Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Collins, Percy Alfred (1905–1990)

by Mike Fogarty

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Percy Alfred Collins (1905-1990), sailor, was born on 22 January 1905 at Murwillumbah, New South Wales, fourth child of William Walter Thomas Collins, a Sydney-born hairdresser, and his wife Ellen Frances, née Foley, who came from Wales. The family settled at Stanmore, Sydney, and Percy attended Stanmore Public School and joined the choir of the local Anglican church. Moving to Rose Bay, he excelled at State amateur athletics while employed as a clerk. He married Mary Lilian Wilson on 24 May 1933 at St Paul’s Catholic Church, Dulwich Hill.

On 10 August 1927 Collins had joined the Royal Australian Navy as a stoker, 2nd class. Before World War II he served in HMA ships Canberra, Tattoo, Voyager, Waterhen, Swan, Yarra and Adelaide. He was promoted to leading stoker in 1935 and petty officer in 1939. Invariably, he was known to his shipmates as `Jumper’. In 1940 he was posted to Britain as a member of the commissioning crew of HMAS Napier, the first of the new `N’ class destroyers and the lead ship of the 7th Destroyer Flotilla.

Napier arrived in the Mediterranean in May 1941 and, during the battle of Crete that month, evacuated troops to Alexandria, Egypt. For his `gallantry, fortitude and resolution’ Collins was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal. Another sailor on board, Bernard McCarthy, also won the DSM. They were to become the only two RAN sailors to receive the DSM and Bar. Collins’s citation noted that he `was in charge of No.1 Boiler Room. A heavy blast was felt, half the lights went out [and] the boiler water level surged violently’. Collins `took the necessary precautions, reduced sprayer output until the water level steadied and then worked up to nearly full power, taking the increased load caused by the failure of No.2 Boiler’. His `steadiness contributed largely to the general effort of keeping the ship mobile’.

Promoted to temporary chief stoker on 1 January 1942, Collins served in HMAS Maitland from June 1943 to March 1944. He then joined the Bathurst-class corvette HMAS Strahan, which operated mainly in the South-West Pacific Area. In October 1945 he was awarded the Bar to his DSM for the `courage, endurance and skill’ he displayed while the Strahan performed escort duties `under hazardous and trying conditions between the coast of Australia and the Philippines’. He was demobilised on 12 February 1946.

After the war Collins became a purchasing officer for a Sydney optical company and devoted his time to his family. He was a charming and courteous man who was modest about his wartime achievements. In retirement he lived at Lawson and later at Katoomba. His wife died in 1987. Survived by his two daughters and two sons, he died on 28 January 1990 at Leura and was buried in the Catholic lawn cemetery, Kemps Creek. His medals were presented (1991) to the Australian War Memorial, Canberra, which also holds his portrait (1956) by Alfred Cook. In 1995 he featured in a series of Australia Post stamps commemorating Australians whose war service was outstanding.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Fogarty, `The Navy’s “Other” Collins’, Defence Force Journal, no 63, 1987, p 48
  • series A6770, item Collins P A (National Archives of Australia)
  • PR87/122 (Australian War Memorial)
  • private information.

Citation details

Mike Fogarty, 'Collins, Percy Alfred (1905–1990)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/collins-percy-alfred-12336/text22161, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 17 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

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