CWG: Private William Collins, AKA Geoffrey Clark

Private Geoffrey Clark / Private William Collins

One of the things I have found during this research is that occasionally a mystery will come to light. In the case of the gravestone in the Somerset village of Coxley – nestled on the main road between Wells and Glastonbury – it was the very identity of a person buried there that threw me.

The headstone in question simply says “WG Collins served as Private G Clark in the Army Veterinary Corps”, but the research tools I normally use drew blanks.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission website confirmed that the second name is Geoffrey Clark, but does not give full names for WG Collins.

Unfortunately, the Findagrave website does not have the burial listed under either name, so that too was a dead end.

The British Newspaper Archives site – a record of media across the UK covering 250 years – similarly has no entry for either name around the time of his death, which suggests it was either not ‘out of the ordinary’ (not headline-grabbing) or his death and funeral were just not submitted to the local paper.

Fold3 – which stores military records – has a record for 9978 Private Geoffrey Clark. The Register of Soldiers’ Effects confirms that a war gratuity was awarded to his sister, Ada Jane Waldron, after his death.

And, as it turns out, it was Ada who proved the key to the mystery of her brother. Working on the basis that Ada’s maiden name was Collins, I used to try and track her down. The site presented a family tree featuring both an Ada Jane Collins and, more importantly, a William George Collins, and the game was afoot…

William George Collins was born in the Somerset village of Coxley in the summer of 1889. He was the youngest of seven children – Ada was his oldest sister – to James Collins, an agricultural labourer, and his wife Jane.

Following the death of his mother in 1901, and his father a decade later, it’s evident that William wanted to make his way in the world. By the 1911 census, he had moved to Wales, working as an attendant at the Glamorgan County Lunatic Asylum. The asylum, which was in Bridgend, South Wales, was home to nearly 900 patients, and William acted as one of the 120 staff looking after them.

War was on the horizon, however, and the mystery surrounding William returned once more. Military records for William (or Geoffrey) are limited; he enlisted in the Royal Army Veterinary Corps in the summer of 1915 and was shipped to France in September of that year.

There is no record why he enlisted under the name Geoffrey Clark, nor does there seem to be any evidence of either names in his family. As to his passing, there is nothing to give a hint to how he died. All that can be confirmed for certain is that he passed away at the University War Hospital in Southampton on 25th October 1918, at the age of 32.

William’s probate records give his address as Railway Terrace in Blaengarw and show that his effects went to his sister, Ada.

William George Collins – also known as Geoffrey Clark – lies at peace in the graveyard of Christ Church, in his home village of Coxley.

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