Topic: Clive Franklyn Collett (1886-1917)

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Flying ace Clive Franklyn Collett was also the British Military's first person to jump from an airplane with a parachute strapped to his back during the testing of experimental new designs. The Collett family had lived in Tauranga with Clive completing his education at Tauranga's Queen College.

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Clive Franklyn Collett was born in Spring Creek, Marlborough, on 28 August 1886. His parents married in Spring Creek on 4 September 1882.

The family moved to Tauranga where his father, Captain Horace Edwin Collett, worked as Stock Inspector for the Bay of Plenty. Captain Collett was late of a London Artillery Company, promoter of the Marlborough Hussars, in which he held a Lieutenant's commission, and served in the Tauranga Mounted Rifles. Clive completed his education at Tauranga's Queen's College (Jeremiah Murphy's School). After his father died at age 54 on 20 December 1902 (reg. 1902/6453), his mother Alice and the family moved to Wellington.

Clive trained as an Electrical Engineer in Wellington and worked in the South Island.

In 1914 he embarked from Wellington to London, England aboard the 'Limerick', arriving on 23 December 1914. On arrival he enrolled at one of five flying schools, the London and Provincial (L and P) Aviation Company. He reported to Brooklands military aerodrome on 17 February 1915 and received a commission as Second Lieutenant in the Royal Flying Corps on 25 March 1915. 

On 6 July 1915 he had a serious aircraft accident at Hendon whilst bringing a plane to England, resulting in his hospitalisation. He was unable to fly for a long period and the injuries received would always trouble him. In August 1916 he was able to fly again and became involved in experiemental work.  

Clive was involved in another airplane accident in France on 18 April 1916 in which he sustained a fractured nose and facial injuries and was returned to England for treatment. His injuries were serious enough that he was removed from active duty until 13 June when he became a test pilot and was promoted to Flight Commander and temporary Captain on 1 August 1916. 

On 13 January 1917 he carried out the first parachute descent using the 'Guardian Angel' parachute from a military aeroplane in Orfordness in Suffolk.

Clive's daughter Marion was born at Lambeth in London on 16 March 1917. Her mother was Margaret Cumming.

On 24 July 1917 he returned to France and within two months had shot down 15 enemy planes for which he won the M.C. and a Bar. He was wounded in the hand on 9 September 1917, purportedly by Bavarian ace, Maxmillian Ritter Von Muller (1887-1918). He was hospitalised in Calais. The Marlborough Express reported: 

News has been received in Auckland that Flight-Captain Clive Collett, M.C., (son of the late Captain Horace Collett, at one time Stock Inspector for Marlborough) has been wounded and is now in hospital in Calais. Flight-Captain Collett learned the business of an electrician with Messrs Turnbull and Jones, in Wellington, and represented the firm on the West Coast for some time. In addition to holding a captain's commission he is graded as a pilot instructor, and has given many exhibitions of flying, one of them before the Duke and Duchess of Teck, Princess May, and other notables (16 October 1917, p. 8). 

On 19 October 1917 Clive wrote to his mother from hospital: I was fairly successful during this last spell in France, and managed to shoot down fourteen German aeroplanes. In my last scrap I shot down two double-seater aeroplanes, one after the other; then attacked and drove down one of their fast fighting scouts. The latter machine tried to land, but turned upside down, and I dived on it and shot it into flames before the pilot could get out.

He was returned to England and, upon his full recovery, took up experimental work once again, returning to the Testing Squadron at Martlesham, England around late October/November 1917. He was involved with evaluating captured enemy aircraft.

Clive died in an accident on 23 December 1917 at age 31. He was test-flying a captured German Albatros Scout in Scotland when it plunged into the Firth of Forth. His Casualty Card records that the accident was 'due to an error of judgment on the part of the pilot who appeared to have misjudged his height above the surface of the water'.  He was buried on 28 December at Comely Bank Cemetery, Edinburgh, Scotland (K.903).

The Bay of Plenty Times reported: 

The following paragraph is taken from the New Zealander, published in London: "The following tribute to the late Capt. Clive F Collett, M.C., R.F.C., is from his late C.O. in France: 'He invariably displayed a determination and gallantry beyond all praise, and the example he set was invaluabel to the whole squadron. His devotion to duty was officially recognised during this period by the reward of the M.C. and Bar. Had not an unfortunate wound sent hm back to England it is certain that he would have made for himself an unrivalled name.' Capt. Collett brought down fifteen Hun planes in two months." (1 May 1918, p. 2).

Clive Franklyn Collett (1886-1917)

His obituary was published in the Bay of Plenty Times on 17 May 1918: 

FOR KING AND COUNTRY. The Late Captain Clive Collett. Some time ago we referred to the death of Captain Clive F. Collett, M.C., R.F.C., son of Mrs A. Collett, of Mount View, Clyde Road, Epsom, Auckland. The deceased aviator was well-known in Tauranga and the following references to him will be of interest to many of our readers: The London Times said of him - Captain Clive Franklin Collett, M.C., R.F.C., was accidentally killed on December 23, while flying in Scotland.  Born in 1887, he was second son of Mr Horace Edwin Collett, of Tauranga, Auckland, New Zealand, and came over shortly after the outbreak of war and joined the R.F.C. in March 1915.  In the same year he saw several months of active service in France, but a serious accident which occurred while he was bringing a machine to England prevented his flying for a long period and caused him injuries from which he was always troubled afterwards.  In spite of this, he insisted on flying again, and in August 1916, was given command of a flight.  For the rest of that year and for the greater part of 1917 he was engaged in experimental work, for which his experience and ability as an engineer (his profession before the war), and his great skill as a pilot made him especially useful.  His courage and coolness were such that he could be relied upon not only to execute novel and possibly dangerous manoeuvres in the air, but also to make accurate observations in the course of them.  In September 1917, he again went to France and of this short period his late commanding officer writes: “Captain Collett served under my command in France for some two months.  During this time he himself accounted for 15 enemy machines, all of which were confirmed.  This officer invariably displayed a determination and gallantry beyond all praise and the example he set was invaluable to the whole squadron. His devotion to duty was officially recognised during this period by the reward of the Military Cross and Bar.  Had not an unfortunate wound sent him back to England it is certain that he would have made for himself an unrivalled name".

Mr C. G. Grey, Managing Editor of the magazine The Aeroplane, published in London, writes: "Capt. Clive Franklin Collett, M.C., R.F.C., was accidentally killed on Dec. 23rd, 1917, while flying in Scotland.  Born in 1887, he was the second son of Mr Horace Edwin Collett, of Tauranga, Auckland, New Zealand, and came over shortly after the outbreak of war and joined the R.F.C. in March 1915.  In the same year he saw several months of active service in France, but a serious accident which occurred while he was bringing a machine to England prevented his flying for a long period and caused him injuries from which he was always troubled afterwards. In spite of this, he insisted on flying again, and in August, 1916, was given command of a flight. For the rest of that year and for the greater part of 1917, he was engaged in experimental work, for which his experience and ability as an engineer (his profession before the war), and his great skill as a pilot made him especially useful. His courage and coolness were such that he could be relied upon not only to execute novel and possibly dangerous manoeuvres in the air, but also to make accurate observations in the course of them.  In September 1917 he again went to France, and in the short period of two months he brought down 15 enemy machines, all duly authenticated.  He took up experimental work again, and won the highest opinion of all with whom he came in contact.  Captain Collett deserves to be particularly remembered for his gallantry in testing new types of parachutes from aeroplanes, frequently from what would have previously been considered dangerously low levels.  His work in this direction will ultimately be the saving of many lives.  As an experimental and demonstration pilot he was unexcelled, and his vivid sense of humour made his demonstrations the more enjoyable to those who participated in them.  In the course of his work he came in personal contact with the people at all the advanced flying schools in Great Britain and at every one he made firm friends, so that one may safely say that he was one of the most popular officers in the Corps, though his natural modesty and sense of good form prevented him from becoming known to the outside public.  Thus he leaves behind him a high reputation for skill and gallantry, and a host of friends to mourn his loss.  Of the many fine lads who have come to us from the Overseas Dominions none has been a finer specimen of the youth of Great Britain that Clive Collett. This assurance may at any rate, be some consolation to his bereft family.(p. 4)

Military Awards:

  • Military Cross (MC): "Lt. (T./Capt.) Clive Franklyn Collett, R.F.C. Spec. Res. For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty as a leader of offensive patrols during a period of three weeks. He has on numerous occasions attacked large formations of enemy aircraft single-handed, destroyed some, and driven others down out of control. He has led his formation with great skill, and has on several occasions extricated them from most difficult positions, and in every engagement his gallantry and dash have been most marked." [Source: London Gazette (online), issue 30466, published on 8 January 1918, p. 595]
  • 1914-1915 Star. Citation for Bar to Military Cross (MC)"Lt. (T./Capt.) Clive Franklyn Collett, M.C., R.F.C., Spec. Res. & Gen. List. For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in leading offensive patrols against enemy aircraft. Within a period of three weeks he successfully engaged and destroyed five enemy machines (three of them in one day), attacking them from low altitudes with the greatest dash and determination. His brilliant example was a continual source of inspiration to the squadron in which he served. [Source: London Gazette (online), issue 30561, published on 5 March 1918, p. 2899]
  • British War Medal (1914-1920): In a letter written from his farm billet behind the lines in early 1916 to his elder brother, Mr Horace Claude Collett, he reports the following: "on offensive patrols over the hottest patch opposing our First Army, getting vital photographs. Total weight about 2000 lbs. Machine gun and ammunition, Observer, camera and plates, wireless gear to report to our gunners, up to 11 000 feet to avoid some accurate Archie fire. A burst under our machine sent us out of control, but managed to level out at a low altitude with burst engine valve and gun stoppage in face of very heavy ground fire, riddling our plane. The photos of this special mission caused the cancellation of a planned offensive which, had it proceeded, would have been a disastrous exercise for our troops, with heavy casualties." For this Captain Collett was awarded his first Military Cross.
  • Victory Medal

 

References:

Cenotaph Database

From Tauranga to the Trenches (2014) by Fiona Kean (pp. 22-25).

London Gazette (25 September 1917, p. 9972)

London Gazette (25 September 1917, p. 9973)

London Gazette (16 October 1917, p. 10706)

London Gazette (8 January 1918, p. 595)

London Gazette (5 March 1918, p. 2899) 

Military Personnel File

Papers Past New Zealand Herald (16 October  1917, p. 6)

Papers Past Marlborough Express (16 October 1917, p. 8)

Papers Past Bay of Plenty Times (1 May 1918, p. 2)

Papers Past Bay of Plenty Times (17 May 1918, p. 4)

Stuff Nelson Mail (18 April 2011)

The Whiltshire to New Zealand Line (updated August 2011)

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A version of this article was archived in July 2016 at Perma CC https://perma.cc/GQR5-HKXU

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Clive Franklyn Collett (1886-1917)


Year:1917
Note:Force: Air Force
First Names:Clive Franklyn
Last Name:Collett
Date of Birth:28 August 1886
Place of Birth:Spring Creek, Marlborough
Country of birth:New Zealand
Date of death:23 December 1917
Place of death:Scotland
Place of burial:Comely Bank Cemetery, Edinburgh, Scotland
Occupation:electrical engineer
Spouses name:Margaret Cumming
Spouses date of birth:23 May 1899
Spouses place of birth:Lambeth, London, England
Fathers name:Horace Edwin Collett
Fathers date of birth:20 January 1848
Fathers place of birth:Lambeth, London, England
Fathers date of death:20 December 1902
Fathers place of death:Grafton Road, Auckland
Mothers name:Alice Marguerite Radford
Mothers date of birth:21 November 1860
Mothers place of birth:Shoreditch, England
Mothers date of death:18 August 1931
Mothers place of death:Epsom, Auckland
Name of sibilings:Horace Claude Collett (1883-1952), Norman Edwin Collett (1888-1966), and Spencer Huia Collett (1892-1937)
Name of the children:Marion Collett (1917-1984)
Military Service:World War I (1914-1918)