|Date of baptism:||4th February 1888|
|Place of birth:||Calcutta, India|
|Regiment / Division:||Royal Marine Artillery then Royal Navy Air Service|
|Died:||19th August 1915 aged 27 years|
|Death location:||Imbross Island, Greece|
In WW1 Lieutenant Charles Herbert Collet of the Royal Marine Artillery trained at The Central flying School in Upavon Wiltshire in an Avro Biplane. He gained his flight licence (number 666) on the 21st October 1913. He was promoted to Captain in the Royal Marine Artillery and he also served in the newly formed Royal Navy Air Service as a Flight Commander. Great Britain formed the Royal Flying Corps on April 13, 1912. In June 1914 the Royal Naval Air Service was formed. Britain had just 29 aircraft and 88 trained pilots (there were many untrained pilots) in those pioneering days of flight. [information from http://www.century-of-flight.net]
Flight Commander Charles Herbert Collet was twice been mentioned in dispatches for his heroic actions in the war.
For the first few days of the war Charles Collet carried out patrols of the North Sea coast but on 27 August 1914 his Wing moved to Ostend with a dozen assorted aeroplanes, BE 2s, Sopwith Biplanes, a Short Biplane, two Bleriot Monoplanes, a Henri Farman and a Bristol Biplane. They found themselves on the exposed left flank of the Allied armies operating from a landing ground at St. Pol near Dunkirk. The unit then became No.1 Naval Wing of the R.N.A.S. and in addition to its aircraft it also had its own makeshift armoured cars to assist in forming temporary bases to extend the range of the aircraft. Apart from covering the flank of the retreating BEF it also had a role in preventing Zeppelins reaching U.K., and being based in Belgium, and also to stop submarines being assembled.
“On 22 September 1914, flying a Sopwith Tractor Biplane Flight Commander Charles Herbert Collet led the first long distance air raid into enemy territory. The four aircraft planned to destroy the Zeppelin sheds at Dusseldorf and Cologne but because of thick mist in the Rhine valley only Collet found his target, dropping two 20lb bombs from 400 feet on the shed at Dusseldorf. lieutenant Collet’s feat is notable – gliding down from 6,000 feet, the last 1500 in mist, he finally came in sight of the Airship shed at a height of 400 feet, only a quarter of a mile away from it.”
Although he scored direct hits the bombs failed to explode but even so Collet had made history as the first man to attack the enemy in this way. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. In March 1915 the wing, now 3 Wing Royal Navy Air Service moved from Dunkirk to the Gallipoli theatre and took over an improvised airfield on the island of Tenedos. Apart from reconnaissance and spotting the Turks were bombed on every possible occasion. On 22 June Capt. Collet with Major R.E.T. Hogg as observer flying a Voisin intercepted a German aircraft near Achi Baba and Hogg, and, using a rifle, hit in the engine and shot it down. The land planes of No.3 Squadron in which Collet served moved to a small airfield on Imbros Island near Greece which ended on the edge of a cliff.
On 19 August Collet was taking off when his engine failed. As he turned to regain the airfield he was caught in an updraft, crashed and his machine caught fire. He died before his rescuers could pull him clear.
Lieutenant Charles Collet was known as the Marine with a photographic memory so accurate that he could play chess blindfold. An extract from a report from the Aeroplane Squadron, Imbros for 21st August 1915 says “By the unfortunate death of this officer the Navy and the Air Service lose a most devoted and valuable pilot who worked most tremendously hard with splendid results
Charles Herbert is buried in grave K49 at the Lancashire Landing Cemetery, Gallipoli, Turkey. He was also named on the Roll of Honour of St Boniface Tin Church in Foundry Lane, Shirley where he, his mother and sister were parishioners. There are additional mentions of Charles in the Southampton Catholic Magazine 1914 and 15.
He was posthumously awarded the Victory medal, the British medal and 1915 Star medal in recognition of his services to his country and is inscribed on the cenotaph at Southampton “lest we forget”.
The Star campaign medal of the British Empire was awarded for service in World War One. Also known as the Mons Star. This medal was sometimes irreverently referred to as ‘Pip’.
The silver British War Medal was awarded for service in World War One. Also called the British Empire campaign medal, it was issued for services between 5th August 1914 and 11th November 1918. The medal was automatically awarded in the event of death on active service. This medal was sometimes irreverently referred to as ‘Squeak’.
The bronze Victory medal, also called the Inter Allied Victory Medal was awarded to those who received the British War Medal. It was never awarded alone. This medal was sometimes irreverently referred to as ‘Wilfred’.
Life before the war
Charles Herbert Collet was born a British subject in Calcutta, India on 28th July 1888, the middle son of four children to James Francis Herbert Collet (born in 1857 a British subject born in India) and his wife Teresa, nee Pilley born in 1866 Warwickshire. The following children of James and Teresa are confirmed from census records:
Francis James was born in 1887. On 29th January 1906 he began working on the London and South Western railways earning 6 shillings.
Ralph Harold was born on 13th October 1890 trained to be a chartered accountant. He also took his aviator’s licence in 1916 and married Mahala M Culling in Romford in Q2 of 1918. They lived in Wandsworth district and had 3 children between 1919 and 1925. Ralph died in 1969 in Southampton.
Teresa was born on 25th October 1893 in Canada. Died in 1915 aged 21 in Southampton.
In 1901 father, sons and their domestic servant were living at Kings Cliff in the Village de Putron on the eastern side of Guernsey, 3 kilometres south of St Peter Port. His father was a retired engineer (aged 44) from the Public Works Department of India.
In 1901 Charles’ mother Teresa (together with her 7 year old daughter, also called Teresa) was visiting her sister in law (James Francis Herbert Collet’s sister Edith, wife of composer Arthur Somervell) at 1 Albert Place, Kensington, London.
On April 2nd 1911, aged 23, Lieutenant Charles Herbert Collet of the Royal Marine Artillery was enumerated in the Mediterranean on board his Majesty’s ship ‘Duncan’, a pre-dreadnought iron battleship launched in 1901 and in use until 1919.
In 1911 father James Herbert, daughter Teresa and son Ralph Harold were living 296 Lordship Lane, Dulwich, London. On 18th January 1911 his mother Teresa, travelling alone, landed in Halifax, Nova Scotia on board the ‘Royal Edward’ visiting Canada as a tourist.
His father James died on Christmas day 1928 aged 71 in Eastleigh, Southampton. Probate was heard a month later in London. He left £1922 12s and 2d to his widow Teresa Collet, nee Pilley. His mother Teresa died in an air raid in WW2 on the 18 June 1944 in Cubitts Yacht Basin, Chiswick. She was aged 79. Charles’ sister Teresa died at Lansdown of meningitis caught from a patient at the hospital where she worked as a VAD nurse, verified by a newspaper report and photo dated March 1915. Sister Teresa is buried in Southampton Old Cemetery where Charles is commemorated.
With grateful thanks for use of aviator’s licence photograph from the Royal Aero Club Trust.
|Updated:||October 1914 with corrections and additional kindly information provided by the Collet family.|
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