross
  • Afghanistan Medal ( 1878-1880 )
    • 1 clasp:
    • "Kandahar"

The Victoria Cross and Afghanistan Medal awarded to Gunner James Collis, Royal Horse Artillery, has been acquired by the Michael Ashcroft Trust, the holding institution for the Lord Ashcroft VC Collection. The James Collis VC group will be displayed in the Imperial War Museum's Lord Ashcroft Gallery.

For the award of the Victoria Cross.

[ London Gazette, 17 May 1881 ]. Maiwand, Afghanistan, 28 July 1880, Gunner James Collis, Royal Horse Artillery.

For conspicuous bravery during the retreat from Maiwand to Kandahar when the officer commanding the battery was endeavouring to bring in a limber with wounded men under a cross-fire, in running forward and drawing the enemy's fire on himself, thus taking off their attention from the limber.
James Collis was invested with his Victoria Cross by Lord Roberts in Poona, India, on the 11th July 1881.

James Collis is one of eight VC holders whose decorations were forfeited under the authority of the Royal Warrant because each subsequently committed a criminal offence. Gunner Collis was a bigamist who was sentenced to 18 months with hard labour.

In 1895 it was discovered that although he had a wife in India, Collis has married again in England. Under the existing terms of the warrant of the Victoria Cross, the award had to be forfeited in the event of any crime which attracted a sentence of more than six months. He was already suffering hard times and had pawned his Victoria Cross for just eight shillings ( 40p ). The Metropolitan Police who arrested him had to retrieve the VC from the pawnbrokers and the War Office paid the redemption fee.

At the outbreak of the First World War Collis enlisted at the age of 58 in the Suffolk Regiment and served with the regiment until August 1917 when he was discharged on medical grounds. On 28 June 1918 he died of a heart attack in a hospital in Battersea at the age of 62

When he died, his coffin was draped with the Union Flag and borne on a gun carriage escorted by a military firing party. At the Wandsworth cemetery he was given full military honours and there was no mention of his crime or the forfeiture of the Victoria Cross. His family, who regarded him as a black sheep, did not attend the funeral even though he had three sons in the Army. Nor was there money for a headstone and he was buried in a mass grave for the poor. A headstone was erected over his burial plot in May 1998.


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Iain Stewart, 24 October 2014