SHARE
Important . . . World War 2 veteran Ted Collings says it is important to mark Anzac Day. He intends to attend Timaru's civic ceremony next week. PHOTO:CHRIS TOBIN

by Chris Tobin

War veteran Ted Collings (96) was severely wounded twice serving in World War 2 but he “mended up pretty good” and is looking forward to attending the Anzac Day civic ceremony in Timaru next week, he says.

“I could have been curtains but I got over it so well I even played rugby after I came back,” he said at his Timaru home this week.

Mr Collings, one of the few surviving World War 2 veterans in South Canterbury, spent his early years in Waihola before his family shifted to Milton where, after leaving school, he worked on a farm and at a lime works.

“Then I was called into the army. I went into camp at Burnham, then Maadi Camp near Cairo and then across to Italy.”

“I was an idiot and I was up and started blazing away with a Bren gun. Next thing, one got me there.”

He went to Cassino in a contingent which joined the 23rd Battalion, replacing casualties from the Battle of Monte Cassino.

“It was pretty grim there but I wasn’t in the main battle.”

After Cassino, he was part of New Zealand forces which took over the city of Florence from the Free French and it was here he suffered his first severe wounding.

“We didn’t know a lot of what was going on but that didn’t suit our commander Lieutenant-colonel Sandy Thomas.

“In the morning he sent a platoon of us out. Our job was to go until we struck the Jerries and we’d have to stay there ’til the main force came in the afternoon.

Mr Collings and between 20 and 30 other Kiwi soldiers advanced towards a house.

“The ruddy Jerries were in that house. We didn’t know that – they were soon blazing away at us and we hit the ground.

“Colin Douglas, our officer, he says, ‘there goes one behind a tree’.

“I was an idiot and I was up and started blazing away with a Bren gun. Next thing, one got me there.”

Mr Collings had been shot in the chest just below his left shoulder. The bullet went through and lodged in his back.

“I never felt a hell of a lot. I thought someone had hit me with the butt of a rifle. I fell over on my back.”

Some of his fellow soldiers took him to an empty house and he was put on a stretcher.

“They cut the bullet out of me. I’ve still got it somewhere. I was three or four weeks in hospital.”

Then he rejoined his unit and was soon back in frontline action as the Allied forces advanced through German-held Italy.

“We would do three to four weeks up in the front line, then we were dragged out for a rest.”

Mr Collings’ unit came to the Senio River, where they were told to replace the Maori Battalion which was crossing the river.

“They reckon there’s still some there in my liver.”

“We were changing over and Christ, the Jerries starting blasting hell out of us, shells falling everywhere.

“One cobber in a hole said, ‘we mightn’t get out of this, I’ll give you my mother’s address’. His mother lived in Temuka. I said, ‘that goes for me too!’ and I gave him my mother’s address in Milton.”

The barrage eased off. They continued on and in the early hours of the morning were about to cross another river, the Santerno River.

“It was dark as hell and we’re going up a road, when a shell landed a couple of yards from us. It got six of us.”

Shrapnel was embedded in the back of Mr Collings’ left ear, left thigh and back.

“They reckon there’s still some there in my liver.

“The rest of the jokers carried on. I never saw them again until they arrived home in New Zealand.”

Although wounded, the six others hit by the blast survived. Mr Collins was carried out on a Bren gun carrier. The left side of his face had also been paralysed.

It was the end of his war.

“I came home in a hospital ship after 19 months overseas.”

He received a further six months’ treatment, then married and started work at Milton Transport, transferring to St Andrews where he managed Waitaki Transport until retiring in 1982 aged 60.

“I’d had enough by then.”

His wife Maureen died in 2017. Two of their four children live in Timaru, and there are 10 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Mr Collings said the 23rd Battalion used to have a reunion each year in Timaru but they had ceased.

In fact, he thought he could be the last survivor around these parts.

He was not dwelling on it.

“You’ve just got to take it.”